Review: Demon Slayer

This review is not spoiler free. If you want to have a very quick spoiler-free summary and rating out of 10, then skip to the paragraph in bold at the very end.

Demon Slayer is an anime that aired in mid-2019, featuring protagonist Tanjiro Komado, a young man whose family was massacred by demons. Tanjiro’s sister Nezuko survives the massacre and is turned into a demon herself. Although ordinarily a demon would lust for human blood to the point that the demon cannot be trusted to continue living alongside humans, Nezuko is able to control her urges, exhibiting superhuman power, speed, and durability compared to a regular human. Demons cannot be exposed to direct sunlight, so Tanjiro carries his sister around in a box on his back.

Tanjiro wishes to rid the world of the evil that killed his family, and so he joins the Demon Slayer Corps, an organization that, obviously, slays demons. Demon slayers use swords and sword-centric magic techniques to kill these demons, and are issued orders to travel to specific locations and take down demons known to reside there. Tanjiro’s sword attacks are water-based, and he picks up a couple of demon slayer allies along the way named Zenitsu and Inosuke whose powers are based on electricity and pure brawn respectively. Their task is ultimately to defeat Muzan Kibutsuji, a demon who killed Tanjiro and Nezuko’s family and leads a fearsome organization of powerful evil demons.

People have a high opinion of this anime, and rightfully so. To start, the music and the animation was so beautiful and unique that the show as a whole essentially casts a spell on you. It entices you to watch more in the same way that you would be drawn to watch a pod of dolphins or a rainbow – you feel that is a special and artistic experience that deserves your full attention. The characters have a unique, child-like appearance with features that seem to pop out of the screen. The robes, the hair, and the swords were all specifically tailored to a given character, and often, the magic style that a character wielded would bleed over into their entire character design and personality, making it very clear what their focus was in life and in combat. I really like the design of the Demon Slayer Corps uniforms and the robes and boots that characters wear alongside it. The art-style of the character’s eyes was beautiful, whether they were hauntingly empty, terrifying, full of energy, full of kindness, or serene, and it was an aspect of character design that was used to its full potential. Especially interesting to me was the fact that Tanjiro’s eyes were not perfect circles, but rather, polygons with subtle edges, which is something that I haven’t seen before but really works in a way that I can’t explain. Tanjiro’s earrings and facial scar were also good touches that made his appearance unique.

The animation in this show during the fight scenes specifically was something that very few anime have rivaled. The animators really went all out in detailing every particle of fire, every splash of water, and every tendril of smoke. This becomes extremely obvious when a character does a special magic-based attack, because the magic from the attack seems to stick out from the screen like a picture in a pop-up book. When they do this, the magic seems so different from the scene’s background that it looks like it was imported from another anime, which really makes sense if you think of magic as something ordinarily foreign to the regular world. It’s just so cool to watch, and while ultimately there are a couple series with better overall animation, there is just something special about Demon Slayer’s that I can’t compare to anything else.  

I mentioned the music, and I really appreciated the way that it stimulated the viewer’s emotions, notably with a peaceful, solemn, and mystical vibe which seemed to coordinate well with the magic and darkness in the world that the show created. I think most people also can agree that the opening is a banger, and you won’t regret letting it play before you watch the episodes (I am also a huge fan of the singer, LiSA). Openings are very important to me as they can set the mood for the rest of the show and can even stick with you after the series is over as a reminder of how good the series was.

Let’s talk about the protagonist. Tanjiro is a great shonen protagonist, because he is not only hardworking and motivated like many shonen heroes, but he also is calm, considerate, highly-emotionally intelligent, mature, not an idiot intellectually, and just such a joy to be around. I can’t say this for characters like Naruto and Luffy, because although they have their own strengths, most other characters in their respective shows have an extremely hard time being around Luffy and Naruto, because they are rowdy, confident, and often unintentionally inconsiderate characters. Tanjiro is just a straight up good dude that I would enjoy interacting with in real life. He has confidence and drive but does not rudely shove it in your face (I love Luffy and Naruto, they’re just a different type of character. I’m also not trying to imply that Naruto and Luffy are the same because they are definitely not). His kindness is reinforced by the way he treats Nezuko, the way he cares for other humans, and the way that he even seeks out and embraces the positive traits in demons who are set on killing him. Although a demon killed his family, all Tanjiro feels for demons is empathy for their pain, and that’s just amazing depth of character.

This leads to another strong point of the series, which is that it makes you really care about the demons Tanjiro faces, fleshing out their backstories and motivations in a way that makes you pity them. I love that the series emphasizes that the demons are not just purely evil, but were led down that path by terrible circumstances, mistakes, and things that have happened to them. This is a message viewers can and should take from the show and apply to their daily lives. If the show had just basically said “demons are bad,” it would have made the fights so much less impactful. By the end of a fight, you even kind of view a demon’s defeat as mutually beneficial, because they can depart from the world having felt some sense of peace from what they learned while interacting with Tanjiro. The fights are also well done and exciting to watch from a pure action perspective (who doesn’t love swords and magic). The fights have enough tactical nuance to them to feel interesting, although perhaps I would want a little more of a strategic focus in the fights from time to time.

