Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 20 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ?
“Pretend Family” pulls an unsurprising but nevertheless effective trick, yanking the rug out from underneath Tanjiro's feet and taking back his hard-earned victory from last week's battle. I've seen a good deal of hype over episode 19 since it aired, and while I wasn't as in love with it, I understand the reaction, and I anticipate that some viewers will be disappointed to learn that Tanjiro and Nezuko's desperate gambit amounted to very little in the end. Rui severed his own head moments before Tanjiro struck, so he's perfectly fine at the top of the episode, whereas Tanjiro and Nezuko are down for the count. This is where Giyu arrives just in time to show off his 11th Water Breathing form, the aptly named “Dead Calm”, which allows him to destroy the spider demon in a single casual stroke of the blade. It's a well-worn trope in action-adventure manga, where the seemingly indestructible villain is destroyed effortlessly by a character, just to make it clear that our heroes have a long way to go before they're ready to take on the bad guys. While this stunt may irk some viewers whose pulses are still pounding from last week, I usually love it – it worked for me way back when Future Trunks showed up to slice Robo-Frieza apart in Dragonball Z, and I dug it in Demon Slayer too. My one concern is that this move usually predicates an arc of intense training and personal growth on the part of the hero, who can then pay off the delayed gratification by kicking some ass for real in a future arc. We've only got six episodes left in this first season of Demon Slayer, so I wonder if the story will have either the time or the inclination to give Tanjiro and Nezuko a genuine victory against one of the Twelve Moons.
Either way, this isn't the siblings' time to shine. In keeping with the usual Demon Slayer format, much of this episode is focused on the disgraced spider demon Sister, whose flashbacks reveal the poisoned humanity that fueled Rui and his clan's evil actions. It's compelling stuff, revealing just how much of a twisted game of house his family really was – for all of his cruel grandstanding, Rui was just a childish bully demanding that all of the other kids play the game the way he wanted, or else. The boy may have been trying to recreate buried memories of life with a human family, but that didn't stop him from torturing and murdering anyone who failed to live up to his impossible expectations.
What got me the most was how we find out that the Mother was actually a young demon girl who had to shapeshift to assume a more matronly form; it makes her fate that much more tragic and stomach churning. While I don't know if “Pretend Family” completely justified the Spider Clan's arc's protracted length, especially seeing as it it took up a full quarter of this season's runtime, these scenes injected some much-needed pathos into the narrative. It may be a predictable component of Demon Slayer's entire schtick, the way it humanizes the demons right as they're killed off, but those beats still end up being incredibly satisfying.
Equally satisfying was the proper introduction of Shinobu Kochō, the butterfly-themed Demon Slayer who rescued Zenitsu last week. She's yet another character who fulfills a specific anime cliché – the suspiciously cheerful waif who just so happens to have a whole catalog of sadistic and devious death-dealing techniques at her disposal – but she's just so much fun to watch that I can't complain. Her use of a poison-tipped blade to compensate for her lack of raw strength makes for a refreshing contrast to Tanjiro, Inosuke, and the others, as does her delightfully macabre personality. The Sister's end is as grim as they come, and I could easily see how only a slight tweak in perspective would cast Shinobu as a terrifying villain. The world of Demon Slayer is at is best when the line between Demon and Demon Slayer is made as blurry as possible, and that's something this episode definitely accomplishes.
The only question is, with so few episodes left in the season, where does Demon Slayer go from here? I can't imagine that it will take six weeks for Tanjiro to rebuild his sword, yet that also doesn't leave much time for Kibutsuji and his lackeys to establish enough presence in the story for a whole new arc. Given the rapturous reception that the show has been receiving lately, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the show renewed for another season, which would give Tanjiro and Nezuko to train themselves up and show those demons what they're made of.
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