While pondering what to write for the last two weeks of November, I wondered if I could actually watch all of Demon Slayer in just week. After all if it would feel wrong to end 2019 without watching it. Friends of mine with all manners of different taste have been telling me how great it is all summer. But given the long hiatus between starting shows like Dororo and Shield Hero and finally finishing them, I wondered if I could pull it off.
Turns out it was pretty easy…
This week reminded me that I can still binge a show when I put my mind to it. It helps when the story in question is just that good. From Ufotable, the masters behind the best of the Fate series and Garden of Sinners, comes one of the best shows of 2019, Demon Slayer.
Tanjiro Kamado’s family has been murdered by a demon. The only family still alive is his sister, Nezuko, but even she has begun to turn into a demon herself. Worse yet, a powerful member of the Demon Slayer Corps has come to kill her. Tanjiro pleads for her to be spared but his pleas fall on deaf ears until the unexpected happens.
His sister not only doesn’t kill Tanjiro, but protects him. In this moment, the swordsman decides to spare Nezuko. Tanjiro has but one goal in mind now: become a member of the demon slayers, find the demon who murdered his family, and turn his sister back into a human.
This 26-episode series covers two years of Tanjiro’s quest. Each stop on that journey feels thoughtfully paced to propel the audience along with Tanjiro. Every new lesson and skill learned is another payoff in a long journey that rarely feels like it slows down. Admittedly, a year and a half of that journey is truncated into the training arc at the beginning, where Tanjiro is trained in demon slaying arts by Sakonji Urokodaki.
Across four episodes in total, we witness about 18 months of Tanjiro’s training and his induction into the Corps. It never feels too rushed, nor does it drag on. The major milestones in his training are accentuated by his teachers and opponents. Sabito and Makomo both offer their own advice to give him the knowledge to master the sword. The “Final Selection” pits him against a daunting opponent which tests his skills and molds his philosophy towards battle integral to awakening his true power.
Tanjiro’s most appealing feature is his compassion, especially for his fallen foes. Even faced with a demon who’s actions have effected characters whom the audience has grown attached to, Tanjiro still offers prayers of peace in death. He doesn’t hesitate to defend the living and slay these demons, but he never acts without respect for who these demons once were. After all, the show is quick to remind all that these demons were once human as well.
The results speak for themselves. The number of times I felt on the verge of tears hearing the final words of these beasts or watching their backstories play out before me was more than I ever expected. The people they were in their past lives weren’t even necessarily bad people either. No matter how much I hated certain antagonists, their deaths always offered me some sense of sadness.
This theme is equally encapsulated in Nezuko, who despite being a demon has resisted the urge to kill humans and rejuvenates herself through sleep instead of blood. She stays in a box on Tanjiro’s back during the day and battles demons at his side at night. A protecting guardian who sees all humans as her family. She may be a character of few words but her actions speak volumes. She’s also just plain adorable.
Perhaps that tenderness is this show’s greatest asset. Even though this show can be very humorous at times (and quite effectively so), the story relishes in portraying incredibly intimate moments. It’s the unspoken moments especially, like a hug between characters who haven’t seen each other in ages. The training arc alone is a triumph of character building and the familial bond between Tanjiro, Nezuko, and Urokodaki could be felt long after Urokodaki was no longer a series regular.
After becoming a fully-fledged demon slayer, season one’s first half mostly follows his first several missions, each one increasing in scale and appropriately in episode length. Each new mission bringing the story to a completely different environment, from traditional Japanese villages to newer, more western-inspired cities, to a mysterious house with an ever-changing interior. It’s the new characters at each turn which breathe life into the world and see the start of a traveling party.
Remember my review of Fire Force and how I lamented the lack of good comedic direction that killed the series for me? Demon Slayer is the complete polar opposite. Portrayed with any less charming artwork or frenetic energy, Zenitsu Agatsuma could have been one of the most annoying characters ever put to animation. But… by god, he is the funniest and saddest son of a bitch I’ve seen in ages.
His entire schtick is his lack of confidence and his constant screaming anxiety portrayed as if he is on the cusp of a heart attack. All this even though he survived the same entrance ceremony as Tanjiro. The question of “how is he a demon slayer?” is astonishingly never uttered, replaced with equally amazing, unspoken reactions of sheer awe at his very being. Of course, when it is revealed what skill he has and how he channels it, it all clicks.
Like with everything else, his character is not without some dramatic and intimate development. He does, at a certain point, come to confront his weaknesses in a way that makes me hopeful that in future seasons we can see some considerable growth. Just not too quick, because it is quite fun to see him suffer.
