While you obviously can’t predict how any anime is going to turn out just based on the pilot, this is a far cry from the review that I expected to write for Demon Slayer. It’s not that I hated it; with everything said and done, it’s still one of my favorite anime to come out of the Spring 2019 season. But I definitely have more complaints than I expected, most of them coming out of the second cour much like That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. So where did Demon Slayer go wrong? Let’s talk about it. Spoilers ahead.
Before we jump straight into some criticisms, let’s talk about what Demon Slayer did right because, at it’s core (and I mean very foundation), it really shines. Like some of the world’s best stories, it takes a simple concept and extrapolates it into an exciting adventure. It essentially asks the question, “In a world where demons are hunted to protect humanity from their bloodlust, what happens if one of them could be saved?”
That is the quest of our protagonist, Tanjiro; his sister Nezuko (and now only living relative) has been turned into a demon, but her humanity isn’t completely gone. She hasn’t consumed human flesh, and is able to control her thirst for blood. Tanjiro is desperate to get her back, and sets out to find a way to turn her. He seeks out training to join the Demon Slayer Corps so that he can hunt down the leader of the demons and demand the return of Nezuko to humanity. Seemingly, he has just enough grit and passion to pull it off if he can keep a level head and persevere. This is the foundation I referred to for Demon Slayer‘s best moments.
As you can imagine from an anime called Demon Slayer, the shows best moments come when Tanjiro (and occasionally Nezuko) are slaying demons. While this might sound like a recipe for repetitious or formulaic disaster, it’s actually quite the opposite. As Tanjiro fights, he grows, expanding his arsenal of fighting techniques, known as “breathing techniques”, as well as gaining knowledge that only experience can provide. This combined with varied antagonists with unique abilities and fighting styles keeps the formula fresh as Tanjiro slowly fights his way towards the head of the demon race.
Anime studio Ufotable brought everything they had to these fights. The animation was absolutely gorgeous and the choreography was nothing short of incredible. The visualization of the breathing techniques with the water dragons and opening threads fit perfectly with the supernatural tone for the entire series. A stand out performance is episode 19, the climax of one of the series biggest arcs; it was even enough garner attention outside of the typical anime community.
The rhythm that Demon Slayer had set for itself was working perfectly. Fun, beautifully choreographed fights as we watched Tanjiro and his sister learn and grow, unraveling the mysteries that would hopefully lead to a cure for Nezuko. And then….and then they decided to mess with that formula a little bit.
I’m not so set in my ways that I think shows shouldn’t be allowed to adjust their formulas. It’s a common thing often triggered by a growth arc or major development. But if you’re going to adjust an already very successful formula, it has to be done with care. Demon Slayer decided to expand it’s cast in a more permanent fashion as a way to expand lore and introduce more than two main characters. But it carried with it some major problems.
Typically I’d say new characters are a good thing. If nothing else, they create otherwise impossible story lines and depth for the protagonists with the possibilities of becoming really interesting characters by themselves. But the characters they introduced are, to put it mildly, extreme. Up until this point, most of Demon Slayer‘s characters seemed carefully planned and executed, side characters or not. But the moment Zenitsu (blonde) and Inosuke (boar) were introduced, it was like all of that went out the window in favor of being super loud all the time.
Their loud and extreme behavior has two modes: on and off/all or nothing. They try to pass it off as a simple personality quirk for what I assume is the appearance of depth and complexity, but it really only gives off the impression of one dimensional characters. The main difference between these two characters is one is a loud reckless fighter and the other is a loud coward. Growth and depth are shoved to the side in favor of these fire truck personalities. And they stay that way for a very…long…time.
It becomes a breath of fresh air when the personalities of Zenitsu and Inosuke are shoved off screen in favor of a return to demon slaying, what this show does best. You can almost physically feel the show replanting it’s roots and saying “I’m back and I’ve missed you.” We missed you too, demon slaying.
Again, later, more new characters are introduced. They are meant to be the top tier Demon Slayer Corps members. They’re people who have what it takes to slay the mightiest of demons. Also, they’re a bunch of loud, petulant children with the grace and subtlety of a train whistle. While their reasoning for their actions might be justified and even logical, you would expect more dignity and professionalism from such high ranking Corps officials. Again, they each possess essentially a single unique overblown personality trait and they all display it at full power with no hesitation; where’s the nuance?
Unfortunately, all of these new personalities really bring the story and pacing to a grinding halt. It’s almost like watching two different shows: one you like, and one you wonder why you’re watching. It’s as if all the hype and motivation the show is able to build are sucked completely out of you just because Zenitsu thinks his medicine tastes bad. I think Karandi over at 100wordanime summed it up nicely in the below tweet:
It’s clear with the finale that Demon Slayer has a lot more story to tell. When we’ve come this far and seemingly barely scratched the ranks of the highest ranking demon, you know they want to take their time to tell a story worth experiencing. And as I’ve said all along, at it’s very core, this is one of the most exciting anime to watch this year; when it delivers, it really delivers. The stellar fight choreography, animation and pacing really set this one apart from everyone else. But it has a character personality problem when it comes to a large portion of the cast. To put it bluntly, most of them feel like lazy shadows of interesting ideas. I really hope they’re able to figure it out going forward or they won’t be able to push past the territory of just being “a good anime.”