Review: ‘Demon Slayer: Mugen Train’
Guest review by Tucker Watkins
I have a long complicated relationship with Demon Slayer. Watched it, stopped, started again, stopped, and then finally finished it. I would go months at a time between episodes. But in the end, in that final stretch of the show — I found my love for it. And ever since then, I’ve been counting down the days until we got a continuation, and that time finally came last weekend. I’ve now seen Mugen Train twice, once in sub and dub, and I’ve come to a conclusion. It’s good.
Anime films where they condense entire arcs into 2 hours have a spotty history, to say the least. Akira (one of the first anime films to be popularized in the US) condensed an entire manga series into a single 2-hour film. While historically relevant, it struggled with pacing. The same issue is present here, just in a different way. There are two very distinct sections of the movie: Mugen Train and Upper Three. The problem occurred when they made the decision to focus on the Mugen Train for the majority of the runtime. But, they didn’t want to leave out the Upper Three story, so the end feels disjointed. Consequently, I left the theatre exhausted. You feel like the movie is winding down, and then another character shows up out of nowhere and you have to get back in the zone for the next part of the movie. Oddly enough, the two halves are so different and contrasted to one another that it almost worked. If they’d managed to make the two halves feel more connected, this movie could’ve been fantastic. However, the two halves work separately on their own. The first half is a beautiful, in-depth look at the spirit of our characters. The second half works almost like an action-filled pallet cleanser, but that’d be selling it short. It’s a beautiful 1v1 fight, where we observe the strength of these two incredibly powerful beings and understand the persistence of the human spirit. Both halves are fantastic, I just feel like they didn’t do the proper work to make them feel cohesive to form a whole movie.
While the core 3 (or 4?) main characters are present and accounted for, there are pretty clearly 2 main characters that this movie decided to focus on: Tanjiro and Rengoku, the newly introduced Fire Hashira. Tanjiro, being the true main character, gets the brunt of the focus and characterization, but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t do a fantastic job with Rengoku. Having only been introduced for a couple of episodes, and having little to no lines or screen time in his previous appearances, Rengoku shines brighter than anyone else here. Through the first half of the movie, our characters are put into dreams that are supposed to appeal to their deepest desires. It’s an incredibly useful tool for us to get a look inside these characters and where they lie in our story.
While Zenitsu and Inosuke are thrown to the side and given humor-filled vignettes, the real heart of these sequences are Rengoku and Tanjiro. We are presented an interesting look at where Tanjiro is in his journey, realizing that he’s still living in the past and striving to be with his family again, as impossible as that may be. We’re also finally given a look at what drives Rengoku, and we get the touching realization that what makes Rengoku happy is the happiness and success of his little brother. It’s an incredibly beautiful moment, and it comes back to haunt us in the end when Rengoku sacrifices his life to prevent the Upper Three Demon from harming Tanjiro. Rengoku will never get to see his brother follow through on his dreams, and now it’s up to Tanjiro to make Rengoku proud. It’s fantastic.
The real star of any Demon Slayer movie or show is the animation. Somehow, they manage to make all of the fight scenes so dynamic, they love playing with the camera (or the lack of), it’s absolutely incredible. By no means am I an anime connoisseur, but this is far and away one of the best-looking animated movies ever. The choice to use bright colors contrasting against the overly realistic setting. The beautiful blues of the water, the striking yellows of lightning, the fiery red — it’s fantastic. This movie practically works on its own as a masterclass in “How To Properly Blend 2D and 3D animation.” The entire thing is a feast for the eyes, but that’s nothing new for fans of Demon Slayer anime.
To sum up all my thoughts — watch it. For Demon Slayer fans, it’s a must, especially if you intend to catch the new season. For casual movie fans, this is one of the most visually interesting and beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. Perhaps you might be lost on a few things, but if anything, it’ll just make you want to watch the anime. This movie isn’t without its issues, but I feel the pros out weigh the cons. Get vaccinated, wear a mask, go to the movies, and see Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train.