Director: Haruo Sotozaki
Streaming on: Crunchyroll, Funimation
It’s been quite a while since I’ve properly spoken about Demon Slayer. The current format of releasing anime films in the west several months after initial screenings makes it impossible to talk about them while they’re still relevant, so I didn’t get a chance to review the film adaptation of the Mugen Train Arc.
But even after that, nothing was going right. I tried doing a “So Was I right?” about the autumn anime season, and spoke about the television edition of Mugen Train, but that didn’t work out either. Thanks to the joint efforts of my upcoming winter reviews, my own poor scheduling, and trying to publish essays on JoJo and Attack on Titan while search terms for both series are high, the end-of-season review never made it out of production.
But it’s time I get serious. Demon Slayer’s second season has begun in earnest, and I’m ready to review it. More than that, I’m going to talk about Mugen Train while I’m at it, and no one can stop me. Let’s get into it before the window of opportunity slams shut on my fingers yet again.
Spoilers for the first season of Demon Slayer, and the Mugen Train Arc.
Usually I begin my reviews with a background where I explain the premise of the anime, but Demon Slayer’s basic facts are so simple it feels weird to even try. Um, Tanjiro’s family is killed by demons except for his sister Nezuko, who is turned into a demon, and he joins the Demon Slayer Corps to cure her. Huh, that was even easier than I thought.
Not so fast; I still need to talk about Mugen Train. Initially released as a feature film that broke box office records both domestically and for anime films internationally, the arc received a seven-episode television edit. At this point, I’ve experienced the story four unique times: I’ve read the manga, watched the movie in both Japanese and English, and watched the TV cut, and I’m pleased with that. Mugen Train is my favorite arc in the manga, mostly because Kyojuro Rengoku is my favorite character in the manga. Equal parts fearsome and hilarious, the Flame Hashira is the perfect wholesome onii-chan.
I love the Mugen Train Arc for what it represents in the story. In the preceding arc, Tanjiro narrowly loses his battle with Rui, the head of the Mount Natagumo spider family. He then watches the Water Hashira, Giyu Tomioka, dispatch the Lower Rank Kizuki with ease. Tanjiro trains and recovers following the fight on Natagumo Mountain, but his own weakness is still a sore spot.
Mugen Train contrasts Tanjiro’s previous failure with new success; he defeats the highest-ranking Lower Kizuki while protecting the 200 passengers aboard the train, albeit with the help of his friends and Rengoku. He’s forced to confront the guilt and shame he feels over failing to keep his family safe, and becomes stronger for it.
However, as Tanjiro says himself, once he climbs over one wall, he immediately comes to another one. After defeating the demon on the train, the group is confronted by Akaza, one of the Upper Rank Kizuki, whose clash with Rengoku is so spectacular and fast-paced that none of the rookie Demon Slayers can get close enough to help. Despite forcing Akaza into fleeing the rising sun, Rengoku is mortally wounded, and Tanjiro is left to mourn his would-be mentor and his own weakness in the weeks to come.
To be honest, stories don’t make me cry. Call me dead inside if you wish, but the most Anohana got out of me was a little tearing up. That just means I truly appreciate it when a story can stir me emotionally to that point. Rengoku’s final words, putting his faith in the next generation of Demon Slayers, and in the man his little brother will grow up to be, will always shake me to my core.
I still feel chills whenever I remember Rengoku’s last lesson, urging Tanjiro and his friends to “set your heart ablaze”. The Flame Hashira’s final instructions to his pupils are a simple reminder that the first duty of the strong is to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and that the only way to live your life is passionately, with fire.
I love a lot of new generation shonen anime, as you can tell from my regular raving about Jujutsu Kaisen and My Hero Academia, but of all the current titans of the genre, Demon Slayer has the most heart. Its story and characters might not be groundbreaking, but I watch shonen because I love it when spiky-haired boys fight and make me feel things, and Demon Slayer has that on lock.
