Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 26 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ?
The minute it was announced that the next Demon Slayer storyline – the Demon Train Arc – is being adapted as a feature film, I knew I had to keep my expectations for this first season's finale in check. Sure enough, “A New Mission” feels less like a solid conclusion and more like setup for the next chapter of Demon Slayer's saga, focused more on seeding threads for future events than anything else. I would be lying if I said this didn't make for an underwhelming viewing experience, but thankfully the folks at ufotable threw in just enough flair to accentuate the episode's drama and humor, giving “A New Mission” just enough heft to carry us to the end of the so-called “Tanjiro Kamado Coming-of-Age Arc” in style.
For one thing, it's obvious why so many of the lead ufotable animators had to be on deck for this episode, because it looks slick as hell, despite the events of “A New Mission” being fairly muted by Demon Slayer standards. We begin inside of an M.C. Escher-esque structure that makes the rotating insides of the Tsuzumi Mansion look like a McDonalds Playplace, an endless and dizzying array of twisting stairways and corridors that the surviving Lower Twelve Kizuki find themselves summoned to. Though none of them immediately recognize the imposing woman who leers at them with malignant contempt, but it's obvious the moment the figure speaks: It's Muzan Kibutsuji, whose ability to change shape and aura has kept the Demon Slayers at bay.
To put it mildly, Muzan is not pleased with the Lower Ranking members' failure to keep the Hashiras and Tanjiro at bay, so after forcing them through the most upsetting office meeting imaginable, he slaughters them all with barely an effort. Watching the demons attempt to flee, only to be reduced to puddles of gore and severed limbs, is indeed entertaining, and the superbly animated spectacle helps make up for the fact that not too much actually happens in this finale. The most noteworthy development of this whole sequence is that Muzan allows the surviving Lower One to be injected with a heaping helping of Muzan blood, which nearly kills them with the amount of power it grants, and also provides some handy visions with which to recognize Tanjiro.
Speaking of our heroes, they mostly spend the last half of the episode bidding their farewells to the Butterfly Girls and demonstrating their newfound mastery of Total Concentration breathing; many gourds are destroyed in the process. Though all of the girls have developed inevitable affection for Tanjiro, my favorite scene of the bunch pays off Kanao's introduction from last week. I assumed we'd eventually have Tanjiro helping Kanao overcome her dependency on making decisions with coin-flips – I just didn't think it would happen so soon. Yet here we see Tanjiro playfully snatching Kanao's coin and declaring that she must begin listening to her own heart's voice from here on should it land heads-side-up. It does, of course, and when an utterly flabbergasted (and maybe a little lovestruck) Kanao asks what Tanjiro would have done if it had come up tails, he just grins and admits he wouldn't have stopped until he got the desired result. Leabe it to our Good Boy Tanjiro to make such unfettered persistence in interfering with people's lives so charming and sweet; one can only shudder at the thought of Zenitsu trying the same trick.
Zenitsu gets the episodes best joke once the boys head off to the next arc's titular train, however, since he's the only one of the three who even knows what it is – Inosuke and Tanjiro both assume it must be some kind of creature or guardian spirit. Zenitsu is also the one who has to help the boys flee from the cops when people start understandably freaking out at the sight of a half-naked boar boy trying to headbutt a locomotive to death. I enjoyed the clash of traditional Japanese culture and the modernist movement of the era that we got to see in early episodes, and I'm glad to know that Demon Slayer hasn't entirely abandoned that aspect of the story. It's easy to forget that many of the more modern Japanese that the Demon Slayers are bound to encounter won't have any patience for talk of demons and evil monsters that need slaying – the Corps isn't even recognized by the government, after all.
So that is where we finish off Demon Slayer's slightly uneven but mostly wonderful first season: three ridiculous boys bound for battle on a train, along with one supremely sleepy demon girl in a box on her brother's back. It's a decent enough conclusion that's bolstered by the show's ever sharp sense of visual panache and comic-timing. I wouldn't have minded a more high-stakes setup for the film to come, and I'm a little worried that Western fans will have a hard time actually getting to see the Demon Train Arc movie whenever it does end up coming out, but none of those issues take away from the undeniable success that Demon Slayer experienced this year. Ufotable has proven that bombastic execution can elevate just about any material, and it isn't like Demon Slayer was ever lacking in that regard, either. It's a familiar story that didn't always live up to its potential, but as far as kickass Shonen Jump anime go, Demon Slayer has set the bar pretty damned high, and it looks like it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Rating: 4Odds and Ends
• If I had to give this whole season a grade, it would likely land at a very respectable 4 out of 5. The lows were never soul-crushingly bad, though I remain miffed at Nezuko's lack of anything to do outside of a few standout moments. Still, I'd have to be a real curmudgeon to see the eye-wateringly gorgeous work ufotable produced week-after-week and not be impressed.
• Inosuke is a a good and fabulous boar and I will not tolerate any arguments to the contrary.
• My wish list for the movie/2nd season includes: More fresh air for Nezuko, more lines for Kanao, more of Inosuke picking fights with large inanimate objects, and more of Zentisu getting dragged by his bird friend.
• Lady Muzan's managerial style can be summed up in the speech the Lower Kizuki get before being vivisected: ““I'm never mistaken about anything. I'm the one who calls the shots. My word is absolute. You have no right to reject what I say. Whatever I say is right is the right thing. You tried to tell me what to do. You deserve to die.”
• I'll see you all whenever Demon Slayer returns, and I promise to keep the terrible train puns to a tolerable minimum.
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