Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 18 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ?
If you've been patiently waiting for Demon Slayer to go all-in on its action and spectacle since the conclusion of the Tsuzumi Mansion arc, then “A Forged Bond” is the episode for you. We begin with two senior Demon Slayers sprinting toward the slaughter happening in the forest, one of whom is Giyū, the enigmatic warrior who recruited Tanjiro into the Demon Slayer life all the way back in the series premiere. It took me a while to realize it was him, though his inclusion in the story gives the episode a clear framework of tension. Our heroes won't be able to defeat the spider demons alone, and until the cavalry arrives, it's going to be all Tanjiro, Inosuke, and Zenitsu can do just to survive.
Thankfully, poor Zenitsu gets a break this time. He's still lying bloody and broken on that shack suspended by the spiders' webs, but Giyū's companion descends upon the boy like a celestial butterfly to offer some comically whimsical salvation. That's about all we get on the Zenitsu front this week, which likely comes as a relief to many viewers, but I'd argue his characterization is as good as it's ever been. We sympathize and care for Zenitsu in spite of his flaws, and I can only hope the show continues to improve how it balances his wacky antics with his more substantial contributions to the story.
Tanjiro and Inosuke aren't out of the woods yet though, since they've got the big bad daddy spider to contend with. It's an excellently directed and animated brawl that makes good use of the woodland setting. The CGI water is about as unobtrusive as it's likely to get, and the way the Demon Slayers and the Spider Patriarch have to wade through the current and use the tress around them as weapons gives the whole fight a hefty and desperate atmosphere. Tanjiro's contributions are cut short when he's flung hundreds, if not thousands of feet away, leaving a wounded Inosuke alone to square off against the Father in a one-on-one duel. When Tanjiro at last finds his footing in the further reaches of the forest, he encounters Rui, who's lashing out at his sister with his wickedly painful cat's cradle of spiderwebs.
If there's a thematic core that ties all of these fights together, it's how the bonds tying people together can bring out their best and worst qualities. The Spider Demon Clan obviously represents toxic and abusive relationships at their worst, which Tanjiro rightfully points out as a grotesque parody of what family is meant to be. It doesn't matter whether the bonds are forged in blood or on the battlefield, Tanjiro argues; what's important is how you care for and defend one another. Case in point is Inosuke. Despite his resilience to Tanjiro's “germs” rubbing off on him, he's growing as a person and a warrior because of the newfound relationships that came from becoming a Demon Slayer. His frantic bid to take down the Father on his own is fueled both by his desire to prove that his method of slashing first and thinking later works, as well as his subconscious desire to live up to the expectations of his new allies. It's simple but remarkably effective character writing, making it easy to root for the wild man even when his dialogue is delivered entirely in screams and guttural snarls. (I can only hope Yoshitsugu Matsuoka has plenty of tea and lozenges on standby in the recording booth.)
Demon Slayer's juggling of comedy, action, and character-building had been shaky leading up to this Spider Demon arc, but I think the show has been on a real upswing lately. The action has hit hard, the team dynamics are becoming more compelling, and Zenitsu and Inosuke are both coming into their own as worthy additions to the cast. I have but one glaring issue that Demon Slayer has yet to resolve, and it's that Nezuko still hasn't been let out of that damn box, which means that she hasn't had anything to do other than poke her head out for the sake of Zenitsu jokes for about eight episodes now. That's almost half of the show's entire run so far. Nezuko wasn't even being used well before that, since she spent most of her time either unconscious or fiddling around in the background, but it's becoming even harder to overlook that she's little more than a plot device that exists to either kick things or be cute. I want to believe there's more to her character, but I'm losing hope. With only a half-dozen episodes left to go in the season, Demon Slayer's criminal neglect of one of its main characters is a black mark on its record that will be exceedingly difficult to overcome.
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