Oh boy, this is going to stir up some controversy isn’t it?
Every now and then, you’d get an anime that blows up like a stick of dynamite in this community. The type of series that entices viewers based on the first episode alone, instilling hopeful expectations in them that the show would turn out to be a smash hit that destroys records and takes its place as one of the modern classics of the medium. And despite what a lot of naysayers are piping up about, no these are not the kinds of anime that will be forgotten by the community once another manages to take its place as the new hypetrain. Very rarely does that even happen – Erased doesn’t count because its last few episodes left a bad mark on people’s memories.
In 2011, it was Steins Gate and Madoka Magica; in 2012, it was Fate Zero and Psycho Pass; in 2013, it was Attack on Titan… well, you get the point. This year – other than the third season of some random show, where a couple of wannabee, grappling hook wielding soldiers (or as I like to call them: Spidermen) fight off against colossal, naked giants that absolutely no one is for sure talking about – its most certainly been Demon Slayer, or Kimetsu no Yaiba if you speak Weeblish. If you haven’t kept up with the community these days (and I so hope that is the case given its current state in a more civilized era), this show has been taking it by storm. And it’s not challenging to see why; it’s got a likable shonen protagonist with a concrete motivation other than just wanting to become the best, a massive sprawling story with its own set of lore, a unique setting in early 1900s Japan (allowing for the Kabaneri approach where samurai can now wield advanced weaponry), some gruesome violence to satisfy the taste palates of gorehounds everywhere, and some of the most cutting-edge animation and soundtracks to be found in the industry.
So, why don’t I like it then?
It might be odd to have a rather critical diatribe on a recently aired series that is almost universally adored, be the first post somebody might stumble across on this blog. But, as I’ve also said in the past, honesty is key when it comes to one’s writing. And, in my case, while I can appreciate a vast number of elements in this anime alone, there are ten times more that irritate me at every chance it gets. Imagine first trying out liquor; sure, everybody romanticizes it to the point they’d actively try to sneak some into your glass of water, but the moment the contents of it reach the tip of your tongue, you’re going to recoil in disgust. That’s certainly what it felt when I tried red wine for the first time. I can remember feeling the bitter, searing liquid immolate the back of my throat on graduation as I watched all my peers having a ball with their choice of booze. This is what it was like for me to watch Demon Slayer.
Tonal dissonance is a term many film connoisseurs like to use, especially when discussing anime. I mean, it kind of makes sense given that a lot of what the medium has to offer is filled to the brim with comedy interspersed with scenes of extreme violence and tragedy in the wrong places at the wrong time. Imagine watching The Godfather and halfway through for no apparent reason, Don Corleone comes out of a closet wearing a clown outfit and honking a horn. It feels exactly like that. Demon Slayer is littered with scenes of immature comedy followed by brutal death scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in a hard-R-rated exploitation flick. It follows the Hellsing Ultimate approach, and it feels very distracting. The first episode handled it best, having almost zero comedy as the main character comes home to find his entire family – save for one – slaughtered by demonic beings. The tone was set perfectly from the beginning of the episode to the very end, and I fully felt immersed in the narrative to want to give it a try. However, it gets worse in later episodes where characters can literally have their entire bodies ripped completely in half or are tragically murdered right out of the blue and in the next somebody complains about not being good with girls in a humorous fashion. This might seem hypocritical of me given that one of my personal favorites include a rather “unknown” series called Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, which does the exact same thing. Yes, FMA does have a similar problem to Demon Slayer, but where it excels at is that its comedy is funny and is used appropriately throughout the series. In Demon Slayer, it often tends to be rather childish than hilarious. It feels like something out of Teen Titans Go, where only a small child would be driven to laughter by it (this is rather subjective, so there’s no need to turn into a bunch of keyboard warriors at this statement). And that brings me to my next point.
The tone the show presents doesn’t fit the story it’s trying to tell. For a show with a lot of depressing moments, bloodshed, and the lack of plot armor for both combatants and innocents alike, Demon Slayer still feels like a show aimed at a younger teen demographic. It dabbles in simple shonen messages such as the power of love and friendship, making it come across as an adventurous and whimsical Saturday morning cartoon than a gory action series where all bets are off. It’s as if somebody just read Berserk and wanted to turn it into a PG-rated show but keep all the violence and brutality fully intact. Sure, all the above can be said about Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, but the core presentation of that show’s themes and messages comes across as being rather mature. FMA at its core is a relatively complex and thematically dense series that explores a lot of complicated and hard-to-digest ideas such as the corruption of power, the psychological impact of war, authoritative rule, what it means to be human, religion, immortality, etc. Demon Slayer, on the other hand, is a series where the power of love and friendship nets characters an instant powerup. This is only made worse by the inclusion of the “Taisho Secret” segments at the end of each episode. These are homages to the lighthearted end-of-episode skits that are common in shonen anime, particularly ones airing during the early 2000s. Think the “Shinigami Illustrated color-book” stories at the end of most Bleach episodes. In these segments, two characters from the show will leap out from the background of a page from the Demon Slayer manga, as they attempt to comment about their thoughts on the episode and share a certain secret about one of the characters that isn’t revealed in the actual episode. It’s childish, feels like something out of Sesame Street (which makes it oddly jarring if taken place after an episode where somebody suffers an excruciatingly gruesome fate), and I often just skip them entirely because all their supposed “secrets” are just worthless to the overall plot. I don’t need to know what Nezuko’s favorite breakfast routine is, save that shit for the OVAs.