I liked the general plot and set up of the world as far as we got to see it. The Demon Slayer Corps is an interesting secret organization and their way of fighting with swords lends itself to entertaining combat. The Hashira at the top of the Demon Slayer Corps hierarchy, aside from having really cool designs and themes, felt powerful and intimidating, which is exactly what I want from the top of a powerful organization in an anime. The leader himself displayed a suitable amount of mystery, power, and knowledge for my purposes.

Moving into some more mixed criticism, let’s talk about Nezuko and the side characters Zenitsu and Inosuke. Generally, they were all entertaining and meaningful, and I thought the series did a good job with them overall. Nezuko is just such a likable character because she is so protective of her brother, is kind to everyone, and is also brave and strong on top of all her hardship. You could really tell that her and her brother were related, as they were very similar. I do wish we had been able to see a bit more of Nezuko’s actual thoughts and personality, as she spent the vast majority of her time sealed in her box, but this may have been unavoidable to a large extent given that she was a demon.

Zenitsu and Inosuke were funny in their respective ways, and they had interesting personality quirks which would lend themselves to meaningful development throughout the series. Zenitsu is a coward and desperate for female attention and Inosuke is too brash and egotistical. They can certainly work on ironing out the problems caused by these traits, and the show often plays on them for successful comedic effect. However, I really think that the series relied too much on humor centered on yelling, which I really got tired of after a while. Zenitsu would yell about women, Zenitsu would yell about being scared, Inosuke would yell about wanting to fight Tanjiro, and all three of the boys would yell at each other. Yelling can be funny, but when overused, it is obnoxious. Not a huge criticism, but it bothered me. Each of them were still good traveling companions, and their powers were really cool to watch in battle.

A major criticism that I had with the series is that it felt too slow in the beginning. I felt that the early villains were just an excuse to give Tanjiro some battle experience and to introduce characters, and I didn’t feel like they were connected to the larger plot. These battles and villains didn’t feel important, and just felt like filler or side quests before things started to heat up. Even if the villain was given a sad backstory to an extent, I still didn’t really enjoy watching it much at that point. For instance, the villain who hit the drums in the house for two or three episodes probably should have been replaced by a more exciting way to introduce Inosuke which could have been more directly connected to his backstory or emotions. I also didn’t see much value in the first villain he fought underwater who had been abducting women in the small town, and that could have been cut entirely and replaced with something else. I felt a bit underwhelmed regarding the two members of the Twelve Kizuki that Tanjiro and Nezuko faced at Tamayo’s house, and maybe they could have been given more development or hype. The series really heats up when they go to Mount Natagumo around episode 15. Honestly, any series needs time to heat up, and to an extent that’s why the first part was a little slow, but it was still not done as well as I would have wanted.

Some other thoughts now. Muzan Kibutsuji was mysterious and terrifying, but I would have liked a full fearsome cast of villains within Muzan’s organization to be introduced at the same level as the Hashira. Obviously this would be the upper part of the Kizuki. Perhaps they’re waiting on that, but at least hinting at the upper echelons of evil really makes the antagonists seem more substantial. We also really didn’t directly see a whole lot of Muzan being evil until the very last episode (where he was really scary), and I actually would have liked to see that earlier, as it would have made us understand the other characters’ fear of him more.

The world seemed a bit empty to me. I think seeing a hint of some sort of organization outside of Muzan’s and the Demon Slayer Corps would have helped me to feel like the world was real. Maybe more of an in-depth exploration of the lives of side characters and the set up of a town or something would have helped with this. Otherwise it just seems like the world is manufactured to the extent that the plot requires, and then the world doesn’t feel real to me. I want to feel like the world of Demon slayer contains all of the interesting and complex things that go on in everyday life in addition to all of the interesting things going on in the plot itself.

One final thing: that fucking fight against Twelve Kizuki member Rui where the dramatic music came on and Nezuko and Tanjiro teamed up to slash the dude’s head off with exploding blood fire was one of the coolest moments I’ve seen in anime. I had to immediately rewind and watch it a couple more times. It’s one of those moments where you remember why you watch anime in the first place. I will not forget it, and I just had to give it a special mention. Good stuff.

Overall, this show was a beautiful work of art which boasted expert character design and animation that seemed like magic. It was slow for the first half of the show, the world seemed a little empty, and to me the jokes became a bit tedious after a while. However, it more than made up for any small flaws. The characters were really likable, especially Tanjiro and Nezuko, and I really enjoyed the set up of the conflict of demons versus the Demon Slayer Corps. This is a series that teaches us empathy for those who seem the most evil, and teaches us that those who seem the most righteous are also capable of being wrong. This is an anime that a lot of people considered to be anime of the year, and while I don’t know that I would agree, I can see why Demon Slayer is worthy of being at least considered for the title.

Final Score: 8.2/10

-Gray