Kimetsu no Yaiba is a ★★★★☆︱The Series Follows a Group of Pure-Hearted Kids, vis-à-vis with Nightmarish Demons

It’s very rare that a shōnen protagonists’ entire family is slaughtered, with a young boy staring in horror as he finds his disembodied mother and siblings; the only series I can think of where a similar event transpires is in Fushigi Yûgi and that’s a shōjo series! Kimetsu no Yaiba generated a lot of new pathways for the shōnen genre to pass through. I would have never guessed ten years ago, during Naruto’s heyday, that manga for young boys eventually mutate into a story about a teenager trying to save his sister from turning into a murderous demon. The incorporation of demons in children’s comics used to be limited to Rumiko Takahashi’s Inuyasha and nothing beyond that had really surfaced—until now.

Nezuko’s entire character subverts the idea of demons being vicious, though, in the world of Kimetsu no Yaiba, the majority are. These aren’t the yōkai of Inuyasha, who are open to engaging in dialogue with humans, but creatures that will slaughter women and children in cold blood. Before the creation of ‘Demon Slayer,’ the mangaka (Koyoharu Gotōge) made their living off of publishing horror one-shots in magazines. Their première series borrows a lot of the elements of those earlier vignettes to create a unique story that couples an atmosphere of blood-curdling, demoniac forces with the treacly undercurrent of serendipity and forgiveness.

This isn’t just a monster-of-the-week story, but a journey that actually feels like there will be a rewarding end for each character. I believe that Gotōge’s decision to have the series take place in the Taishō (1912—1926) era of Japan was perfect for the story at hand; it was a transformative time in Japanese history, post—the preceding chaos of the Meiji era (1868—1912) and before the militarism of the Shōwa era (1926—1989). I interpret the villain, Muzan Kibutsuji, as a representation of the mounting tensions that would lead to the infamous Shōwa (World War II) period of history; Muzan is the grand puppet master of the demons after all, not unlike the political puppeteers of that era.

Kimetsu no Yaiba is a story about the hateful demons being able to find redemption, after being the most despicable beings in existence. The protagonist, Tanjirō, is the beacon that ameliorates the demons, so that they can find ‘*karmic’ salvation. After all, denoting the topic to real life, every murderer was born a human being. I have heard elitists on the internet complain about the moments when the demons have flashbacks to their mortal life, before becoming demons; immediately afterward, they are killed by Tanjirō. Critics say that this is a cheap mechanism to make the audience feel bad for the demons, who have murdered hundreds of people in their wake.
*Relating to Saṃsāra, a Buddhist term that refers to the cycle of rebirth.

I refute that criticism because Tanjirō’s kindness is able to make them remember what it was like to be human. That’s part and parcel of the story—I understand that it has been used in other series to manipulate the audience into feeling sympathy but, in Kimetsu no Yaiba, it is pivotal to the Buddhist underpinnings of karma and reincarnation. These demons are seeking retribution for their sins; their life flashes before their eyes before they die because, prior to meeting Tanjirō, they had forgotten what it was like to be human. It is thematically relevant and if the series didn’t reveal who the demons had been, before they were corrupted by Muzan, it would defeat the purpose of the story. Two of the most heart-wrenching moments in the series were when Tanjirō defeated Kyōgai, as well as the forlorn, Mother Spider Demon.

The morality in Kimetsu no Yaiba is similar to the *Ryūkishi07 ethos of ‘people can become good or evil depending on their circumstances.’ Most of the demons became murderers because they didn’t have an opportunity to resolve certain circumstances in their lives. It’s questionable if Tanjirō would have even been able to keep it together—if Nezuko had died with the rest of his family. Tanjirō and Nezuko have a compelling relationship but, dually, a frightening dependency on each other… because what would the outcome be, if either of them died? In keeping with the morality topic, *the connection with the moon for the demons is emblematic of the yīnyáng paradigm: the moon is often associated with yīn (chaos/negativity) because of its white color and the correlation to night, whereas the sun represents yáng (order/positivity). That’s why many villains have a fixation on the moon; another example of this are the ‘Lunarians’ in Hōseki no Kuni.
*Creator of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Muzan’s subordinates are called the ‘Demon Moons.’

