He’s Protecting His Sister
Even If She’s Become a Demon
Kimetsu no Yaiba has turned out to be a harder anime to review than I initially suspected. Largely this is because of the inconsistencies within the series however one of the other problems may just be that I’ve been watching anime for too long. I imagine if I’d seen this back when I first tried Bleach, Kimetsu no Yaiba may very well have been a gateway anime for me. Now I can’t help but see the flaws in it even as there are some moments that are dramatically on point.
The initial set up for Demon Slayer is very simple. Tanjiro lives with his family on the mountain and after a trip down to town he’s delayed and doesn’t return until the next day. When he gets there he discovers his family have been slaughtered and it is with relief he realises his sister Nezuko is still alive. At least until she tries to attack him. Nezuko has been turned into a demon and Tanjiro vows to find a way to turn her back.
He does this through training and becoming a demon slayer.
Already there’s a small logical gap here. I get that Tanjiro needed to get stronger in order to protect his sister and ensure she didn’t attack anyone. He also needed to be able to get closer to demons in order to learn more about them. But becoming a slayer of the thing you are trying to protect seems a little bit counter-intuitive. However, this works in Tanjiro’s favour as a character. He certainly does slay demons throughout the story but he isn’t a hot-blooded killing machine or the shouting protagonist who simply wants to be the strongest because they need to prove some kind of point. Tanjiro remains a compassionate human throughout and he has a genuine compassion even for those he is forced to cut down.
Honestly, if the story had stayed focused on Tanjiro’s quest to cure Nezuko and his learning about demons, with a tight focus on the siblings and building up the villainous demon that transformed her, this anime would have been absolutely perfect and an unmissable viewing experience.
Unfortunately, it wants to play with the big shounen and so is endlessly expanding its cast and throwing in ‘humour’ at weird moments, going on quests and tangential arcs that have little to do with the main objective, and generally just bloating what should have been a simple and tight story line into something that feels overcooked.
My initial falling out of love with a series that had been relatively solid if a little predictable and too prone to repeating information was the introduction of Zenitsu closely followed by Inosuke. To put it simply these two characters add nothing but noise and poor attempts at humour. While they each do get moments where they are more tolerable and shine they are really unnecessary to the central plot and are a large part of the clutter that detracts from the viewing experience.
Zenitsu screams at literally anything. His shtick is that he’s a coward and afraid all the time but once he passes out he becomes incredibly strong having mastered one move perfectly. Now, Zenitsu does have a few redeeming moments where he acts valiantly but these do not offset the general irritation he creates in every other scene through his incessant wailing and generally unlikable personality. Possibly he’s there for the laughs however he just isn’t funny. And if we were looking for Tanjiro, literally every Demon Slayer who thinks all demons are monsters who should be killed out of hand works well enough. We don’t need Zenitsu around.
Inosuke is similarly unnecessary and annoying. He’s so dense and his ongoing belligerence and general attitude make it very hard to want him around. Like Zenitsu, he has a rare moment or two where he does something and you feel like he’s turning a corner, but then we finish the battle and he’s right back to where he started and irritating enough to make you wish he suffocates inside that stupid boar’s head (okay, maybe that was just me).
What makes these characters even more insufferable is that they are clearly now part of Tanjiro’s party for reasons that make no sense whatsoever given they seemed to randomly hook up and prior to their appearance Tanjiro was just being lead along by his crow on his own. It would make perfect sense for them to arrive for a mission and then go their separate ways for a time to reunite later, but they are just hanging around like a bad smell.
Add in the other demon slayers who we meet toward the end of this first season who are all one note ‘zany’ personalities and honestly the supporting cast here need some work. Worse, Tanjiro and Nezuko’s screen time is reduced in many episodes to accommodate the ever expanding cast and so the central focus ends up diluted to the point where you nearly forget what started the whole story.
Visually Kimetsu no Yaiba is impressive. Despite the majority of sequences taking place at night due the demon’s nature, good use of lighting and colour ensure that it is always fairly easy to follow the action on screen and it is good, fluid action. The fight sequences against demons are great moments visually and are moments when the characters shine. A return to demon fighting was always welcome because the in-between moments where the characters were resting or recovering where almost always intolerably full of poor attempts at humour and generally padded.
However, even in the fight sequences, Kimetsu no Yaiba cannot help but overreach. After final blows had been landed the number of times the story screeched to a halt in order for a flash-back or reminiscence of the demon’s life would play, sometimes for a lengthy period, before we would move on again, was ridiculous. The killing of one bit character was spread across three episodes and honestly, given the character was in the process of dying I really didn’t care about their tragic circumstances. They either needed to establish that prior to fighting or just let it go.
Before wrapping this up I do have to give this anime props for the introduction of the villain, Muzan Kibutsuji. While he only had sparse appearances within the story each one gave us enough of a sense of dread and building up a villain worth fighting. There’s certainly more to learn about him but I enjoyed his screen time immensely during this first season.
I’m ultimately conflicted. This anime has some very strong points particularly with its animation and visuals and even the protagonist and his journey has been pretty solid, however with so many other issues this one ends up being a mixed bag. Some viewers really loved this anime and got a real buzz from it. Certainly it is worth trying. For me though, by the end of the season I was feeling a little fatigued and I’d certainly contemplated many ways the story could kill off some of the less necessary characters.
Basically, give it a try and it might work for you and might be one of your favourites, but even if not, there’s enough positives to make it a worthwhile enough viewing experience even if it is a flawed one.
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Images from: Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. Dir. H Sotozaki. Ufotable. 2019.