Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
During the Taisho era, man-eating demons inhabit the wildernesses of Japan. Young Tanjiro has assumed that tales of demons were legends until the day he returns from the village to find his widowed mother and younger siblings dead from a vicious attack. Only the sister closest in age to him, Nezuko, is still alive – but he quickly learns that she has been infected with demon blood and become a demon herself. Unwilling to give up on his younger sister, Tanjiro begins training to become a demon slayer – because if anyone knows the way to turn Nezuko human again, it's the monsters who turned her.
In some ways it is easy to tell that Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is Koyoharu Gotouge's first series. He's got all of the plot ideas and characters laid out, and those are all interesting and well put together. The issue is the pacing of the book overall – from a relatively slow (but even) opening two chapters wherein Tanjiro's life goes to hell and he begins to pick up the pieces the story rushes into his training to become a full-fledged demon hunter, and suddenly months are flying by with little to no explanation. I can understand Gotouge wanting to continue on to what he sees as the meat of the story – Tanjiro's quest to save his sister – but his training is important too, and to just jump over most of it feels like the mark of a new author.
That shouldn't deter you from giving this a chance, however. The base story is a good one – during the Taisho era, Tanjiro lives in the mountains with his widowed mother and younger siblings. He makes his family money by selling charcoal, which takes him to the town at the foot of the mountain. One fateful day a snowstorm strands him in town, and when he finally makes it home, it's to find his family slaughtered by the man-eating demons he never really believed in. He has to now, though, because the lone survivor, Nezuko, has been turned into a demon when she was infected with demon blood. Unwilling to give up on the only sibling he has left, Tanjiro sets off to find a cure for her. A chance meeting with a demon hunter who is shocked to see that Nezuko retains enough humanity to protect her older brother, leads to Tanjiro seeking out training to become a Demon Slayer himself, because only by getting closer to demons does he stand a chance at discovering a cure for Nezuko's condition.
Gotouge's strength in telling this story is the way she lets little pieces of human kindness shine through in all of the characters' actions. From the fact that Nezuko not only doesn't try to eat Tanjiro but also docilely wears a muzzle to protect him (and others) to the way Tanjiro's new teacher allows his softer nature to show in his care of Nezuko, there are lots of small moments that help the story to retain a bit of hope despite its overall darkness. That Tanjiro is doing everything for his family is fairly typical in this sort of plot; making other people and demons evince the same sort of care for others is what helps set this apart.
Also worth noting are the small details in the artwork. While Gotouge's art is largely unpolished and inconsistent, she's also capable of adding in things like the fact that everyone in Tanjiro's family has pieces of the same fabric in their clothing, as if they either had one bolt for the whole family or their mom has been reworking an old garment into many smaller ones to make things stretch. More than any other detail, this really gives us a good idea of Tanjiro and Nezuko's family life, because it illustrates both the poverty they live in and the loving environment. It helps make up for awkwardness in the faces or randomly changing character heights.
The supernatural action aspects of the story are a bit uneven, but you can see things starting to smooth out by the end of the book. That's when it feels like Gotouge hits her stride again after the introductory chapter; that it's the tail end of the abortive training arc suggests that this is where she was trying to get all along. The two additional trainers Tanjiro acquires after his master has set him a seemingly impossible task play off each other well, and while there are hints available as to their true identities, Gotouge doesn't give them away too easily. They add even more motivation to Tanjiro's quest as well as a reminder of the dangers of the path he's been forced onto, which in some ways simply serves to firm his resolve so that the story can forge ahead.
Demon Slayer's first volume feels like the work of a promising creator who hasn't quite gotten her rhythm figured out yet. It stumbles in the middle with an awkward time skip and unsuccessful attempt at a training arc, but there's enough here to still make this a decent read. It looks as if things are going to improve from here on out, so this will be worth sticking with to see how Gotouge develops as a creator as well as where the plot goes.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : C+
+ Interesting lore, good use of details in art and characters, plot shows promise
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