Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Movie: Mugen Train
Tanjirō, Zenitsu, and Inosuke are called on to help the Flame Pillar Kyōjurō Rengoku as he investigates the mysterious disappearances on the Mugen Train. No sooner do they arrive do things start to fall awry. The trio and Kyōjurō all fall aslep while the demon Enmu pulls the strings from the shadows.
It would be an understatement to say that Demon Slayer – Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train had a lot of hype going into it. This record-breaking box office hit is, in the rawest definition of the word, a crowd-pleaser. Instead of telling a forgettable original story, it's a direct continuation of the story of Demon Slayer after the end of the TV series, brought alive on the big screen. If you're a fan of Demon Slayer, I can confidently guess that you'll be satisfied with the story that plays out here.
For someone like me, though, who was a little more on-the-fence about the series, I can't help but have a more reserved opinion about this film. It's... okay. It's one of Demon Slayer's better story arcs, but as a film it's less than the sum of its parts.
Theoretically, Demon Slayer has a lot of elements that ought to make it work on the big screen. The strong emphasis on 3D environments and digital compositing gave the TV anime a polished sheen, and there were some moments, like the iconic fight in episode 19, that had eye-popping detail. Yuki Kajiura and Gō Shiina's soundtrack also had a lot of flavor and ambiance to it, giving the TV anime an almost cinematic feel at times. But a TV anime that borders on cinematic still isn't the same thing as a film, and the transition from TV anime to film here wasn't as elegant as it could have been.
Production-wise, this was far less impressive than ufotable's work on the Heaven's Feel films. Perhaps it is unfair to compare Mugen Train, which by all indications seems like it had been produced under difficult circumstances, to the carefully-planned and lavishly-animated Heaven's Feel trilogy. At the same time, it's because I've seen ufotable at their best that I can't help but be underwhelmed by Mugen Train. The action storyboards and choreography were particularly disappointing for me, lacking the thrill and kinetic energy that even the best episodes of the TV anime had. The soundtrack continues to do a lot of heavy-lifting when it comes to portraying the weight and scale of what's happening onscreen, but it doesn't feel like the visuals and music were completely in sync here.
Most of the time, it felt like the animators were struggling to keep up with the complexity of the character designs, particularly with Kyōjurō Rengoku. His billowing hair and coat give him an aura of charisma, and this is carefully portrayed in all of his appearances. On the other hand, his body doesn't actually move much, even in the action scenes, with many of the shots simply lingering on his majestic visage. I can totally understand this approach, because when it comes to creating broadly appealing animation, keeping those charismatic character designs on-model is the most important thing. There is never a point in this film where the character art looks unpolished, so I think that most fans won't come away with complaints about the animation. But I could definitely sense that the animation did not go beyond the minimum it needed to achieve.
The story is also not hugely innovative beyond hitting all the notes that should satisfy fans. If you guessed just from the title and poster that the train itself would end up being a demon they have to fight, then congratulations, you're a genius but also this story is easy to predict. Alas, it doesn't end with them suplexing the train Final Fantasy VI-style, but it's still fun to watch Tanjirō try to cut off a train's head. As I mentioned earlier in the review, this was one of the better story arcs in the anime so far, and it's a welcome step-up in intensity after the lull that the TV series ended on.
There are some aspects of the plot that don't quite work for me, though. The first half of the film shows our heroes asleep as they fend off the machinations of the villain in their dreams. For Tanjirō, this is his opportunity to see his dead family once more, so naturally his scenes have a lot of pathos. On the other hand, even in their interior worlds, Inosuke and Zenitsu mainly seem to exist as comic relief; they continue to feel like shallow characters next to Tanjirō, and it's hard to buy into their camaraderie. This part of the film also drags its feet, taking too long to get to the point. I can't really blame an adaptation for covering a storyline that doesn't feel suited for a film's narrative structure, but there's no getting around how the film only really begins after 40 minutes have passed.
Thankfully, the film does pull itself together for a satisfying climax. I can't say that I fully understand the Kyōjurō love, because even after watching the film to the end he felt more like a symbol than a person, but on a narrative level, his fight was easily the most momentous in the story so far. Overall I did enjoy this, even as someone who's not huge into Demon Slayer. Fans of the series should be very satisfied with this continuation of the story, even if it isn't the animated masterpiece that its box office numbers might make it out to be.
Overall : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Satisfying escalation of events, excellent soundtrack
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