Demon Slayer offers beautiful animation and a unique setting

Posted at 11:21 AM, Nov 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-09 13:24:20-05

Released: 2019
Studio: ufotable
Episodes: 26

Demon Slayer, much like Thanos, is inevitable if you are an anime fan right now. Currently, its first film is breaking box office records in Japan and the new prime minister of the country even quoted the anime during a cabinet meeting.

But like many popular shonen series, I don't really get it. The gorgeous animation combined with the unique setting of Taisho Period Japan (the 1910s) definitely drew me in but the characters, story, and pacing had me spacing out, especially through the second half.

Tanjirou Kamado is a young man living in the remote mountains, a go-getter with a good nose that can sniff anything from demons to the path to win a fight, to the emotions of others. While off on an errand, his family is brutally murdered by a demon; leaving only his younger sister Nezuko, who herself has been transformed into a demon. But her humanity and love for her brother are too strong, keeping her from killing humans to drink their blood, and making her Kamado's companion as he becomes a Demon Slayer to get vengeance for his family and find a way to cure his sister.

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The story moves at a really quick clip in the beginning, with the obligatory training sessions and "entrance exam" for becoming a demon slayer being quite entertaining for the most part. You get a real sense that the studio behind the show, ufotable (who made the absolutely stunning Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Bladeworks), put most of the budget into making sure every frame looks amazing, especially in the fluid fight sequences that put pretty much every other action anime to shame. The vibrant colors and thick black lines give a sense of traditional Japanese painting.

So, if nothing else, Demon Slayer may be one of the best-looking anime ever made.

But after ten or so episodes I was growing bored and that was only exacerbated the longer I watched. There is a main villain but he's very underdeveloped (at least at this point) and the main thread of the show is Kamado getting enough samples of demon blood to provide to a doctor and thus save his sister. So he aimlessly wanders, Nezuko in tow, from place to place to fight demons. And while the fights are, again, exceptional, and the demons often have unique powers that make for cool battles, I found myself caring less and less.

I don't think a show like this, where the character is battling his way toward the big bad leader of the demons, works without really giving me a taste of said big bad. There's the argument that keeping the villain in the shadows and not revealing who he is or his intentions can create tension and I agree that in some cases that works. Here though, we see the bad guy, Muzan, and one of his only scenes showcases how he has wormed his way into the human world, has a family, and kills indiscriminately. And it's not till the final episode that we see him again. In a revenge story, where Kamado wants to beat him for the death of his family and all the ill he's done, Muzan should be dogging Kamado at every turn in some form. That's what made Inuyasha work so well: even if the main villains weren't present, you felt their presence.

So that just leaves Kamado fighting scrubs, none of whom I felt any sort of emotion for. I didn't care if he beat the guy with the drums embedded in his body because it was just a fight for fighting's sake essentially. Only as the drum guy died did we get a flashback showing that he was a human and he had emotions that corrupted him. And it's the same in every fight, the weirdest moments are chosen for flashbacks. When a villain's head is arcing through the air like a flabbergasted soccer ball is not the time to go "oh, by the way, she had a family and she was a nice person before *insert generic exposition here*". Because of that structure, every fight feels hollow. And because of the overarching story being so weak, pointless.

And yes, the demon's were humans at one point. The monsters aren't monsters! It's another facet of the show that's been done to death before and done better (I'd recommend watching Shiki for perhaps the best anime example). It's a good characterization for Nezuko, tamping down her inner urges to drink blood and kill, but it feels so forced otherwise.

My deep slide to antipathy toward the show really began when Kamado picked up a couple of companions. There's Zenitsu, a crybaby who just wants to be married before he's killed but can fall asleep and become an absolute demon-slaying beast. Then there's Inosuke, who runs around wearing a boar head and is erratic, violent, and insane. They each play off the calmness and very goody-goody persona of Kamado but I hate them both. Demon Slayer has a propensity for slipping into comedic moments with the subtly of a sledgehammer striking a gong in a library. This bloody show will flip a switch and suddenly be lighthearted, the characters exhibiting Charlie Brown eyes or big googly eyes in what I can only assume is an attempt at humor.

But Demon Slayer isn't funny and the fact two of the three companions are almost always comedic relief makes for some unbearable episodes.

And that's glossing over the fact that Kamado himself isn't a very good character. He's so lawful good and espouses so much "believe in your heart" dialogue that I was more bored with him than rooting for him.

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Where Demon Slayer lost me was a long seven or so episode arc where the characters are duking it out with a family of demons with abilities relating to spiders. This arc goes on for far too long and nothing about it worked aside from introducing the bigwigs of the Demon Slayer Corps. What should have been the demon equivalent to the series' emphasis on the familial bond between Kamado and Nezuko becomes a drawn-out, poorly paced, and deeply unsatisfying series of fights. I honestly almost quit watching at this point.

But then Shinobu, a woman who poisons demons because she is too weak to really cut through them with her sword, and a couple of other interesting side characters miraculously appeared right as I was reaching for the remote. Demon Slayer then slows down a little and becomes a little more character-focused, giving up the random fights for a training arc that was actually pretty good.

Demon Slayer is fine. The story is weak, the characters are boring, and the pacing is all-over-the-place. But the production value and setting combined with the decent pacing of at least two-thirds of it makes for a watchable and at times interesting anime.

If you are a fan of Naruto or similar shonen, you'll definitely get a kick out of it. But Demon Slayer, to borrow a phrase, is all flash no substance.

Final Rating: 2/4
Demon Slayer is available on home video, Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Funimation.
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