I have stopped and started this blog post for, no joke, the last two months. Mainly because I find myself torn on how I want to approach it... and really, on what I want to say exactly. I merely knew I wanted to write about this subject.
My tale begins with the idea that after re-watching Neon Genesis Evangelion - and writing about it on this very blog - I figured I would try and watch an anime that is a little more... recent. A lot of good choices were to be had, but I settled on Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, and did so for three reasons.
Before I began watching the show in earnest, I actually Googled "Is Demon Slayer any good?" The answers broke down into two distinct camps. Camp 1 thinks Demon Slayer is one of the best anime series ever created. Camp 2 thinks that despite being massively over-hyped, it is still pretty good.
I don't know why I'm researching anime as if I was buying a refrigerator, but here we are.
Without any hype or fanfare, right now, let me give you the answer I gave my wife, when she asked if it was any good:
I'll list my grievances with it, because I do think there are some serious flaws with this series, and then finish with, what will undoubtedly be, a gushing love-letter to Tanjiro Kamado.
First, though, the series set-up...
The story is set in Taisho-era Japan (circa 1912 to 1926). This is a world where "demons" exist (who share many similarities with western vampires), but aren't a universally known threat. The demons are former humans, who then feed on humans, and possess supernatural traits such as super strength, bodily regeneration, and magical abilities via "Demon Blood Art." Demons can only be killed if they're decapitated with specially crafted swords, if they're injected with poison extracted from wisteria flowers, or if they are exposed to sunlight (more vampire analogies).
Meanwhile, the Demon Slayers are just regular humans with no innate powers. What they do have are special breathing techniques known as "Total Concentration Breathing." Via this special breathing, they can achieve strength and speed on par with demons.
Our protagonist is Tanjiro Kamado. A 14-ish year old who is kind, generous, and has a very powerful sense of smell (he can pick up a scent from a great distance, and can even smell emotions on people; admittedly a weird trait, but it won't be the weirdest thing this anime has to offer). He is his family's (1 widowed mother, 4 other siblings) sole source of income, making trips to the nearby village to sell charcoal, and everyone in said village greatly admires him.
Things go sideways when a demon slaughters his family while he's in the village. Tanjiro returns to find his sister Nezuko has survived, but surprise... she's transformed into a demon.
After an encounter with Giyu Tomioka, a demon slayer, Tanjiro is recruited by him and sent to be taught by Sakonji Urokodaki, another member of the Demon Slayer Corps, to become a demon slayer himself. Episode one ends with Tanjiro beginning his quest to help his sister turn human again and avenge the deaths of the rest of his family.
Over the course of 26 episodes, we follow Tanjiro's journey as he seeks to join the Demon Slayer Corps, find a cure for his sister, join up with other slayers, and ultimately kill the main villain and his family killer, the progenitor of all demons, Muzan Kibutsuji (think Michael Jackson a la Smooth Criminal).
This feels like standard anime/manga fare. So why did I have so many problems with it?
1) Tanjiro really is the ONLY character worth caring about. Everyone else has some off-putting character traits or are just dicks. I wish I was exaggerating. Anything remotely redeeming about them are hidden under layers of asshattery. Sure, they all have their tragic backstories, but seeing their interactions with each other, and especially with Tanjiro, you just can't respect them as the heroes and allies that they are supposed to be.
The first character we have to call out is Zenitsu, another demon slayer and contemporary of Tanjiro. This freaking stroopwafel, almost made me stop watching this series, after joining in as a regular halfway through the series. For a couple of episodes, Zenitsu was losing his shit and screaming like a little bitch every 30 seconds. Admittedly, said losing of shit is a standard anime trope, but it's normally used judiciously. Not so much here. It was unwatchable, and if there was anything else on tv at the time, I may have bowed out. Yes, we find out why Zenitsu is a little bitch, and the seeds of a redemption arc are planted, but... his ridiculousness was so over the top and completely unnecessary that it almost ruined it for me. It was so bad, my wife and daughter, who were in the other room, had to come to see what the hell was going on because he was so exceptionally loud and atrocious.
Inosuke is a dude in a boar's head. Apparently, he was given up by his mother (to save him?) and he was raised by wild boars. I read somewhere that the boar's head mask he wears is actually his former "mother." He's quirky in a festive way, but he's also trying to pick fights and prove his strength. The fact he wears a mask makes him cartoony and almost bearable. In fact, in hindsight, my stance on Inosuke has softened a great deal. While he his tough to like at first, he grows quite a bit over the course of the series, and is almost tolerable. Almost.
