Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc ?
One of the common refrains I've seen on the internet regarding Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, including right here in the forum discussions for these reviews, is that the movie (and, by extension, this season of the show) is primarily worth watching for its climactic final act. In the fervor surrounding the film's initial release, I seem to recall a great many zealous fans declaring that The Big Fight™ at the end of Mugen Train was one of the all-time greats. I was never inclined to swallow that particular morsel of impossibly inflated hype, but still, given ufotable's sterling reputation, not to mention the whole “Making obscene amounts of money” thing, I figured that all of the excitement had to account for something, right?
Well, we've finally arrived at the grand apex of Mugen Train's ambitions here with “Akaza”, and now that I've seen it, all I can say is: “That's it? Really?” I'd been wrestling Demon Slayer's strange pacing habits before this season even began, and Mugen Train Arc has only brought them into sharper relief, but “Akaza” offers maybe the most glaring examples so far of the thing about this anime that just do not jive with me at all. I had done everything I could leading up to this episode to make my expectations as neutral as possible, and I still somehow ended up being thoroughly disappointed by what Demon Slayer had to show for all these weeks of buildup.
For one thing, the resolution to the Train Demon battle was just puzzling to me, especially in how the series handled its usual last-minute glimpse into a foe's motivations and perspectives. On the one hand, I guess I kind of appreciate that Train Demon apparently doesn't have the typically tragic and twisted backstory that we usually get from Demon Slayer's villains. He's basically just a weird, pathetic loser, and he died knowing that he'd never climb to the upper echelon of the demonic elite. It's a realistic and somewhat satisfying subversion of expectations…but the pathos that Tanjiro feels for his foes is one of the only standout elements of Demon Slayer's otherwise cookie-cutter writing. Without it, I don't know why we're supposed to care that much about the mission at all.
The closest the episode gets to hitting any of those emotional beats is when, as the train writhes in tumbles in the demons' death throes, Tanjiro gets really concerned about the fate of that train conductor who stabbed him in the gut last week. Usually, I'm on board with Tanjiro's Good Boy Instincts, but his insistence that he would be the murderer if the conductor died in the crash was just goofy. I get that Tanjiro doesn't want innocent people to die and all, but for the love of God, kid, there are dozens of other people involved in this mess that probably warrant just a little more attention. It's not the first time that Tanjiro's whole shtick has threatened to come across as obnoxiously naïve, but it may just be the silliest.
Now, even if you didn't have Rengoku's fate spoiled by cheeky internet commenters weeks ago like I did, the guy's death flags were incredibly obvious from the very get go. At this point in the episode, though, the story is done, which had me a little confused. The Train Demon was dead and dissolved, with no indication that he might pop back up for a surprise reveal to take on our boy Flameo in a Final Final Showdown. Enter the new demon of the week, a much tougher monster who has been branded the “Upper Third” to Train Demon's “Lower One”.
Look, I know that Demon Slayer didn't invent the Bad Guy Asspull; it's a trick that battle manga have been pulling since time immemorial. That knowledge didn't make me any less annoyed, however, when I realized that the crazy awesome action scene that folks had been raving about for the better part of a year was going to be between Rengoku—a guy I can barely be bothered to give a crap about—and some random asshole that has literally never been mentioned or seen before this moment.
In other words, the current scenario for Mugen Train's final fight is this: In one corner, we have Kyojuro Rengoku, a ridiculous caricature of a man who has only just barely been incorporated into the larger story, and (outside of his cliché daddy issues) the only thing we really know about him is that he's absurdly powerful compared to our young heroes. As it turns out, the main villain of the entire movie/season was a bit of a pushover compared to previous threats, and Rengoku's presence didn't make much of a difference at all. So, in order to artificially escalate the drama and trick audiences into thinking that this story was more important than it actually was, Demon Slayer has introduced one of those villains that serves the same function as when JRPGS force players into an annoying boss fight that they cannot possibly win, just to prove how tough a bad guy is. This “Upper Three” dude has essentially materialized out of thin air as an enemy that is so supremely overpowered that he's basically unkillable. All of this, simply to off Rengoku, and the movie expects us to feel things because of it.
There's actually another, shorter way to sum all of that up: Lazy writing. Which means that, once again, Demon Slayer is revealing itself to be a C-Tier story that is backed up by S-tier animation, and yes, before anyone in the comments yells at me: The fight was cool! It was choreographed and edited very well, Rengoku has nifty fire attacks, all of the character animation is incredibly fluid, and it was very fun to watch all around. The Train Demon's death was also a spectacle to behold, even with the iffy CG effects. It's good shit.
But…so what? Is anyone surprised, at this point? ufotable does fight scenes real good; in other news, have you heard that Final Fantasy games tend to have good soundtracks? The thing about being exceptionally talented and consistent at any one particular skill is, like it or not, eventually the novelty wears off, and all eyes fall on the parts that aren't already guaranteed to be great. I never expected “Akaza” to give me the Greatest Anime Fight Scene of All Time. I didn't really even think it would crack my Top Ten, which would have been fine!
What's disappointed me more than anything is that, for my money, the whole Mugen Train Arc isn't even the best thing this show has ever done. Not by a long shot. With one episode left to go, is there any hope for the series change my mind? Anything is possible, I suppose, but I won't be holding my breath. That's Tanjiro's area of expertise.
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