With over 100 million copies of the manga in circulation and an anime adaptation that has quickly become the highest-rated and most-watched series out of Japan in recent memory, Demon Slayer has objectively taken the world by storm – blowing past other series like My Hero Academia that were previously thought to be this generation’s Dragon Ball or One Piece.
And just when I thought Demon Slayer might have hit its peak, the first Demon Slayer theatrical film was released. The film, titled Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, did what was once thought to be an impossible feat. It broke the record set by legendary director Hayao Miyazaki by overtaking his classic film Spirited Away and becoming Japan’s biggest domestic box office hit of all time. That is the kind of success that demands attention.
And that is the kind of success that led me to finally watching the Demon Slayer series in the first place. Do you want my honest take on the series? Well, to be frank, I think the series is just okay. Unfortunately, the anime itself has been overhyped to an extent, which makes it difficult for me to overlook some of its flaws if it is to be considered a modern classic.
So I went into watching the first feature-length film adaptation in the series with my expectations in check. I currently live in Taiwan so I’m lucky enough to be able to experience it in a cinema as it was intended.
To make a long story short about my verdict on the Demon Slayer movie: I loved it. Whether you’re a diehard fan of the series or a filthy casual, you will most likely love it too.
Now, to explain why I loved it takes a bit more time and requires some light spoilers. So, read on at your own peril, as my idea of a light spoiler and your idea of a light spoiler might be different.
Demon Slayer: Mugen Train just hit all the right buttons for me. One reason for that is the prominent role dreams and the subconscious play in the first half of the film. I, for one, am fascinated by this concept. Which is why I love other anime films such as Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer (and the OVA Inaba the Dreammaker), as well as more mainstream films like Inception. I’m just a sucker for the subject and it’s something I will always enjoy seeing portrayed and dissected in movies.
Using dreams as a primary vehicle for the story is a really great way to understand what drives the main characters of the series, and also a good excuse to put the characters in situations they normally wouldn’t be in (as well as showcase even more dazzling animation than would normally be expected).
It was a blast to get to spend some time inside the minds of Tanjiro, Zenitsu, and Inosuke. You get to see them in their rawest, purest forms – and it totally meets and perhaps even exceeds expectations. Full disclosure: I got a little choked up and misty-eyed during certain dream sequences. And I legitimately laughed out loud at others. It was a very emotional experience for me, which I wasn’t expecting.
And this film gives us what is probably the deepest glimpse back at Tanjiro and Nezudo’s life before the first chapter of the manga/ episode of the anime – especially pertaining to their family. It also gives us a good idea of how each character sees themselves in relation to Nezudo.
As much as I would have loved for the entire film to explore the dream theme, Mugen Train does eventually follow a more conventional shounen-style approach to storytelling. From then on out, it becomes more or less what you’d expect – which is a slightly grander but by-the-numbers anime film adaptation.
For anyone who has watched Inuyasha movies, or heck even Pokemon movies, the film will begin to seem more familiar as it becomes an extended Demon Slayer episode with better animation. Which is still saying a lot since the TV series has pretty top-notch animation as it is.
Yet even after clearly becoming an extended episode, the film still maintains a certain dignity and craftsmanship about itself so that it never feels like a cash grab. It manages to justify being a feature-length film because it treats its moments and its characters seriously.
It’s a perfect blend of passion from the artwork, to the screenwriting, to the soundtrack and on down. All of these work in tandem to pull your heartstrings or make the hair stand up on the back of your neck at the appropriate times. So even someone who isn’t a huge fan of the series life myself can walk away impressed at this masterfully crafted piece.
Is it better than the Spirited Away? Well, of course that’s subjective but I think most people including myself would say no. But it’s certainly one of the best anime-based films released to date. And it’s definitely worth your time.