Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 16 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ?
I've seen some complaints from viewers that Demon Slayer has gone downhill ever since Zenitsu and Inosuke joined the cast in the Tsuzumi Mansion storyline, and while I don't think the show has become bad all of a sudden, it's difficult for me to deny that the show hasn't felt quite as exhilarating as it did in its earlier episodes. It's been weeks since Nezuko has done anything of significance for either the plot or the action, and her absence has left Tanjiro all alone as the beleaguered bastion of maturity to balance out Inosuke's wildness and whatever Zenitsu's supposed to be doing for this story. “Letting Someone Else Go First” is Demon Slayer's attempt to square the circle of its own conflicting tones and storytelling priorities, mashing its newfound obsession with comedy antics together against the blood-soaked dread of the series' more horror-focused ambitions.
I know I defended Zenitsu's wackiness before, and I still don't think he's such an insufferable character that he could ruin the whole of Demon Slayer for me, but he's more tangential and irritating than he's ever been this week, where his involvement once again boils down to wandering around aimlessly and complaining. Zenitsu's material absolutely falls flat, but everything involving Tanjiro and Inosuke in the spider demons' forest is classic Demon Slayer goodness, for the most part. Their initial fight against the unfortunate Slayers that fell into the web of the spider demons gives the two a fight that shows off Inosuke's brawn and Tanjiro's brain, and it's pretty gruesome to boot. Once the spider matron is done grinding their bones and insides to dust with her puppet show, she simply snaps their necks, and Tanjiro's rage is enough to make even Inosuke take pause.
More than the fighting though, I'm really appreciating how well Tanjiro and Inosuke play off each other as characters. I don't think I'll ever get tired of how the boar boy is characterized as a deliriously violent child whose desire to impress his new friend is indistinguishable from a kid smashing his trucks together on the playground. Inosuke can't even be bothered to remember Tanjiro's name, but he melts into butter whenever Tanjiro offers praise and recognition, which just motivates the guy to smash things up even harder. There's a simple but effective power to the way Inosuke goes from flinging things about in gleeful abandoned, to flinging Tanjiro about with laser-focused purpose. As the title says, Inosuke is figuring out how to interact with others and let their skills make up for what he lacks – it might be a decade or so after most people figure that stuff out, but a lesson learned is a lesson learned.
As far as the baddies of the arc are concerned, I like these spider-folk a lot more than the drum and tongue demons from the last mission. Their designs are the exact mixture of cool, creepy, and uncanny that I think Demon Slayer does best, and I'm eager to know what the patriarch of the clan has in store for our heroes. The ill-fated mother demon was a good villain in her own right, playing the role of the beaten down victim of her abusive family as she also lashes out at the Demon Slayers that have come to put her clan down. At this point the pattern on Tanjiro slaying his foes and then showing them a final act of empathetic mercy is becoming a bit predictable, but the actual scene of the woman's beheading was gorgeously animated and directed – one of the show's most beautiful sequences so far, from a purely aesthetic angle. This whole episode was gorgeously done, honestly, though that's to be expected by this point. Even when Demon Slayer is slacking in its storytelling, you can usually count in it to be pretty to look at.
Another predictable point is how these arcs have been structured. We have our transitional episode that ends by introducing the demons to be fought, which we got last week, and then we have an episode like this one, which focuses on going into what the demons' specific powers are, and how our heroes have to circumvent them. All that's left is to take out the creepy spider-demon son, Rui, and his hitherto unseen father. If Demon Slayer can just please give Nezuko something to do, and maybe tone down Zenitsu's worst traits by a notch or three, then I'll be able to say that the show is back on the upswing.
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