Saturday, April 24, 2021

REVIEW: Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Season 1 (anime TV series)

Demon Slayer is a historical-ish dark fantasy action series. I watched it on Netflix.


Tanjiro is a kind-hearted and gentle young man who is known for his incredibly powerful sense of smell - he even has the ability to smell emotions. Ever since his sickly father died, Tanjiro has taken over the responsibilities of supporting his mother and younger siblings. However, one day he goes out to sell charcoal and gets home later than expected, only to find that nearly his entire family has been murdered by demons, which he hadn't even thought were real. The only "survivor" is his sister Nezuko, but her exposure to demon blood has transformed her into a demon herself. Nezuko appears to be special, however - although most demons are stripped of their humanity and cannot resist eating humans, Nezuko is somehow able to resist her urges and remember that Tanjiro is someone she loves and wants to protect.

In an effort to learn how to transform Nezuko back into a human, Tanjiro becomes a Demon Slayer. His ultimate goal is to find Muzan Kibutsuji, the demon who killed his family, and get him to change Nezuko back and then kill him.

This was wildly popular when it first aired, and I'd heard a lot of good things about it. I've been watching anime for long enough that it's getting harder to wow me, but I still enjoyed this series. If it weren't ridiculously expensive (limited edition is $260 for the full season, standard edition is $98, curse you Aniplex of America), I'd probably buy a copy of the first season just to make sure to have it in my collection when Netflix inevitably removes it from its streaming catalog.

One of the things I'd heard was that the visuals were amazing. I was initially a bit disappointed, since all the praise led me to expect something more clearly off the beaten path, but it got more impressive as the series progressed. The animation was crisp and clean, the use of CGI was well-done, and there were some environments and visual effects during battles that I thought were really good. Breathing techniques were a huge focus of demon slayer abilities in this series. Tanjiro's primary abilities relied on Water Breathing, with his sword strokes depicted as powerful waves that reminded me of Hokusai's "The Great Wave" woodblock print. And the camera work during the Mansion episodes and the bit with the Biwa demon was great, and I'm guessing only possible due to the CGI environments used in those episodes.

Tanjiro initially seemed like he'd be an annoying protagonist doomed to spend a lot of time crying about his sister before pulling amazing fighting techniques out of thin air. However, I grew to love him as the series progressed. He was very earnest and genuinely kind and gentle. If it hadn't been for his family being murdered, he'd probably have lived his entire life never harming anyone, but even becoming a demon slayer didn't change his basic nature. He killed demons to prevent them from harming others, but had enough empathy to care about the humans they were before they were transformed, and to comfort them as they died and remembered a little about who they used to be. And just becoming a demon slayer in the first place wasn't an easy process for him - it took two solid years of constant training, with him realizing later that there was still far more for him to learn.

Before watching this, my exposure to the series was mostly limited to the fandom's focus on how cute Nezuko was. I have to say, she disappointed me a little. Yes, she was cute, and yes, she could be an impressive fighter when necessary, but she didn't have much personality. It was tough to say what her perception of the world was even like - she remembered enough of her humanity to know that she loved Tanjiro and her other family members, but her way of living made it tough to tell anything beyond that. Unlike most demons, who ate humans to heal themselves and add to their power, Nezuko spent most of her time sleeping. Tanjiro's mentor helped her resist her urges to eat humans by hypnotizing her into thinking that all humans were her family members, so I wasn't sure whether she even remembered exactly what happened to her mother and other siblings.

The cast eventually grew, and I generally enjoyed finding out more about them, even if I didn't always like them. The most annoying of the bunch was probably Zenitsu, who whined and cried all the time about how he was going to die and who mistook female characters' very existence for signs of love. Inosuke, the feral and short-tempered demon slayer who wore a boar head as a mask, was like Naruto times a thousand, boasting about how awesome he was, charging into battle without a hint of fear, and shouting at everyone. However, he eventually grew on me, and I absolutely loved how Tanjiro's earnestness would give him secret warm fuzzy feelings he didn't really know how to process.

The series managed to effectively use horror and violence by not making it a constant thing. There were a lot of gentle and humorous moments, and of course Tanjiro's general kindness. This meant that bloodier and more violent moments packed a punch - I'd somehow forget that the series could have really dark moments, and then bam, a demon accidentally invoked Muzan Kibutsuji's curse, or Muzan Kibutsuji tortured someone just because he was in a bad mood. I'm not a huge fan of gore, but the few moments I couldn't bring myself to watch (which, I know, weren't as bad as they could have been - more sounds and glimpses than true on-screen awfulness) didn't feel like gore for gore's sake so much as a reminder of just what Tanjiro was up against.

In an effort to keep the story moving, there were a few things that either initially confused me or had me raising an eyebrow. For example, at one point Tanjiro was told that he might be able to find help for his sister if he could collect blood from demons with a lot of Muzan Kibutsuji's blood in them. The problem? Demons literally disintegrate when they die, not even leaving blood behind. I wondered how Tanjiro was supposed to collect blood in that situation, and yet he never asked. It wasn't until he had to collect some blood that it was revealed that he'd had been told off-screen what he needed to do. I had similar questions about the way physical injuries were handled. Demon slayers were supposedly regular humans, and yet here Tanjiro was, somehow walking into yet another battle with a broken leg and ribs. Breathing techniques and determination apparently solve a lot of demon slayer problems.

If there's a way for me to do it that doesn't involve forking over a ton of money or paying Crunchyroll anything, I definitely plan to watch the next season (season 1 just stopped rather than ending in a satisfying way, so I'm glad to see that there is definitely going to be another season). It'd be nice to eventually add the series to my collection as well, but that's likely only going to happen if the price goes down a bit.

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