That brings us to the intermission between Mugen Train and the Entertainment District. Tanjiro, Zenitsu, and Inosuke have all been deeply affected by Rengoku’s loss, and pursue their training with fiery enthusiasm. Tanjiro brings the Flame Hashira’s last words to his family, and learns a little bit more about the secret Hinokami Kagura Breathing he’s used in his last few battles.
Through a strange and awkward encounter that doesn’t clear up once you have context, they meet the Sound Hashira, Tengen Uzui. His three wives were performing reconnaissance in brothels in Yoshiwara, a red-light district in Tokyo, and have gone silent. To find them, he’s searching for Demon Slayers who are pretty enough to work in the brothels his wives worked in before communications went dark.
No one has ever accused Tanjiro or Zenitsu of feminine beauty, but Inosuke’s delicate features carry him a long way. With a little makeup and a lot of convincing, though, Uzui manages to plant each of them into a different institution. Now it’s just a matter of keeping their ears out and finding the missing wives, as well as the Upper Rank Kizuki who is rumored to be among the most popular courtesans in Yoshiwara.
I’m going to get this out of the way because it’s so obvious it doesn’t need its own section; Demon Slayer is one of the best-looking anime adaptations around. Ufotable and director Haruo Sotozaki have transformed a rough manga with a distinctive art style and translated it faithfully while polishing the visuals. Ufotable doesn’t slouch, and their patented blend of CG augmentation with traditional animation is working overtime on turning the manga’s hit-or-miss art into a consistent treat for the eyes.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can talk about the story. Correction, though; we’re talking about the man who this story is all about. The flamboyant myth, the stylish legend, the extravagant Sound Hashira, Tengen Uzui.
The mentors of Demon Slayer’s second season are one of the best shot-chaser combos in anime. See, from this point on, most arcs will be accompanied by at least one Hashira, so we can learn about them and the remaining Kizuki before heading into the final arc. We began that proud tradition with Rengoku, the excellent senpai that he is. We follow that up with Uzui, who immediately delcares that he is a god and Tanjiro and his friends are no more than garbage.
The man has style, ego, and wives to spare. He’s a former shinobi, but the covert operations of a ninja didn’t suit his loud personality, so he abandoned the lifestyle for a flashier career in slaying demons. He’s a fierce warrior with a superiority complex because, well, he is superior.
Tengen’s vibrant nature puts him at odds with the young Demon Slayers in his charge, but he’s deadly serious when it comes to his wives. Honestly, he’s a jerk, but he’s just so much fun to watch. Most of the Hashira are cool aloof types (Giyu, Tokito) or cold, off-putting types (Obanai and Sanemi). Uzui’s boisterous disposition is refreshing, and it’s interesting seeing how someone would approach demon slaying in a flashier way.
I’m not actually going to review the plot that much, mostly to keep this spoiler-safe, but the tone is a little bit lighter than Mugen Train, and Uzui is a treat. This whole arc is worth it just because he’s one of the few people who will give Inosuke some desperately needed backtalk.
In the end, it is just more Demon Slayer, and it’s a whole lot of fun. The second season has been all about shifting the way the story arcs function, and they start with two of the best. Entertainment District might not have quite the same emotional heft as Mugen Train, but it’s a phenomenal adaptation of a solid story, and I’m just excited that Demon Slayer is back.
With that, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Entertainment District Arc racks up an easy Entertaining Pleasing with room to grow depending how much love Ufotable gives the big battle.
I’m also happy this came out in December, which gives me more time to watch and appreciate a few episodes before the rest of the winter reviews. Plus, it gives me extra time to watch and formulate opinions on the new and returning shows this season. You guys are in for a treat; I’ve got more reviews than usual planned, and at least half of those shows might not be terrible.
So if you’re looking forward to what I think about the second season of Vanitas, My Dress-Up Darling, Sasaski and Miyano, and a whole lot more, I recommend following the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress. You’ll get notifications of when those reviews go up, plus some fun essays on anime and video games when I finally escape the seasonal grind.
There’s also my Twitter, @ExhibitionOtaku, where you can get those same notifications along with the color commentary on all the anime I’m watching, new and old. Until next time, thanks for reading.