I thought it was interesting that the characters use breathing techniques, like real martial artists, during their training instead of a Taoist energy reserve or some other commonly used power-up in anime. It gave the training more of a grounded feel because it was based off of something that is used for athletic competitions in real life, not some super secret magical ability. Despite the existence of demons, demon slayers like Shinobu Kōchō (who uses poison on her enemies) seem to have specialties with human limitations.

Exploration of Kimetsu no Yaiba’s *Characters:
*Not going to include the members of the Hashira (with the exception of Shinobu Kochō), since they haven’t had enough involvement in the story to analyze. The Jū ni Kizuki (the Twelve Demon Moons) won’t be included for the same reason, and the Lower Kizuki will be mentioned, sporadically, but not given individual excerpts.

—Tanjirō Kamado: I find the idea of an overly empathetic protagonist fascinating, harkening back to Will Graham from *Red Dragon. It is incredible that Tanjirō is able to reflect his honest, good-natured personality on everyone around him… even the most spiteful demons! In the anime, the script-writing exemplifies Tanjirō’s kindness—to an extent that I was baffled by his humility, given the amount of trauma he’s gone through, and was amazed that he could be so understanding of others’ pain. My interpretation of how Tanjirō grapples with the grief of losing his family, is because of his determination to give Nezuko her life as a human back; this theory is validated throughout the series, with how much he suffers when there’s complications with Nezuko’s recovery (or when she’s in danger). Without that goal, Tanjirō would probably be struggling more from the trauma of losing his family, but the distant hope of curing Nezuko emboldens him to move forward. 
*The first novel in Thomas Harris’ Hannibal series.

—Nezuko Kamado: While Nezuko’s main appeal is to be the most adorable creature in existence. She is dually compelling as a serious character with how much willpower she has; particularly, when dealing with her blood-lust. Even when Nezuko’s body and mind is altered by the transformation into a demon, it is still apparent that her love for her brother still exists. The fact that she’s willing to sleep for months (or years) to keep from harming humans is inspiring, to say the least.

—Inosuke Hashibira: Out of the four main protagonists, I personally thought that Inosuke was the weakest. The internet’s darling, a spirited bishōnen—disguised as a madman. It’s impossible not to enjoy his seiyū, *Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, randomly belting out throaty laughs and rolling his tongue like a yakuza. He’s overzealous, competitive, and wild—having been raised in the woods. He often feels slighted by Tanjirō, because he won’t acknowledge him as a rival.
*Famous for his roles as Kazuto Kirigaya (Kirito) from Sword Art Online, Sōma Yukihira from Shokugeki no Sōma, and Petelgeuse Romanée-Conti from Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu.

—Zen’itsu Agatsuma: Zen’itsu is disliked in the West but tops the character polls in Japan (having almost even beat Tanjirō once for first place). He’s one of my personal favorites because he brings levity to serious situations and, doubly, brings to light how absurdly awful the reign of ravenous demons is. It’s like having a contemporary teenage boy screaming when he sees demons eating people on the street. Is it any wonder why he’s afraid of that? Zen’itsu is a scaredy cat but he has a reason to be; people who come out of those frightening situations unscathed, like Tanjirō or Inosuke, are far more unusual—pragmatically. As far as Zen’itsu womanizing goes, I didn’t find it offensive and there was humor gleaned from the gratification of him getting spurned. He is often sensible in certain situations, and has a hidden side that deeply cares for his friends, like when he asked Tanjirō if he was going to be alright in the last scene of *Episode 26.
*Episode 26: New Mission (改める任務)

—Shinobu Kōchō: The weakest of the Hashira, strength-wise, but excels in stealth and poisoning skills (hence her ‘insect’ motif, subsequently, the kanji used to spell Kōchō means ‘butterfly’). She carries on the legacy of his sister, Kanae Kōchō, who was tragically killed by a demon. Before her sister was murdered—Shinobu was haughty, impatient, and quick to temper but since her sister asked her to ‘always smile,’ she plasters on a smile despite feeling anger and resentment towards the demons. Even with Tanjirō, who peels off the superfluidity of those around him, she refuses to let her guard down.

