Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc
Episodes 1-2

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc ?

Let's get this out of the way upfront: Even though I had the privilege of covering Demon Slayer's smash-hit first season, I never actually got around to seeing Demon Slayer – Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train, which I'm just going to call Demon Slayer: The Movie from here on out for the sake of my typing fingers. The film dropped when the COVID pandemic was hitting my part of the United States hard enough to make a trip to the movies out of the question, and by the time it arrived on Funimation and Crunchyroll's streaming platforms, ufotable had already announced that we were getting a televised recompilation in the form of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Mugen Train Arc. Again, for the sake of my poor fingers, just know that whenever I refer to Mugen Train Arc, I'm talking about this specific season of the Demon Slayer show, and not the Demon Slayer movie that I haven't seen, even though they will be functionally identical, except for when they're not.

Confused yet? That's how I felt when all of this got started, too, which I guess is what happens when you miss out on the most popular goddamned anime on God's green earth—and while I promise that I won't harp on it too much over the next few weeks, can we just talk about how insanely huge Demon Slayer has become since its first season premiered a million years ago (a.k.a 2019)? I remember being a little defensive of the series when it was first ramping up, since there was a lot of justifiable criticism getting tossed around about how Demon Slayer's fairly rote storytelling rarely lived up to ufotable's eye-meltingly gorgeous visuals (admittedly, a fair amount of that criticism was coming from me, but still). Now, though? You can't swing a deadly half-demon sister without hitting a Demon Slayer super-fan. The franchise has become a marketing juggernaut, and LiSA's Season 1 opener was the closer for the freaking Olympics.

I know you all don't need me to tell you how big this show has gotten, but hot damn has it been a trip to watch unfold in real-time. That's partially why I didn't mind sitting out the movie—there is a certain amount of burnout that comes from the constant discourse that surrounds a bona fide phenomenon, after all—but it's also what made me excited to come back to Demon Slayer after a much-needed hiatus. Now that the show is back on the small screen, it's time to figure out exactly how Mugen that Train ended up being, and whether or not it was worth all of the hype. Now, having seen the first two episodes of this new train-centric mini-season, I can confidently tell you that the answer to the question is a resounding, “Maybe?” If you're also a viewer that has gone a full two years without getting their new Demon Slayer fix, that might be a disappointing way to begin this new train ride, but it honestly shouldn't be all that surprising, since all we've really seen so far are the opening scenes of a movie that is still very much in progress.

The season premiere, "Flame Hashira Kyojuro Rengoku", was little more than a teaser for what is to come, and while fans of the film have been plenty eager to refer to some important developments concerning Rengoku that will doubtless blow our little movie-deprived minds, that doesn't mean it feels any less like filler. As of right now, outside of some predictably excellent fight animation and choreography, all the premiere really has to offer is a basic reminder that a bunch of people are getting murdered on this train, along with a = barebones explanation for how Rengoku got involved before our main heroes arrived.

That leads into “Deep Sleep”, which feels like the real premiere, consisting of what I can only assume are The Movie's first twenty or so minutes. It feels a lot more substantial as a season opener, since it does a solid job of reintroducing our key players, (re)establishing the Mugen Train mystery at play, and revealing the spooky Demon schemes that are behind the recent string of deadly disappearances. It's great to see Tanjiro and Inosuke again, especially when our Boar Boy is acting like such a doofus and getting all worked up over the magic of train technology. Zenitsu is…also here, which is…well, we all have our crosses to bear, I suppose.

Rengoku is the other key player at the head of this mission, and I have to admit, he also feels like an “acquired taste”, what with how much the episode overplays his unchanging, dead-eyed grin and seemingly compulsive need to scream “Delicious!” whenever he takes a bite of food. He's just weird enough to keep his tics from being unbearably annoying, and the fact that he can whoop fiery ass in a Demon fight at least helps me understand why the in hell any sane person would ever trust him to solve a problem or complete a basic task. This is a refreshing change of pace from Zenitsu, who is the worst at everything he does (unless you count “Actively ruining the lives of every person who has to so much as glance in his direction” as a skill).

If you couldn't tell yet, I have a very hot-and-cold relationship with Demon Slayer's bizarre and irritating brand of “humor”, the kind that necessities the use of irony quotes whenever the word “humor” is even brought up. For as much as I appreciated getting to see our heroes (and Zenitsu) back on the case, I was getting tired of Rengoku's shtick well before we hit the halfway point of the episode, and while I thought his sick double-takedown of the two train demons was delightful, the episode almost ruined the entire mood with the incredibly goofy and exaggerated reaction from the boys. I can handle the occasional super-deformed reaction shot or whatever, but I draw the line at seeing three young men literally levitate off the ground and spin worshipfully around their new mentor.

Thankfully, that's when the show reveals its hand a little, and we get to meet the true Demon of the Mugen Train. The two train car mooks were fine and all, but I was happy to find out that they were all a figment of Rengoku's overactive imagination, and that all of our heroes are currently trapped in their own dreams. In the episode's one moment of genuine pathos, this is where we also discover that poor Tanjiro has been sharing a peaceful moment with his slain siblings, all while the mysterious and flamboyant villain cackles in wicked delight at their own somniferous plot and coaxes its children to do its bidding.

Now this, right here? This is a hook for a brand new Demon hunt. Maybe it's because I'm in a Halloweeny sort of mood, and maybe it's because my wife and I just finished a marathon of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, but I'm all for a spooky-ass motherfucker with evil dream powers. That's exactly the kind of villain I can't wait to see get its comeuppance, and with as much flashy ufotable spectacle as possible; this anime, for me, has always worked better when it has leaned into its horror-manga inspirations over its broad comedy. This might not have been the barnburner of a premiere that some of us were hoping for after all this time, but Demon Slayer still has plenty of opportunities to remind us all of why and how it became one of the biggest franchises in the world.

Rating:

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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