And speaking of childish, the characters only exist to reinforce this. Tanjiro is intelligent, determined, and thoughtful; characteristics that are pretty much guaranteed to classify your shonen protagonist as likable and worth rooting for. But in hindsight, he’s also nothing more than a boy scout in many ways, just always wanting to do good and not having to come to terms with any moral dilemmas. His sister Nezuko isn’t any better. Her main role in the story is to act as a plot device to get the main character determined to achieve his goal of curing her of her demonic powers and she isn’t very useful outside of some deus ex machina moments. Plus, just deal with it guys, she’s just waifu material so people can make memes about wanting to protect her. Inosuke brings some added zaniness to the cast but isn’t well utilized aside from just bragging about battle and getting into all sorts of trouble. There’s also that one characteristic about him where he’s a handsome hunk underneath that pig mask. The worst by far has to be Zenitsu. This character is what Jar Jar Binks is to the Star Wars prequels – cowardly, annoying, tone-deaf and otherwise creepy due to his obsessive attractiveness to Nezuko. Even in moments where he is useful to the cast, its mainly only because of a deus ex machina that somehow causes his body to become possessed. He never even shows signs of improvement in terms of characterization and stays static throughout.
But, despite my criticisms, I do recommend this title to fans of the alleged shonen genre. As a battle shonen, it’s one of the most well-animated, maybe even the best of its kind. Ufotable brings their A-game to this production, making good work of their frenetic 3D camera techniques and stellar visual effects to add dynamism and fluidity to every fight sequence. There’s so much style to every fight that it’s impossible not to enjoy watching the visuals collide with one another. Even the CGI here is highly competent, putting it almost at Pixar levels. Never in a tv anime has there been such unprecedented combination of both 2D and 3D animation. The music is grandiose and epic in scale, intensifying at the right pivotal points throughout the duration of the series. One should look no further than episode 19, an episode so wildly praised by not only the community, but also non-anime watchers alike that it even ended up trending in the top 20s on Twitter. It’s a visual and audio feast for the eyes; the animators at Ufotable really care a lot about this project. It isn’t just something to rake in more sales for the manga, but an adaptation made with passion and love.
I also really like the villains in this show. Muzan may look like some wannabee Michael Jackson fan given his fancy attire, but damn, I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t intimidating. He’s like a chameleon, able to blend himself into the crowd and even fake out others into thinking he’s just some ordinary human. It just allows him to strike at every moment he’s got the chance. And his kills are just nasty. The show really does a magnificent job at painting him as this maniacal, devious fellow who has established a chain of command amongst the other demons. Not bad for what is supposed to be the final boss. The other villains aren’t any worse. The good thing about the series is how the demons aren’t even evil; they’re just people trying to struggle against the corrupted side of themselves and having to give in to it as their inner demon completely takes over their body. It adds a lot of humanity to them rather than just making them out as power-hungry criminals or something, and it really makes you question whether the demon slayer corps are even the good guys for trying to eliminate them, rather than trying to just rid them of the evil that seeps inside their veins. In fact, one of the main elements of the show is how they’re not that different from Nezuko. Most are just kind-hearted individuals who just happened to run into Muzan and his cronies out of bad luck. Granted, the show could do without just flashing their backstory seconds after their demise as a half-assed attempt to get us to care about them, but overall, they’re rather refreshing compared to other shonen baddies.
All in all, this show is like having breakfast at a reputable diner. The meal is tasty, but in many ways isn’t exactly healthy if eaten all the time and the dopamine starts to wear off, especially for more demanding individuals. But, as a ridiculously well-animated battle shonen, it’s a fine watch. It is mid, not trash, but it certainly isn’t thought-provoking, quality entertainment on the same level as say: Fullmetal Alchemist, Fate Zero or Berserk. It’s an aesthetically pleasing experience that while I have gripes with, I can comfortably recommend to fans of battle shonen and newcomers to the anime medium alike.
For you Demon Slayer fans out there, Ufotable is releasing an upcoming movie covering a highly talked about and revered arc in the manga, so keep an eye out for that if you’re interested.
Personal rating: 5/10.