—Kanao Tsuyuri: A tsugokū (disciple) to the Hashira, personally mentored by Shinobu Kochō—Kanao was rescued by Shinobu and his sister, Kanae Kōchō, but is subsequently broken because she lived an impoverished life with abusive parents and has residual trauma because of her childhood. She’s unable to feel emotions normally and because of her slave-upbringing, she is too afraid to make decisions for herself. Kanao cannot properly communicate effectively and is absent-minded, but despite this—Tanjirō’s kindness reaches her and she begins to develop feelings for him, after living a life of numbness and compliancy.
*Even worse, said parents sold her into slavery.

—Muzan Kibutsuji: The main antagonist. A ruthless, narcissist that rules the Demon Moons with an iron fist. Coinciding with the moon motif, disguised as a human, Muzan goes by Tsukihikō—meaning ‘moon prince,’ the character 月 (tsuki) means ‘moon’ and 彦 (hikō) means ‘prince.’ His self-centered nature even coincides with Shinto legend of Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto, the male moon god, who was shunned by his sister, the *sun goddess, after killing Ōgetsu-hime (the kami of food) out of disgust. Muzan is reminiscent of Naraku from Inuyasha and Adam Weishaupt from Senki Zesshō Symphogear, with his aura of unfettered evil; he creates a multiplicity of demons, by feeding them his blood, like a vampire.
*Amaterasu-ōmikami, or simply Amaterasu (天照)

The anime adaptation has gorgeous visuals, famous seiyū (with fantastic vocal direction), bombastic directing, and a beautifully composed OST—including the vocal talents of LiSA with her hit-songs: ‘Gurenge’ (紅蓮華 Red Lotus) as the OP and her collaboration with *FictionJunction, ‘From the Edge.’ The action scenes were a combination of (1) dynamically cool and (2) campy, there are scenes that are laughable because tiny-bodied Nezuko will just jump up and kick a demon’s head off with her super strength! Ufotable also experimented with spacial orientation a lot, an example of this was *when Tanjirō was fighting Kyōgai, the demon that used tsuzumi drums, and spacial perception was traversed because of the drums ability to shift the dimensions of the room. This happened again in *Episode 26, in Muzan’s headquarters—a demon realm, erected by a demoness with a biwa. Based off of M.C. Escher’s trompe-l’œil painting ‘Reality (1953),’ this realm’s direction shifts because there are conjoining stairways on all sides; Ufotable uses dutch angles to create a sensory experience of otherworldliness. 
*FictionJunction is a group that solely performs songs written by Japanese composer, Yuki Kajiura. Episode 13: Something More Important Than Life (命より大事なもの). Episode 26: New Mission (改める任務). 

Overall, Kimetsu no Yaiba is a beautifully orchestrated series that’s heavily entrenched in Eastern mythology. The heaviness is often extinguished by refreshing humor that focuses a character’s absurd personality, namely Zen’itsu and Inosuke. The series is a celebration of Japanese folklore, perseverance, love, and retribution. A show that is breaking the mold for shōnen, a genre that seems to be incorporating more and more seinen elements into its publications. I rate ‘Demon Slayer’ a 8/10!

Published by eggheadluna

H.E. Rodgers is the author of the Juniper's Tree series, also known as the 真柏Project. MyAnimeList: Twitter: #真柏Project #JunipersTree

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