Premiere Report - Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaibaby Jacob Chapman,
A small crowd of otaku gathered at the Aratani Theater in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo district this past Sunday to enjoy a whopping five-episode premiere screening for ufotable's first Shonen Jump adaptation, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. This Taisho-era supernatural adventure has a monstrous hook, about a young boy named Tanjiro who must fight to protect his sister from demons and demon hunters alike after she's turned into a ravenous oni (interpreted by author Koyoharu Gotouge as something midway between yokai and vampire) in the aftermath of an attack that destroyed their entire family. I was completely unfamiliar with the source material myself, but I'd heard fans singing its praises for months before its anime adaptation was even announced, so I was curious to see nearly half the season's worth of story unfold in this ogre-sized premiere (though the OP and ED were sadly absent, as is the case with many advance showings of TV anime).
My greatest takeaway from the two hours of fantastical brutality that followed was that Demon Slayer will indisputably be the leader in action and spectacle this spring. While it's still recognizable as a long-running Shonen Jump story, (training montages and exam arcs ahoy!) ufotable's production overflows with cinematic gravitas and engrossing intensity, where every shot is labored over in layers from gorgeously detailed backgrounds to intricate character animation to some of the best digital effects integration in the business. Fans can expect stellar work on the level of ufotable's Fate and Tales adaptations, at a comfortable pace of slightly less than two chapters of manga per episode. For newcomers, Demon Slayer's style of action is more reminiscent of the visceral gristle in Golden Kamuy or Ushio & Tora, dispensing gore and despair at more regular intervals than its neighboring Black Clovers and Borutos. There was at least one violent moment per episode that left the audience audibly gasping in shock, while being just tasteful and fantastical enough not to turn away the weak of stomach. The only aspect of ufotable's production that wasn't basically flawless was the musical score; while certainly grandiose and impressive, the soundtrack rarely has a setting below 11, sometimes drowning out lines of dialogue and becoming a significant distraction when it overacts in visually restrained moments. Those earth-shaking Yuki Kajiura strings and choirs are great for climactic combat, but they were a little too much for character introductions and exposition scenes.
While I'm nitpicking this otherwise jaw-dropping surefire success, Kimetsu no Yaiba's soft concessions to Shonen Jump tradition made for its weakest moments, with hallmarks like the grouchy swordmaster (with a secret tragic past) putting the unflappable Tanjiro through a hellish training session that's played for laughs, or side characters sharing unsubtle conversations about that special heroic something Tanjiro has compared to the more bloodthirsty demon-slaying teens in his field. Then again, while these more familiar cliches didn't engage me as strongly as the story's more unpredictable dramatic moments and digressions into raw emotion, they're also the only pinpoints of light in an overwhelmingly dark and gruesome story. Demon Slayer's balance of strong empathy for both humans and demons with its bleak and grounded circumstances is where the material shines brightest, as a truly inspired mashup of classic vampire fiction themes with Taisho-era anxieties and feelings of isolation. Above all else, the story's world blends its supernatural elements and historical reality beautifully into something that feels totally unique and vividly alive.
Simply put, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is going to be one of the biggest anime of not only the spring season but maybe the whole year, and it completely deserves all the attention. This series provides the kind of immersive escapism you can only get from anime at its most polished and manga at its most intimate, gripping the heart, mind, and eyeballs with its imaginative visuals and emotional sincerity in equal measure. Keep your eyes peeled for the demon onslaught to begin on April 6th!
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