EDITOR’S NOTE: What Are You Watching? is a feature series that dives deep into why we love the anime we love. You told us what you were watching, and now we’ll dig into why.
By Tom Speelman
In its 26-episode run, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba became something brilliant, brutal and beautiful.
Though it wears its many characters on its sleeve, this is clearly Tanjiro and Nezuko’s story. Their relationship is compelling, tragic and lovely. Combine that with masterful work from ufotable and you have something truly astonishing. Oh, and Nezuko is best girl. (Fight me, internet.)
To truly make it as a shounen series, never mind joining the Weekly Shonen Jump lineup, there’s a certain formula you must adhere to–or subvert. You’ve heard this story: A noble hero is determined to do his best, a worthy cause worth fighting for, a world to save, the power of friendship, a villain to hate, and so on.
And while Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba from Koyoharu Gotoge certainly has all of these qualities, it shines beyond them. It starts to become more clear how the manga has sold millions and the anime has taken the world by storm. It’s the execution.
The villains? Irredeemable. The fights? Impactful and gorgeously gory. The friendships? Genuinely touching. And the cause to fight? Protecting your loved ones from being murdered by or turned into immortal, bloodthirsty demons. Now that’s something to fight for.
And, of course, the hero, Tanjiro Kamado. A pure soul that could easily join the ranks of Naruto Uzumaki or Monkey D. Luffy. But let’s dive deeper. Let me tell you about…
The tale of how two siblings will save the world
Set during the Taisho Era (1912–1926), Japan has opened up to Western power, influence and ideas after years of isolation. Here, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba begins, with Tanjiro, a 13-year-old boy and the oldest son in his family, trying to fill the shoes of his deceased father while running the family charcoal business.
Beloved for his kind heart by his family of five siblings, his mother and seemingly everyone he meets, Tanjiro is likable from the jump. But one snowy day, he sets off for the nearest town to sell some wood, promising he’ll be back by nightfall.
As Tanjiro is about to head home, a man persuades him to stay the night at his place, as there are demons who eat people roaming about. Skeptical, and thinking the man might just be lonely, Tanjiro obliges and heads home in the morning.
Well, it turns out the man was right: demons are real. Tanjiro returns to find his entire family brutally slaughtered, the only exception being his younger sister, Nezuko, who is badly injured.
Thinking quickly, Tanjiro carries her to get help, but it turns out her wounds have been infected by demon blood. And, well, when that happens, you become a demon yourself.
As Tanjiro struggles with the horror of his sister turning into a monster, a member of the Demon Slayer Corps named Giyu Tomioka intervenes and nearly kills Nezuko before Tanjiro swears that she won’t hurt anyone. Giyu, whose sole job is to kill demons and avenge their victims, refuses to believe him. Nezuko proves Tanjiro right by defending him from Giyu.
Impressed by Tanjiro’s tenacity, Giyu tells him to seek out a man named Sakonji Urokodaki, who trains Tanjiro in the combat art of Water Breathing, to prep him for the trial of joining the Demon Slayer Corps. He is also able to hypnotize Nezuko into protecting humans instead of harming them.
After passing the Corps’ arduous Final Selection process, Tanjiro is inducted as a Mizunoto, the lowest rank, and sent on assignments to slay demons. Along the way, he meets other Slayers like the cowardly, chaotically infatuated Zenitsu Agatsuma and the rowdy, hotheaded Inosuke Hashibira.
Together, they hone their skills while Tanjiro dreams of fighting and killing the first Demon, Muzan Kibutsuji, and turning Nezuko human again.
Why is Demon Slayer so special?
What makes this show work is twofold. First, the special bond between Tanjiro and Nezuko. Bonds between anime siblings aren’t new, of course, but given the tragedy that starts their story and the fact that Nezuko has to consciously work to avoid her demonic impulses, it’s a unique dynamic that transcends the trope.
Between her nonverbal communication and Tanjiro’s utter determination restore her humanity, it doesn’t have to make you believe in their journey…you just do.
Secondly, there’s the animation. Good Lord, the animation is absolutely gorgeous. It’s easy to forget if you’re not a big fan of the Fate franchise, but ufotable is one of the best studios in the business–and boy, do they prove it here.
Series director Haruo Sotozaki, his animation staff, character designer Akira Matsushima, and composers Go Shiina and Yuki Kajiura all do astonishing work here, from the fluidity and impact of each and every fight scene to deftly illustrating the fear each character goes through and the breathtaking music. It’s simply breathtaking.
A particularly deft masterstroke is to animate the art of Tanjiro’s Water Breathing in the style of classical ukiyo-e paintings, which could be a disastrous clash in the wrong hands. But in the hands of Sotozaki and Co., it comes off as particularly beautiful, further echoing the series’ aesthetic philosophy of beautiful combat.
Like all things, this series isn’t 100% perfect. In particular, Zenitsu is meant to be funny, but his constant screaming and swooning over every single girl he meets might come off as annoying. There are also A LOT of characters in the back half of the series. And while they’re all extremely vital, they can be tough to tell apart.
Still, the highs are astonishing. From the horrific high point in the Natagumo Mountain Arc to the deep empathy Tanjiro and the show have for…most of the monstrous demons we see on screen. At just 26 episodes, this is a cold, bold breath of fresh air that deserves to be your next anime binge.
P.S. Nezuko. Best Girl. Fight me.