The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc
How would you rate episode 1 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc ?
What is this?
Tanjiro and his team are assigned by the Demon Slayer Corps to accompany Hashira member Kyojuro Rengoku and investigate a string of disappearances aboard the Mugen train. Once aboard, the Demon Slayers fall into the trap of Enmu, a member of the Twelve Kizuki, who forces a group of children to kill them from within their dream realms.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc is the TV version of the earlier Demon Slayer – Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train film adaptation of Koyoharu Gotouge's manga and streams on Crunchyroll and Funimation on Sundays.
How was the first episode?
Fair warning: to talk about this episode, we're going to have to dance around some spoilers from the film Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train. I won't spoil anything directly, but if this TV anime adaptation of the film is going to be your first introduction to the Mugen Train Arc—and if you're good at reading between the lines—you might want to skip this review.
While Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train was a bona fide record breaker here in Japan, riding a perfect storm to unparalleled box office success, I wasn't really on the hype train (pun very much intended). Oh sure, I saw it in theaters, watched as the scores of Japanese people around me burst into tears, and then left with what might just be a highly controversial opinion: “The film was fine.”
The big thing that keeps the film from being great is that it lives or dies based on how emotionally connected you are to Rengoku. And frankly, we don't know Rengoku very well. He only appeared briefly in the first season and has had no interactions with our heroes other than at Nezuko's trial—where he was basically calling for her death. In the film itself, we get a grand total of two conversations between him and our heroes and a few flashes of his backstory, but he's still quite underdeveloped as a character.
That's why this episode is so needed. In this newly animated addition to the Mugen Train Arc, we get to see Rengoku in his normal life. While he may be over-the-top positive and painfully boisterous, this episode shows clearly that, just because he has an oddball personality, that doesn't mean he is stupid. In fact, it's quite the opposite. While his obsession with food is treated as a joke, he actually uses the bento lunches he bought to great effect—first as an excuse as to why he is on an out-of-service train, and then later to ingratiate himself with the maintenance workers on the Mugen Train.
We also see that, when it comes to being a hero, Rengoku not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk. While his proclamation that he will save everyone and defeat the demon attacking them sounds almost foolish, he does just that in the end. Rather than being naive or full of bravado, he is simply self-aware. He knows exactly where his limits lie and knows that he can do what he has promised.
All this does wonders to develop Rengoku as a character. This episode gives us insight not only into his actions but also his mindset, turning him into a believable person rather than a cliché plot device introduced solely to push our heroes further on their journey. While this one is nothing special as a stand-alone episode, it massively improves the story to come—and even makes the film better in retrospect.
This may come as an absolute shock to some of you, especially since I'm the guy that officially covered the first season of Demon Slayer when it premiered back in 2019, but I might literally be the only person on this planet Earth that hasn't seen the Mugen Train movie yet. This was partially because of the pandemic, and partially because of my own admitted Demon Slayer fatigue. I wrote thousands upon thousands of words about the series when it first came out, and that was before the rest of the planet suddenly decided to make it an unavoidable global phenomenon. After a full year of nonstop hype, I needed a break from Demon Slayer, though I knew that I'd be required to catch up with the movie eventually. Wouldn't you know it? ufotable has been gracious enough to re-edit the film down into weekly episodes for our viewing pleasure. So, here I am, back in the saddle again, ready to finally find out whether or not all of the hubbub has been justified.
Well, I'll have to wait a little longer, I guess, since this premiere isn't really the beginning of the Mugen Train arc so much as it is a teaser for what is to come. We don't even see Tanjiro, Nezuko, or the others until they're boarding the titular train at the very end of the episode. The story here is as simple and straightforward as you can possibly get: Rengoku the Flame Ashira has been assigned to investigate the 40 or so train-related deaths that have been attributed to a demon known as Slasher. Rengoku finds the train, and then he finds the demon; they fight, and Rengoku wins. As it turns out, though, Slasher wasn't even the real threat; he was just a mini-boss, and one that Rengoku hardly had to lift a finger to take care of.
In short, the entirety of this episode serves to tell the audience that there is, in fact, a Mugen Train, and that there's some demonic threat on the train that needs solving. This is all information that I'm assuming would be obvious to anyone that gave the Mugen Train movie poster a passing glance, and certainly doesn't require an entire episode to explain. So, what this episode is really meant to do is to allow ufotable to show off some more, and to remind the audience that the anthropomorphic flame decal is a character who will probably serve some importance in the actual Mugen Train arc. In that respect, at least, this premiere succeeds. I now remember that Rengoku is a person who exists, that he likes food a lot, and that he is really good at kicking demon ass. I don't need to go on at length about how good this show looks anymore, do I? I'm fairly certain that ufotable could have done an entire episode of Rengoku playing hopscotch with the Kool-Aid Man, and they still would have found a way to make it unbelievably gorgeous and cool looking. For whatever misgivings I have about Demon Slayer as a story, I am glad that ufotable is back doing what they do best, and I'm eager to see what happens when the Mugen Train Arc properly gets going.
It's finally here! The highly anticipated follow-up to the first blockbuster season of Demon Slayer and the blockevenmorebuster Mugen Train film has arrived to deliver some brand new, sumptuously-animated demon-killing carnage...in about two months. Until then, this “new” season is going to consist of a re-edit of Mugen Train cut up into TV-length episodes, which is great if you're a person who a) hasn't seen the movie and b) can't make time for a two-hour movie but can eek out a half hour every week to be spoon-fed a story already available in a near-identical form. As somebody who was underwhelmed by this particular arc in both manga and movie form, I can't say I'm thrilled at the prospect of revisiting it for another six weeks before we get to see something new.
Though that at least isn't the case for this week. Instead, this premiere is an anime-original prequel to Mugen Train, exclusively starring Rengoku the Flame Hashira hunting down a different train-adjacent demon. That's likely welcome news if you're a member of the Demon Slayer fanbase who absolutely loves Rengoku, since this is essentially 20 minutes of reiterating how great and amazing and noble and badass he is. He can run faster than a speeding train. He can save people from the grasp of demons in the blink of an eye. He buys out all the stock at a local bento shop just so they won't be out at night while demons are about. Rengoku is essentially Superman with goofy hair and a soft spot for small business. Hell, there's even an extended post-credits sequence of all the other characters talking about how much they like and admire Rengoku, as if to stare his fanbase directly in the face and assure them the show itself recognizes his holiness.
If you're me, though, the semi-reverence with which Demon Slayer treats Rengoku got tiresome real quick, and this episode doesn't really do anything to flesh him out more. It's pure fanservice, and if that works for you then you're sure to have a great time. If it doesn't, then join me in waiting until December when the anime gets to fresh material. Otherwise all this has to offer is a cool-looking action scene that's nice, but pretty unremarkable within the show itself, and hampered by a total non-entity of a main antagonist. The only scene that really worked for me was seeing the bento shop's owner remember being saved by Rengoku's father in the past, showing just how much the demon slayer has modeled himself around his old man. It's a neat sequence that emphasizes both the heroic and mysterious aura the Slayer corps have in the eyes of lay-people, and the kind of thing I'd like to see more of from the main series.
This franchise's inescapable ubiquity has lead some to a sense of Demon Slayer fatigue, and while I'm not there yet, I've most certainly had my fill of Rengoku between this episode and the movie. So I'll see Tanjiro and his friends in a couple months and let this flame run its course out of mind.
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