Demon Slayer has been an Anime series made by Studio Ufotable who are famous for making excelling animation which goes above and beyond what most television broadcast Anime do. Demon Slayer was a big project for them, but it came at an interesting time because they were going through tax troubles, and ultimately it could have easily broken the studio down. This is despite the fact the studio had tremendous success, particularly in their work with the Fate/stay night franchise which had just been concluded with the final Heaven’s Feel film. Demon Slayer, however, was a massive critical success upon its release and even won the Crunchy Roll award for Anime of the Year last year.
Now, the first season did conclude with the announcement that the next portion of the story would be told in a film version, and despite the fact that the world was in a pandemic last year, not only did the film come out, it broke box office records. It’s currently one of the highest grossing Anime films ever and the second highest grossing Anime film in the US at the time of writing, falling short just behind Pokémon. Now, it definitely comes down to the fact that the first season was a tremendously popular product, but the fact that people were this willing to risk it during a pandemic to see this meant I had to go and see it. So, what a great way to get back to cinemas. Now, if you’ve ever watched the Anime Amigos video podcast that I’ve been making over the last few years, my colleagues and I talked a lot about Demon Slayer; we nominated it for Anime of the Year 2019 and it did finish very highly when we were finalising our results. Vinland Saga—available on Amazon Prime—won in the end if you’re curious. You can watch the video podcast on my YouTube channel if you want to get into the reasons why.
If you’d been watching those you’d kind of get a brief synopsis of the premise but, in case you don’t know, the premise of Demon Slayer: Mugen Train centres around a young man named Tanjiro looking after his family after their father dies. However, during a trip to town to sell his wares, his entire family bar one of his little sisters is violently killed by a demon, and his little sister Nezuko is transformed into a demon. Appealing to humanity and convincing a local demon slayer that there’s still some of her humanity in there, he searches for a way to bring back her humanity, train and join the Demon Slayer Corps, and hunt down all the demons responsible for killing his family. Other than that, it’s a pretty typical battle shounen Anime, the main side cast apart from Tanjiro consisting of Nezuko and another two swordsmen that join the Corps: Zenitsu and Inosuke.
Following the conclusion of Season 1, which was kind of a bit of damp rag if I’m honest—they didn’t really end on a climactic fight and there was a long, drawn-out build into this storyline—the second arc is now told through this film. Tanjiro, Inosuke, Zenitsu and Nezuko all travel on a train to the town of Mugen whilst meeting up with one of the masters, Rengoku, who’s investigating several different seemingly demon-related disappearances on this train line. Now, it’s a very basic premise but it is also akin to the belief that you have seen the first season of Demon Slayer. That being said, it doesn’t go into too much lore. There are a few flashbacks occasionally and some of the sequences in the film tie into Tanjiro’s origins but I would ultimately make the judgement that you will get something out of it if you haven’t seen Demon Slayer’s first season, though prior knowledge is definitely a benefit.
Sadly, for some purists within the Anime community, British cinemas I found were not offering to see the film with the original Japanese cast and subtitles, only the English language dub which has been made by Funimation Entertainment. My opinion of the English language cast is that they’re actually pretty good choices. The standout for me is Mark Whitten in the role of Rengoku; he gives an excellent performance this time around. The cast as a whole though is actually pretty damn good for the most part. The narrative is also pretty well done. It does at times feel like several of what would be episodes of a season bolted together, though not in the most obvious way that some terribly cut together Anime films have done in the past. The fact that this is entirely new content, the content they do give is excellent. Demon Slayer is based on a Manga series, but I haven’t read that far ahead in the source material to know whether anything was actually cut for the film. The film has a run-time of two hours which is just short of what you’d expect from ten episodes of a standard series, credits included, so I imagine not much has been cut from this arc, though I’m certain there will be someone who will point out otherwise.
One of the things that I think the Mugen Train does well is it once again makes sure to put Tanjiro as the core focus and really relays his motivations in a way the series had kind of gotten away from. But I was actually surprised how emotional the film was by the end. There were a lot of very heavy moments throughout the story; I keep forgetting just how well-written Demon Slayer is. It does quite well at the beginning balancing this out with some great comedy but it almost that drops entirely to be a brilliant action story by the end. And, my word, the fight scenes are phenomenal; they were great in the TV series but in the film they nailed it. The animation team made the most of the budget and stole the show brilliantly: the addition of digital animation is excellent and there are some real bursts of colour brought to the mix.
The use of colour has always been something very interesting in Demon Slayer as demons can only go out at night, so as a result all the action scenes usually have to be shot in dark environments. There was genius therefore in using very bright primary colours for the protagonists and especially their attacks, which usually consists of some of the classic elements and their bi-products like fire, water, lightning—you catch my drift—and this is used to great effect here as well. And one of the things I was asking before this film came out was how they were going to really use this train as a setting for this story, but they actually do a very good job of it, mainly down to the use of this film’s villain Enmu who I’ve described as a plotting manipulator villain. He’s also another excellent part of the film.
If there’s one thing that lets the film down, despite the fact it has excellent character arcs and nails them completely, I think the ending might not be too satisfying for everyone. This is kind of a middle arc within the story, so while it does have a complete ending, because of its connection to the source material, it does have to set up for future stories. It wouldn’t have been too much of a problem except that season 2 of Demon Slayer has already been confirmed and will follow on from this film, so if you haven’t had a chance to see this film by the time the second season comes out which is aimed to be later this year (Japan’s COVID situation depending, of course), you could be missing some major bits of information down the line. I’m hoping a Blu-Ray release will come in the very near future.
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