Review: Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Season 1 (2019)
"According to a 2020 internet poll conducted by Oricon Monitor Research, over 90% of Japanese public is familiar with Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba; 40.5% said that they were "very familiar", 57.3% said that they were "familiar with the name", indicating that 97.8% knew the existence of the series."
So it's safe to say it's sort of a big deal.
As it just popped up on Netflix recently I figured I should make it a point to check it out. After watching the first episode I had a solid idea as to why it was so popular, but I wasn't entirely sure if I was going to really get into it. Then after watching the next few episodes I couldn't stop watching it, and I finished all twenty-six episodes within a couple days. So uh, yeah.....pretty good show.
The series follows Tanjiro Kamado, an eldest son who supports his mother and five siblings after the death of his father. He is literally the goodest of good boys.
Tanjiro returns to their home on the mountainside after selling coal in the town near where they live and discovers his family has been murdered. His sister Nezuko is still alive and he attempts to taker her down the mountain to save her, but is soon attacked by her as she transforms into a demon. A demon slayer, Giyū Tomioka, attempts to kill her but Tanjiro saves her by taking a beating from Tomioka. Nezuko then moves to protect her brother, revealing that she's able to fight off the base urges of her transformation and that she still clings to her humanity.
The series then follows the siblings as Tanjiro begins training as a demon slayer in the hopes of curing his sister. They slowly develop the background lore and introduce new characters at a steady pace to, while slowly and consistently raising the stakes as Tanjiro and Nezuko develop their abilities.
There are a few oddball things they set up that help give the series some unique flavor. Some of them are minor, such as Tanjiro's unusually hard head which comes in handy when fighting enemies. You would think it's a small thing, but they know exactly when and where to play it up with the right set-ups.
Then there's Tanjiro's strong sense of smell, which he blends into his swordsmanship as it allows him to sense different demons and even people's emotions. In conjunction with that is the fact that most of the demon slayers train in the use of concentrated breathing to harness their powers. This helps Tanjiro to unlock different skills that are water based, which are some of the few times they overtly but nicely blend in the CGI style animation with the 2D art.
Which brings us to the fight scenes, which besides the fights in Jujutsu Kaisen are arguably some of the best choreographed battles that I've seen in a while. In the case of some anime there are times where the fights drag on and on and can control the pacing of the overall story a little too much. I felt that Demon Slayer had a pretty solid balance between interpersonal and emotional conflicts, lore exposition and flashbacks, and finally in nicely executed battles.
The core strength of the series though definitely comes from the emotional and ethical conflicts they present. As I said, Tanjiro is an extremely likable character who is so good natured that you would almost say to a fault. The show even sets that idea up as his trainer doesn't initially believe he can cut it as a demon slayer due to his innate kindness. The show could have easily gone in the direction of Tanjiro exploring a darker outlook on life to achieve his goals and the conflicts that path could have lead him down. Thankfully it avoids that trope, and instead he employs his empathy in such a way that gives the show a unique level of emotional depth. While he still slays various demons, we're given striking scenes where he consoles them in their final moments. These final acts of kindness blend with flashbacks for different antagonists that allows the audience a better chance to understand their suffering, and for the demons to achieve some level of peace in their deaths.
Demon Slayer also has an interesting balance between its violence, deeper emotional themes, and in its comedic elements. As things can get exceptionally dark as the series progresses we get a lot of comedy thrown in, especially once we get introduced to fellow demon slayers Zenitsu Agatsuma and Inosuke Hashibira. Zenitsu is a bit painful to bear through at first, but then his background story really starts to pull you in. Meanwhile, the boar masked Inosuke kinda steals the show quite often.
The relationship between Tanjiro and his sister Nezuko is incredibly sweet and offers a constant background themes of familial love and commitment. How the series handles Nezuko herself is a bit odd though as she largely doesn't get many opportunities to speak. She's literally gagged throughout the show with a piece of bamboo, which sounds bad but is basically there to help prevent her demonic urges of biting people. Then there's the fact that she's given a hypnotic impression to see all humans as family, again to suppress the urge to eat them. And while that is very much a form of gaslighting, it's like.....ok, I guess? I mean, definitely don't want her to kill innocents. And then, we have the fact that because demons can't survive in sunlight, Tanjiro has to carry her everywhere in a small box on his back. Which does not sound good at all, but like everything else it can be practically explained. We just have to overlook the obvious jokes of the emotional baggage that family can present because I'm pretty sure they genuinely do not mean for us to take it that way.
Just roll with it, it's fine.
Demon Slayer won't pull in every viewer as its tonal shifts can be very strange, but for me that's what really pulled me in and kept me engaged. It's constantly changing and growing along with the characters, offering elements of drama, humor, horror, suspense, and more. What really drives it home is the nature of the protagonists' struggles and their ardent attempts to persevere against adversity. It's incredibly easy to allow yourself to be drawn in by a hero who is not only genuinely good natured but is capable of seeing redemption in even the worst of foes. That goes a long way in these current trying times, and is exactly the kind of story we need.