The complete opposite of Zenitsu is Inosuke Hashibira, who has all the subtlety of the boar whose head he wears as a mask. Prideful, competitive, and living solely for the thrill of killing demons, Inosuke’s initial encounter with Tanjiro and Co. is one of a seeming antagonist. With time, even Inosuke’s competitive nature turns to friendly rivalry with Tanjiro, whose kind soul seems oblivious to any combative intent not directly threatening a human life.
He’s strangely adorable and certainly deserving of the fan-favorite status that seems to be heaped upon him. His arc across this season is a humbling one. I’m fascinated by characters who are prideful to a fault who come to begin doubting themselves. Witnessing their inner monologue often leads to some really interesting revelations about their otherwise mysterious past.
If I have any complaint at all about Demon Slayer‘s story, it is how little time Tanjiro, Inosuke, and Zenitsu have together before being thrust into a 7-episode arc which often splits them up. When they meet the arc prior, they got split up a lot too. So by the time the end of the season comes, they are a team, but it almost feels obligatory. Sorta like a D&D campaign where you and your party stick together because it’s the point of the story, but you haven’t exactly thought of why your character would stick around.
To be fair, the scenes in which they do interact are functional, such as Zenitsu proving his loyalty to Tanjiro or Tanjiro and Inosuke’s initial anonymity-turned-rivalry. Hell, right in the middle of the series they take half an episode to chill out together at the demon slaying equivalent of an Airbnb. Part of this show’s charm is in some of that unspoken intimacy I have touched on so this it isn’t a huge detriment.
In the case of the characters individually, the second half kinda is perfect for putting this somewhat inexperienced team in the making through their paces. After all, they are all still new to the job and each other. Suddenly after just a few jobs they are thrust into a hunt for an entire family of demons in a dense forest not unlike the Final Selection that began their journeys. It pits them against odds far greater than their capability, beats them down, and gives each character a goal to strive for going forward.
The final stretch of the season takes a less battle-centric but no less exciting turn as Tanjiro finds himself defending the purpose of his mission to his peers. There are tense ultimatums, imposing character introductions, and ample buildup for the continuation of the series. It’s a lighthearted time for our heroes to recover and prepare to continue the journey.
Given that I binged it, I had few issues with this end to the season, but watching week-by-week, I could understand if one were a bit underwhelmed with the finale. Rest assured, there is plenty of hilarious banter and more entertaining stories shared about the ever-expanding cast of slayers.
So now is the part where I begin to talk about the production aspects of the show with practically no transition. Although, to have resisted praising it thus far is quite a feat in it of itself. The animation is so fucking good- okay, I know that is a broad and rather non-specific statement, but give me a moment to just spew unfiltered praise.
The fact that we have a 26-episode TV series with such consistent quality at this level is astounding. Ufotable is no stranger to high-quality animation, nor are they wanting in exaggerated reputation. Ever since Fate/ Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, they have had this reputation of apparently having more money than other studios, thus coining the Unlimited Budget Works meme.
Funnily enough, people working for the studio have continually refuted the claim, stating that there isn’t any more money in their production than any other studio. The secret, as discussed by YouTuber CanipaEffect, lies in the studio’s revolutionary use of digital effects work, not only implementing CGI, but enhancing hand-drawn animation.
Director Haruo Sotozaki is no stranger to the studio’s work, having directed Ufotable’s Tales of Symphonia OVAs as well as the TV anime Tales of Zestiria: The X. Even taking into consideration the less favorable reception of those adaptations, these shows have maintained a reputation for their visual quality. This series very well could be his directorial masterpiece.
I could go on about particular cuts or ramble about the digital effects, but what I think stands out most of all is the unique camera movement. Every time a character ran through a forest or a room seemingly turned upside down, sending the characters flying through a space, there was breathtaking character animation and dynamic perspectives on a large scale rarely seen. There are shots unlike anything I’ve ever seen in anime.
In a year filled with incredible shows, I feel almost spoiled. From the cinematic marvel that was Promare, to Bungo‘s astounding third season, to Mob Psycho season two raising the bar for hand-drawn animation of all kinds, we’re all a little spoiled this year.
I never enjoy over-praising something for fear that I am not being objective enough in my critique. Some critics treat every new Shonen like a breakthrough or subversive when they really aren’t. Hell, I’m not expert on Shonen so it’s not like I can comment on Demon Slayer‘s place in the genre. However, recognizing this, allow me to still be bold in saying this:
Demon Slayer is one of the best animated shows I have ever seen.
Demon Slayer is available for legal streaming through Hulu, VRV, FunimationNow, and Crunchyroll.
What did you think of Demon Slayer? Was it worth the hype? How does it stack up against the rest of 2019’s impressive roster of new shows? Leave a comment below and tell me what other stellar shows from 2019 I need to watch. As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!