Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ?
Okay, I see the point Demon Slayer is trying to make. I might have been pretty harsh on Zenitsu these past few weeks, but its only because he's been such an aggressively screechy, cowardly, and over-the-top addition to the cast, despite not contributing much of anything to the plot. Sure, he has some deeply rooted insecurities about his perceived inability to improve himself, and he's deeply afraid of everyone in his life abandoning him for the exact things the fandom has been yelling at him over, but that doesn't mean I'm going to start caring for him all of a sudden. I can see that he's a sweet and well-meaning boy that's just doing his best, and I can't blame him for being terrified in a world infested with demonic spider-babies and such, but Demon Slayer is absolutely not going to make me cry with a Zenitsu episode.
Alright, I admit it: this episode got to me. I'm only human, and my heart hasn't completely transformed to stone yet, no matter how irritated I've been with how Demon Slayer has handled Zenitsu's character so far. “You Must Master A Single Thing” managed to get the character to finally click for me. It's kind of like the rake gag from the Simpsons, where Sideshow Bob keeps stepping on rake after rake and smacking himself in the face. At first, it's funny, then it's boring, then it becomes annoying, and then it circles all the way back around to being funny again – except in this case, there are some ugly sobs being mixed in with the chortles. Even Chuntaro the Bird is crying for his doofus of a master by the end of this episode, and that bird has more excuse than anyone to be totally sick of Zenitsu's shtick.
If you simply can't abide Zenitsu's foolishness, then this episode will most likely drive you mad. It's All Zenitsu, All the Time: Zenitsu running from terrifying spider-babies, Zenitsu screaming when he finds the giant Spider-Boy in the middle of the forest, Zenitsu collapsing in fear when he realizes his poisonous spider bite will transform him into one of the mountain's damned creatures, and so on. Even when we get flashbacks to Zenitsu's time as a trainee of the famous former Demon Slayer, Jigoro “Gramps” Kuwajima, it's framed by present-day Zenitsu's lamentations over his own inadequacy. Jigoro rescued him from debt and worked tirelessly to literally beat the cowardice out of Zenitsu, and while Zenitsu admits that all of the beatings might have been a bit much, he's also deeply grateful to the one man who never abandoned him in disgust. Every time Zenitsu tried to weasel his way out of his duties, Jigoro would drag him back, because he could see the potential in Zenitsu to be a truly noble man, if only the boy would muster up the courage and willpower to live up to that promise.
We can see how Zenitsu's aggravating characterization was at least partially intentional, because all the vitriol hurled at the boy by his peers is the same kind I've seen lobbed by viewers who don't get what Zenitsu is even doing in this show. I'm not blaming those frustrated viewers either – Zenitsu is kind of the worst, but he's also the first one who would own up to that. He wants to be better than he is, but he feels trapped by his own worst instincts; at least, when he's fully awake. I don't know exactly what the link is between his Thunder Breathing form and the lightning blast that turned Zenitsu's black hair into a shock of yellow and orange, but once again we see Zenitsu faint from fright and become possessed by an eerie and powerful calm. The Spider-Boy that's been tormenting Zenitsu laughs at how the Slayer has only mastered one of the form's three techniques, but Jigoro was the one who told Zenitsu that if he could put all of his effort into perfecting just one single move, it would all be worth it. Just like back in the mansion, Zenitsu's temporary stillness of mind and body allows him to wreak bloody havoc on the enemy in a matter of seconds.
I can't promise that all of Zenitsu's past and future shenanigans will end up being worth the hassle, but this episode is another sign that he can work when he's given the opportunity to be a nuanced character capable of growth. I actually liked all the deftly drawn sight gags this week, probably because there was an emotional core behind them. Tanjiro and Insouke might be busy dealing with the terrifying patriarch of the Spider Demon Clan, but for the first time in a while, I'm looking forward to when they meet back up with Zenitsu and become a trio again.
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