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Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc
Episode 4

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc ?
Community score: 3.8

Yeah, I'm beginning to suspect that chopping Mugen Train into a bunch of weekly episodes was a mistake. Don't get me wrong, Demon Slayer has been far from terrible; I haven't actively disliked any of these four episodes so far. The problem is that, well, the Mugen Train movie blew all the way the hell up last year, and while I was never under the illusion that this story was going to be any kind of masterpiece, I'm not going to tell you that I wasn't just a little excited to see what all of the fuss was about. I was ready to get hyped and bask in the glory of all that juicy ufotable spectacle that this goddamned pandemic robbed us of for the better part of a year. Instead, we're over halfway through this mini-season, and I have felt precisely one identifiable emotion at the end of each and every episode: Underwhelmed.

Two weeks ago, I talked about the fundamental problems with how Demon Slayer has arranged its cast. When literally every non-demon character that isn't Tanjiro is written to primarily function as either a basic plot device or very broad comic relief, there's not a lot of emotional weight to hang a story on. Still, not every anime has to be some great wellspring of psychologically complex character studies; I get that. Dumb, fun spectacle can be just as worthwhile as high brow drama, and I know that Demon Slayer isn't trying to be the next DEVILMAN crybaby.

Except when dumb, fun spectacle is good, it's usually because the plot and the action are working hand-in-hand to keep the audience's butts glued to their seats and their hands firmly affixed to their popcorn buckets. In theatrical form, I can imagine the version of Mugen Train that had that effect, where it was easy enough to wade through all of the mediocre melodrama and sloppy comedy when you knew a kickass demon fight was just minutes away. In contrast, here in TV Land, it has taken us an entire month just to get to the part where Tanjiro even meets our central villain for the first time, while half of the cast is still conked out on the Train Demon's dream spell.

I try to avoid linear plot breakdowns in these reviews, because they're rarely any fun to write or to read, but I'm going to run through every major plot beat that we hit in “Insult” just to prove my point here: We begin with a recap of Tanjiro's decisive decision to suicide himself out of his dream from last episode, which works well enough to wake him up. Just before this, the dream kid who was trying to stab Tanjiro's soul-orb-thing was overwhelmed by the inhuman levels of niceness that even Tanjiro's soul ghosties are compelled to exhibit. When Tanjiro and Dream Kid #3 wake up, Tanjiro learns the gist of the train's current situation, and then he immediately knocks all the brats out, leaving Nezuko to tend to the sleeping crew.

Then, Tanjiro confronts Train Demon—who I still don't think has a name—and Train Demon goes on about dreams and murder, as he has been. Tanjiro gets some nightmare flashes of his dead family, but he's not falling for that shit twice, so he cuts off Train Demon's head. To his credit, even Tanjiro realizes that this was too easy, and he's right! Train Demon has, somehow, literally become the Train Demon, which is to say that his body is the Mugen Train, and he's slurping up passengers' life essence like me at a ramen buffet.

If this story was being properly adapted to a serialized format, we might have actually spent some time to learn who the hell these hench-children are, and why they're so willing to murder their way through peoples' dreams on Train Guy's behalf (and no, I do not count “that one kid has TB” as a satisfactory exploration of their characters). We might actually see how Inosuke and Zenitsu fare in their own dream scenarios, instead of treating them like silly jokes…again. When Inosuke does wake up to start kicking ass, it might actually come as a satisfying payoff to a couple episodes' worth of buildup, instead of a confusing non-sequitur (Did he also have to commit graphic suicide to wake up? Or was it just because Nezuko was burning his dream ropes? How does any of this stuff even work!?).

Of course, Mugen Train Arc is not a properly adapted serialized story; it's a 117-minute feature that's been chopped up into six twenty-minute chunks with a few minutes of footage sprinkled in for good measure. This means that this episode consists entirely of a bunch of exposition, some emotional threads that may or may not go anywhere, and a single action scene between one protagonist and a yet-to-be-named Train Demon. Granted, the fight scene is cool (weird CGI goop notwithstanding), and Tanjiro does acquit himself well when he has to brute force his way through Train Guy's nightmare visions, but the fight doesn't really mean anything, since the plot is only barely approaching its third act.

So, yeah, the verdict here is much the same as last week. There are some cool things going on in these episodes, but even when you factor in the usual adaptation and pacing issues that come from adapting a weekly manga, this arc has been pretty disappointing. I can't help but feel confused as to why ufotable thought it was necessary to re-broadcast the Mugen Train movie in this format. Was it just to make more money? Was it to give ufotable more time to produce Season 3? Whatever the reason, I beginning to have less and less hope that the final 3 episodes of the arc will be enough to justify the double-dip.


Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train 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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