Does the title seem too cynical? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely delighted to hear that the new Demon Slayer did well at the box office. But then it kept doing well, and then it broke record after record at the Japanese box office. Now it’s in the US with a wide release by Funimation Films, this time with a big Sony logo emblazoned on the front (clearly the big companies are catching onto how much money anime makes). It also has an official R rating by the MPAA, whereas most limited anime releases stay unrated.
This film has the potential to do pretty damn well in the west and to stay in theaters for a while, at a time where it’s feeling safer to go to theaters, even if at half-capacity. It’s the continuation of a major hit series getting the proper cinematic treatment from Ufotable, a studio more than capable of producing hit films, with localization from a major film studio finally ready to attach its name to these anime releases. This could be huge.
But is the movie good?
Well… It is Demon Slayer.
I’m not trying to oversimplify, I love this series a lot. Upon finishing the first season, I had no qualms giving it a 10, albeit an impulsive one. But even if I were harsher with it, it’s a 9 at minimum for me. That series was not only gorgeous, it was endearing, with a phenomenal cast, great performances, and themes of empathy and compassion that made for a truly special fantasy epic.
Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train is not burdened by the same curse as its peers in the anime movie game. This is not a side story or a non-canonical event. The events of this film are an adaptation of the events following the first season’s conclusion from the manga. What happens in this film is important. The events will have ripple effects for the upcoming second season.
That is so rare. Typically, when the films are canon, they are released after the series is finished. Think of something like the Cowboy Bebop movie. However, in those cases, the series was an original story, to begin with, meaning there was no source material to base it on. In my limited but impassioned experience with anime films, especially those based on shonen and seinen series, I’ve seen the highest highs and the lowest lows.
Highs come in the form of My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, which is mostly inconsequential but is so damn exciting the whole way through that I don’t mind. It has extra novelty when you remember that the film was the mangaka’s original idea for how to end the entire series.
The lows come in the form of something like Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple. It’s a beautiful and musically brilliant film, but one that feels regressive, narratively. Characters feel like their arcs have been rolled back, and the story itself isn’t very compelling or easy to understand, for reasons out of the control of the writers.
Mugen Train is not an original story, but an adaptation of the same manga story that fans of the show fell in love with. Since its story would have otherwise been a tightly-packed arc at the beginning of season two, the decision to make it a movie pays dividends… eventually.
The beginning was actually mixed for me. It’s bizarrely paced for the beginning of a film. I suppose it’s a limitation of starting right where the first season ended, with the party jumping aboard the train for their next assignment. This isn’t a film for people to just jump into if they haven’t seen the series. I mean… I’ve watched Dragonball movies with friends without seeing 80% of the series, so I know people do that, but this intro ain’t gonna ease you into the premise.
And it isn’t as though the premise is indecipherable. The characters are demon slayers, the job profession speaks for itself. However, even as someone who watched the series, the opening of the film felt a bit off, like there wasn’t a buildup leading to the film’s central focus, the train. After an opening scene that ties into the ending of the film, the entire journey is squarely picking up after the series.
Is it a nitpick? Maybe. It’s not like the opening’s pace lingered in my mind once the action started. I don’t mean to say the action supersedes all criteria of screenwriting, either. The entire main conflict aboard the train and the triumphs and failures that proceed completely put to rest any oddities found at the beginning.
Our hero, Tanjiro Kamado, his sister, Nezuko, his allies, Zenitsu Agatsuma and Inosuke Hashibira, and the Flame Hashira of the Demon Slayer Corps., Kyojuro Rengoku, are all trapped. A demon aboard the train has trapped them using Demon Blood Art that puts people to sleep. The train, full of 200 passengers, is at the demon’s mercy and the heroes must break free from their dreams and stop them.
I was curious how the dream aspect of the film would go. Would each character be caught in a dream? If so, how deep would each dream go in developing those characters? To answer the first, almost everyone is in a slumber. To the second, only Tanjiro and Rengoku have serious emotional developments explored through their dreams.
I have no issue with this. Inosuke and Zenitsu’s dreams are both purely comedic from beginning to end. After all, if the goal of the dreams is to show the characters happiness, those two weirdos’ dreams make total sense. Demon Slayer isn’t all just darkness and melodrama. It’s also a fair helping of laughs, like a lot of successful shonen.
Tanjiro’s nigh-superhuman willpower is something else, man. His journey through the dream, his struggle to leave it, and the determination to break free, are simply incredible to watch. And you know, willpower is the most commonly fantastic thing about these characters. The whole story amount to superhuman willpower compensating for human limitations to face insurmountable odds.
The entire conclusion of the film brings that point front and center, though not always so optimistically. These characters are all survivors and can do incredible things, but they still have a long way to go. Zenitsu is still the nervous wreck he always is, with a fearsome warrior hiding beneath. Inosuke actually impressed me a lot in this film as well.
His thing has always been super masculine to an almost feral degree, combined with some childish whimsy at advancements in technology, but it’s his softer side that really gets to me. It comes out in the heat of battle when he sees his friends get hurt. Inosuke pairing with Tanjiro, the master of selflessness and empathy, really brought out the best in both characters.
And then there’s Rengoku. He only showed up towards the end of season one so there wasn’t much to know about him before this film, but this movie belongs to him. He is the hero of the story and the one who gives the main party the motivation they need to continue their journey beyond the film with determination. He seems very odd and almost unapproachable at first, like many of the Hashira, but he becomes so much deeper in such a short time.
Director Haruo Sotozaki’s emphasis on raw emotional pathos combined with music by Yuki Kajiura and Gou Shiina deliver moments that stand tall among the best of the show proper. If I have any complaint, it is that during the conclusion’s emotional rollercoaster, it felt like the melodrama could go one step further than necessary, almost going overboard at a certain point. But then again, it’s the commitment to conveying these emotions that make this series so good.
Demon Slayer‘s movie is as worthy of praise as the series that preceded it, and in that, its huge success is no mystery. So yes, Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train, is worth all of those records broken. It’s a good movie. Better if you’ve seen the series, but if you’re interested in seeing it, you’ve likely already binged it on Netflix, or any of the other streaming platforms on which it is available.
And if you tag along with some friends to watch it, I guarantee you’ll have a blast, regardless of how much you know going in. Don’t overthink the premise, enjoy the self-contained story, and have fun. After all, that’s the best part of seeing anime movies in theaters: seeing them with friends.
Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train is currently in theaters throughout America. It is releasing on Digital on June 22. If you’d like to catch up on the series, it is available on Netflix, Crunchyroll, FunimationNow, and Hulu.
What did you think of Mugen Train? Was it everything you hoped for? Could it have been even better? Leave a comment below and tell me what other anime films you’re looking forward to seeing in theaters soon.
Thank you for reading and as always, I’ll see you next time!