Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ?
I enjoyed the first episode of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, even if I thought Ufotable's impressive animation work was dragged down somewhat by the pedestrian trappings of the story's beginning. Tanjiro wasn't given much opportunity to be more than a traditional shonen hero in that premiere, and the setup and payoff for the loss of his family at the hands of vampiric demons fell squarely into the realm of functional but bland. I really like Demon Slayer's turn-of-the-century setting, and I felt the show picked up in intrigue when it got to its central hook, with Tanjiro fighting to restore the humanity of one sole surviving family member, his little sister Nezuko. “Trainer Sakonji Urokodaki” is Demon Slayer's second chapter, and I'm happy to report that this episode is a noticeable step up from the premiere.
We open with Tanjiro buying a broken wicker basket from a local farmer so he can construct a shelter for Nezuko to travel in during daylight hours. This is the first one-on-one interaction we've gotten between the siblings since Nezuko's turning that isn't bookended by violence, firmly establishing the tone of their relationship as the story moves forward. Nezuko is still intelligent, but her communication skills have clearly been hampered by her transformation. She seems to understand what her brother is saying most of the time, but the two's rapport occasionally straddles the line between brother and sister or a master and his pet. This dynamic works for now, and it evokes the warmth and humor necessary to balance out the gory action to cone. I do worry that this development threatens to sideline Nezuko and make her more of a prop than a person, so I hope their dynamic evolves as Demon Slayer continues. My investment in Tanjiro is rooted in his relationship with Nezuko, so I would be disappointed if it was only ever expressed in head pats and distressed inner monologue.
The peaceful times don't last long, though. At the behest of Giyu, the swordsman from last week, Tanjiro and Nezuko make their way to Mt. Sagiri, where they encounter a temple filled with bloody corpses and yet another thirsty demon. The fight that ensues is fun step up from last week, since it shows Tanjiro and Nezuko finding their footing as partners. The animation is predictably excellent, and it's a more creative scene than the fight against Giyu in general, as the two siblings split up to fight the demon's severed head and his flailing body separately.
What really makes this episode's action stand out is its delightfully morbid sense of humor. The premiere was seriously dramatic for understandable reasons, but now that the setup is out of the way, Demon Slayer can cut loose and have fun with its over-the-top premise. My favorite moment of the episode came when Tanjiro was being overpowered by the demon, only for Nezuko to casually sever the monster's head from its shoulders with a single swift kick – it's a bloody moment, but Tanjiro's horrified reaction sells both the gruesomeness and the ridiculousness of the shock perfectly. Later on, when the demon's body plummets off a cliff, it lands stump-first on the rocks below with a gleeful squish, pausing for effect before slumping over dead. Add in how the demon's severed head grows its own pair of stumpy little arms, and the whole fight feels ripped straight out of the Evil Dead movies, which I loved to see play out.
With the demon's head pinned to a tree, Tanjiro takes it upon himself to kill the creature for good, which is where the titular trainer Sakonji comes in. He's an enigmatic man whose face is covered by a tengu mask, and he's immediately unsure of whether Tanjiro can cut it in the Demon Slayer Corps. Killing demons requires a steel resolve and lack of empathy, but poor Tanjiro can't bring himself to cause this monster suffering, no matter what it's done to other humans. Instead of stabbing the screaming head or crushing it with a rock, Tanjiro waits too long, and the sunrise does its job for him. Then Sakonji leads the siblings in a sprint up the mountains, so that the young boy might have one final chance to demonstrate his resolve.
Beyond the injection of humor and pathos, I really appreciate this episode's economy of storytelling. Being adapted from a Shonen Jump manga, I expected an arc like this to show up, where Tanjiro would have to overcome some kind of test to get initiated into the Demon Slayer Corps, but the show has made the wise choice to condense the process so far. Tanjiro is brought to the mountains, he survives the painful obstacles that Sakonji has put in his way, and he returns, battered but still breathing. In another series, this single leg of training might have taken up an entire episode, but Demon Slayer is smart enough to keep things moving at a brisk pace. With the show's tone and character dynamics settling in nicely, I'm feeling positive about its future prospects. This spring feels slightly anemic in terms of action and spectacle, so here's hoping Demon Slayer can keep delivering its blood-soaked goods in the weeks to come.
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