Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Entertainment District Arc
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Entertainment District Arc ?
Community score: 4.2
“Sound Hashira Tengen Uzui” stands as a strange but appropriate testament to the pacing choices that Demon Slayer is making in its second season. More than anything, what I find the most interesting about the episode is that it presents itself as a double-length season premiere of sorts, the official beginning of the long-awaited “Entertainment District Arc”, though what it really comes across as is an extended (and I do mean extended) epilogue to the Mugen Train Arc. When it comes to all of the new material that feels important to setting up the next stage of this show's story, the number of minutes that this episode spends on absolutely critical material could be counted on one hand. Two, if we're being generous. Beyond that, though? I generally dislike using the word “filler” as a disparaging term, but man, how else do I describe it?
Here's the breakdown: The first five minutes of this 45-minute episode is basically a replay of the last five minutes of the Mugen Train Arc finale, which is a choice that maybe makes sense for the folks that haven't seen the movie since it aired in theaters so many months ago…but feels awfully repetitive when we just saw all of this go down last week. Then, we get an admittedly interesting scene between Upper Third Demon Akaza and the Big Bad, Muzan (more on that later). After that, despite the title promising the presence of Tengen Uzui the Sound Hashira, most of this episode is actually about Tanjiro delivering the news of Kyojuro's death to his surviving father and brother. We're talking almost twenty full minutes here, if you count the bit where Zenitsu needlessly reminds the audience of how sad everyone is about Kyojuro (and believe me, I do).
I've already made my case about how poorly-executed Kyojuro's character arc and death were handled. I've read the many arguments for why it totally makes sense for the kids to be so shaken up by losing their kind-of mentor, and believe me, I get it, but I'm also not interested in how many in-universe explanations you can find for characters' behaviors. If a story doesn't make its audience feel what it is supposed to be feeling, then it screwed something up along the way, and speaking for myself, I don't care one single bit about Kyojuro, or his little brother, or his ridiculously shitty dad. They all feel like barely finished sketches of characters who exist only to try and force some pathos onto a story that hasn't earned it while doling out little breadcrumbs of exposition about Tanjiro's family connection to the Sun Breathing Technique's storied history.
Like, here's a perfect example of why I got so frustrated with this portion of the premiere: After the story spends twice as long as it needs to hammer home how drunk and abusive Papa Rengoku is, the show cuts abruptly to commercial when Tanjiro opens the Flame Hashira Chronicle that Senjuro gives him, hinting at some incredible revelation about Tanjiro's dad or something. When we cut back to the scene, though, the shocking reveal turns out to be...that Kyojuro's dad tore up all the pages. The book, as it currently exists, is useless. So Tanjiro bids a warm goodbye to Senjuro, promises to train even more, and that's the scene.
Now, I know there are plenty of viewers who got invested in the Kyojuro drama, so for that part of the audience, I can appreciate the value of an emotional denouement that can transition Tanjiro out of his grief and on to the next phase of the journey. But why on earth did it take up so much of this episode, especially when the rest of the episode consists mostly of training montage highlights and jokey-jokes? Haganezuka shows up to scream about Tanjiro's sword again and chase him all over the woods. End scene. The boys work out for four months and get super buff. End scene. There's a random spider-demon at a mountain temple that Tanjiro and Nezuko go off and kill with little effort. End scene.
By the time that the titular Sound Hashira actually shows up to just barely introduce the setup for this story arc, which involves the boys travelling to Tokyo's Red Light District to hunt some demons, there's only ten minutes left to go, except even that isn't true, because the last five of those ten minutes is filled up with the end credits and a skit. So, over the course of the whole double-length premiere, I'd wager only about ten minutes feels like it is contributing towards this big new arc's story. Everything else is…yeah, it's kind of filler. It's pretty and well-executed filler, mind you, but still.
That said, I didn't hate this episode or anything; I just wish it wasn't so cavalier about wasting our time. There's good stuff throughout “Sound Hashira Tengen Uzui”. I especially loved learning that Muzan apparently lives under the alter-ego of a preternaturally gifted and adored human boy. His adoptive father is just obsessed with how good and perfect he is, so much so that he wants Muzan to inherit the family business. Now, if only they could come up with some sort of miracle cure for the boy's crippling skin condition, which prevents him from going outside…
I don't know if we're supposed to find it hilarious whenever Toshihiko Seki's deep and masculine voice comes spilling out of the mouth of this tiny child, but I was giggling the entire time that Muzan was tearing down Akaza for failing to slaughter all of the demon slayers, rather than just the one. At the very least, I'm excited to see if this Entertainment District Arc can provide a better antagonistic presence than what we got in Mugen Train.
Also, and this is a small thing, but I loved the bit where Kanao resists the urge to decide her actions via coin flip, and simply goes after Tengen Uzui to try and stop him from kidnapping Aoi and…presumably setting her up as a fake prostitute in the Red Light District? Yeah, this whole scene would have played a lot better if it didn't amp up all of the jokes and took Kanao's dilemma more seriously, but then again, the joke where Tanjiro himself can't decide how seriously he's supposed to take the whole scenario was the only gag of the episode that made me laugh.
All in all, this was far from the worst episode of Demon Slayer, but I don't think it warranted its egregious runtime, and I definitely don't feel as jazzed for the new arc as I think I'm supposed to. Still, Demon Slayer is an anime that is at its best when it keeps moving forward and challenges its characters in interesting and memorable ways. We've got a brand-new mission for the Buff Boys to tackle, and I am perfectly willing to give the show another chance or two to convince me to get back onboard the hype train.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Entertainment District Arc is currently streaming on Crunchyroll. James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.
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