Then there is the Hashira, the best of the best of demon slayers who are absolute jackasses to Tanjiro and Nezuko. How is that supposed to warrant our respect? I think it's the standard literary trope of having characters suffer from pride and getting arrogant while at the top. Giyu? Loner anti-hero. Shinobu? She is "That bitch." Sanemi? ASS. HOLE. Kyojuro? Ok, he seems like a decent guy. However, when Kagaya, the leader of the corps is all, "ya, Nezuko is cool," and some of the Hashira are all, "nah dawg," it's really tough to like and accept these guys.
Also on the list of characters who's presence I could live with out: Yushiro, Tamayo's assistant; Genya, a fellow slayer; Hotaru, the swordsmith. Not a likeable chap in the bunch.
2) Nezuko's muzzle. What's the deal with the muzzle? Well, demons eat humans to live, but Nezuko never ate a human after changing. The bamboo muzzle was put on her by Giyu to prevent any accidental bitings, even though she shows signs of retained human thought and emotion.
My beef is that the only true female series regular - and I use that term loosely as she's asleep for a lot of it - is prevented from having a speaking role via something that has a bit of a BDSM feel to it. We do see some character development as she learns to fight alongside Tanjiro, but she feels borderline objectified.
Don't even get me started on Tsuguko who, due to her own tragic backstory, won't speak unless it's absolutely necessary. Yes, this anime is a bit of a sausage-fest to begin with, but the minimally speaking female players are not helping. Not a fan.
3) There is an unnecessary amount of blood gore, in my opinion. It doesn't have some horror elements and a lot of swordplay, so some crimson is to be expected. However, there are spots where there was a bit too much. A human body holds about 10 pints of blood; a shock decapitation shouldn't yield 3 gallons. Just sayin'.
In fact, my friend Michael, who actually lives in Japan, found it curious that a show that is, over there, considered a "children's" anime would get a hard R rating for its movie stateside.
4) There are some pacing/timing issues that I was not keen on. Episode 2 compacted a timeframe of two years into its singular episode, but the one-night Mount Natagumo battle spanned like 6 episodes. It's these pro-longed stretches where it feels the anime is dragging just a smidge.
Enough negativity. It's time I turned into a hype man for our hero, Tanjiro Kamado.
To be fair, I don't read Weekly Shonen Jump, and I haven't watched an exponentially large amount of anime, so my perception of Tanjiro may be off. But while touching on some of the standard tropes of anime/manga, the character of Tanjiro feels very fresh and unique.
Here's a kid who was content on his mountain, living with his family, and helping out his neighbors and the villagers where he can. As he's sucked into this world of demons and slayers, he remains level-headed and tries to be supportive of everyone he comes across. Tanjiro's determination and heart in the series is simultaneously cliche and refreshing. While it seems like it's going to be a reluctant hero story, it's not. His love for his sister and his desire to turn her human again drives him and the story forward, with hesitation. Tanjiro is a great protagonist.
The fact that he is "kind" is commented on throughout the series, and it's true; Tanjiro really is a kind kid. Even when he has to fight demons, he shows them empathy because he understands they were once humans themselves, like his sister. And when he does slay demons, he does so as mercifully as possible. As Tanjiro defeats the demon in the Tsuzumi Mansion, he compliments the demon's blood art out of genuine kindness, which has the unintended effect of giving the demon some final peace and validation as he dies.
A shining example of his kindness is when he, Zenitsu, and Inosuke are sharing a meal at the Wisteria house. In an attempt to spur Tanjiro into a fight (yet again), Inosuke takes some of Tanjiro's food. Instead of reacting negatively, Tanjiro merely smiles and says that if his would-be provocateur was still hungry, Inosuke can take more of his food. The move baffles Inosuke. But it wasn't a underhanded move of gamesmanship; it was a true act of kindness.
There is never any malice or cruelty when he fights. Though he is continually tried and tested in battle, his spirit never hardens. He remains gentle at heart even though he needs to remain fierce in battle.
As we go through this journey with Tanjiro, you find yourself drawn to him, pulling for him, wanting him to succeed. He didn't ask for this life, but he embraced it as a means to an end (making Nezuko human again), and he's determined to excel at it. He's inspiring to watch.
Watching him reminds a bit of watching Thunderbirds Are Go. Sometimes, you just want to watch a good guy do good guy things. No glitz, no glamour, no glory. Just heroes doing what needs to be done.
And in the context of the series, his presence truly makes up for everyone else's. I say this with zero hyperbole... Tanjiro Kamado carries this franchise, and makes the entire endeavor worth it.
Here we are. At the end of blog. And the last question we have to answer is this: "Do I recommend this anime?"
Yes. It has it's flaws, but Tanjiro makes it all worth it.
Thanks for visiting. Love, Demosthenes Spiropoulos