Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ?
Holy crap. My appreciation for Demon Slayer had slowly been ramping up over the weeks already – the first episode was pretty good, the second was even better, and last week's training montage-a-thon was a lot of fun – but this right here is a game changer. “Final Selection” takes everything that's worked about the series so far and cranks the dials up to eleven. The drama, the action, the pathos, and the drop-dead gorgeous animation all work in concert like perfectly polished cogs in a well-oiled shonen machine, and the result is nothing short of superb. This is easily one of the single best episodes of an anime I've seen so far this year, right up there with Mob Psycho 100 II's climactic episode 5.
From the beginning of “Final Selection”, Demon Slayer establishes a through-line of pathos that's been missing recently. When Sakonji returns to Tanjiro and his freshly sliced boulder, he freely admits that he gave the boy this task because he never believed it could be done. Sakonji is sick of watching his pupils die in the Final Selection, and he wanted to spare our hero the fate suffered by the likes of Sabito and Makomo. When Sakonji awards Tanjiro with a head-pat and a hot pot feast, it doesn't just provide emotional context for everything we've been through over these opening chapters, it also sets up the stakes for the battle to come. Demon Slayer is demonstrating a knack for efficient storytelling, week after week.
Then we join Tanjiro at the Final Selection, which sets the many candidates for the Demon Slayer Corps loose in the mountains to survive for an entire week amongst the hordes of demons that have been trapped there for years. This is as good a time as any to sing the praises of the shows visuals, which have been consistently good all season, though ufotable knocks it out of the park in this episode. The colors are lush, alternating between vibrancy and oppressiveness to fit the action on screen. When Tanjiro arrives at Mt. Fujikasane, the area is bursting with purple wisteria that are literally glowing, giving the whole setting an appropriately otherworldly feel. I also hope we get to see more of the creepy twins who ushered in the start of the trial. The mix of creepy and fantastical complements the show's slick character designs and help it stand out from the usual action-adventure fare.
When Tanjiro encounters his first pair of demons on the mountain, it's initially a grim and grimy scene that he literally cuts through with his Water Breathing technique. This move slices through Tanjiro's enemies with the same splash of woodblock print brilliance we see in the show's opening, and it's awesome to see in motion. The animation is clean, well-framed, and satisfying in a way you often don't see outside of theatrical releases. ufotable is clearly working hard to make this show look so good. I can only hope these efforts don't come at the cost of the crew's well-being.
The back half of “Final Selection” is where Tanjiro gets to meet the disgusting, menacing demon called Teoni, an undulating mass of limbs, sickly flesh, and two sinister eyes peeking out from beneath it all. This creature has been stalking Mt. Fujikasane for almost 50 years after being captured by Sakonji himself, which have given the demon a particular craving for Sakonji's disciples. Unsurprisingly, Teoni is the monster that murdered Sabito and Makomo, which we see in stylized but gruesome detail. Takehito Koyasu lends Teoni his voice, and he's probably most famous for portraying Dio in the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure anime; his work here is just as delightfully vile.
Tanjiro and Teoni's fight delivers the best action we've gotten from Demon Slayer so far, which is really saying something. The direction and storyboarding are top notch, giving the whole sequence a flavor that's equal parts meaty brawling and skin-crawling horror. While I'm usually not a fan of excessive inner-monologuing in fights like this, Demon Slayer cuts between Tanjiro, Teoni, and Sabito/Makomo's thoughts with an elegance that enhances the action instead of distracting from it. It's usually an exaggeration to pull out the old cliché of “I was on the edge of my seat the whole time!”, but it was true in this case. There's been a certain distance between me and Demon Slayer that I've had a hard time putting my finger on these last four weeks, but that wall was obliterated with this episode. By the time the credits cut in after Tanjiro struck his decisive blow against the demon, I was literally pumping my fists in excitement.
I might still have some reservations about things here and there – Nezuko is more than welcome to wake up and rejoin the story any time now – but consider me officially on board this particular hype train. There's only one notable flaw I can point out in the execution of “Final Selection”, and it's the flashback we get of Sakonji explaining the demon-slaying properties of Tanjiro's Nichirin blade. It is a simple concept that could have been laid out in either of the last two episodes, so cutting away from the Mt. Fujikasane action to dole out this last minute exposition wasn't necessary. But that kind of nitpicking is small potatoes for an episode that otherwise exemplifies the best that a shonen anime like Demon Slayer can offer. I don't expect every episode from here on to rise to these kinds of heights, but if this is what we can expect from Demon Slayer at its peak, it might just become ufotable's next smash hit.
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