It feels like a million years since I got to sit in a cinema and watch a movie. It feels even longer since I last got to talk about Demon Slayer… I guess that’d be because those two statements are relatively accurate. I’m really happy that my first time back in a cinema in over a year was to see this movie, because for a while I didn’t think we’d be getting it here in the U.K. at all.
It’s been so long since I thought about this series that I worry I can remember just how to cover it. I guess there’s no way of knowing until I just dive in and get on with it.
As it turns out the making of Mugen Train was as much of a surprise to the voice cast and people working on the series as it was to the fans. The decision was made midway through the production of the first series to change the story arc following the end of the first season. Condensing the shorter and more dramatic story arc into a movie rather than covering it in the space of six(ish) episodes.
While I can’t pretend I’m some sort of anime novice anymore, seeing as how I’ve been writing my ill-informed opinions on seasonal anime for a few years now, I actually am a little in the dark when it comes to anime movies and the dealings with how they come about.
My main history with them are the Dragon Ball movies and how these were standalone stories, told outside of the continuity of the manga and the anime. I’ve seen this to be true of most of the Naruto movies and the My Hero Academia movies as well. I’m not used to the fact that the Demon Slayer movie actually continued the story of the manga.
Which meant it would be required viewing by the time the second season came out. Which put me on edge a little as I hoped I would get access to this before that happens sometime this year. That’s something I guess I don’t have to worry about too much more anymore. While I’m on the subject of my baseless assumptions when it comes to anime movies, I was a little surprised to see that Ufotable continued on as the movie’s animation studio for the movie as well.
My most recent point of comparison would be the Dragon Ball Super: Broly movie. That movie has an entirely different style to its character design and animation than the series did. Something that turned into a bit of a drama amongst the fanbase comparing the two.
Mugen Train, conversely displays an incredibly consistent look with the anime series. Something I don’t think there can be any drama about from the fans of that anime. Speaking for myself, I thought the first season of Demon Slayer looked fantastic. I couldn’t help but sing its praises every time I wrote an episode review of the series when I first watched that initial season.
The super recognisable art style combined with the most seamless blend of traditional and 3D animation I’d seen before and since made it hard to fault Demon Slayer in any regard when it came to how it looked. So there wouldn’t be any need to go out and get a new studio or director to fix what was never broke in the first place.
Even if it has been over a year since I’d watched Demon Slayer, as soon as my arse hit that seat the movie started everything came rushing back to me about these characters and the world created by Koyoharu Gotouge. As well as how much I love Tanjiro as a protagonist.
To catch up, one of the main criticisms I remember people directing towards the first season of the anime as it was airing was that it was a very generic shonen anime in terms of its story and the characters within it. Time and time again, my rebuttal to that criticism was that, as long as a story was told well enough, I don’t care how cookie cutter or predictable it might end up being.
Mugen Train picks up with Tanjiro (with Nezuko in box), Zenitsu and Inosuke boarding a steam train following their recovery and training arc in which they mastered the ability to use total concentration breathing consistently, which is the ability that gives Demon Slayers their superhuman abilities. This comes off the back of the kids getting in over their heads in the Spider Forest and Tanjiro falling short of being able to defeat Rui; one of the lower twelve moon demons under the rule of villain Muzan.
In that time Muzan has killed four of the remaining lower twelve for their incompetence, only leaving Enmu; the masochistic master of dreams alive, giving him a final opportunity to finish the job. With Tanjiro in pursuit of some answers behind the fire dance of his late father that helped him survive against Spider Rui, all the pieces collide around the train and Kyōjurō Rengoku: the current Flame Pillar of the Demon Slayer Corps.
Again though, I find myself arriving at a frustrating realisation that I came to at the end of the first season of the anime: Nobody in the “normal” world seems to be aware of the existence of demons in the world. Meaning the slayers and the dangerously dwindling numbers must face this threat alone.
And given the events of this movie, the absurd power and danger these demons possess make it really difficult for me to buy that the Japanese government would totally turn a blind eye to these monsters that could just murder a couple hundred people and merge with a train in the process to do it over and over again.
That’s besides the point now though. Kyōjurō Rengoku is a delight, as passionate and enthusiastic as his fiery powers would imply. He immediately shows off how strong he is to our trio of protagonists and enthusiastically takes them all on as disciples while also denying any knowledge of any fire dance used by a man named Kamado.
Shortly thereafter, we realise that some of his heroics were a dream and the slayers had all been lulled to sleep by Enmu’s powers. Manipulating a bunch of kids into entering the subconscious of the heroes and destroying some part of their core, essentially killing them in their sleep. It makes this demon a dangerous opponent, as he can kill you without you ever even realising you’re being attacked.
So of course Tanjiro manages to wake himself up.
The sequence of the kid entering Tanjiro’s subconscious and it being this bright, heaven-like world of blue sky and reflective waters reminded me of why I loved Tanjiro as a character so much. Despite the pain and darkness he’s had to endure throughout his short life, he’s such a good, pure human being. The constructs of of his subconscious even go as far as to lead the kid trying to kill him to his goal, just because they wanted to help someone in need.
Despite finally being back with his murdered family, Tanjiro realises he’s dreaming and is able to wake himself by slitting his own throat in his dream. Which is pretty hardcore. Again, this is why I like Tanjiro, for as good as he is, he’s also brutal when he needs to be as well. I mean, he lives in an especially brutal world.
From here, Nezuko helps wake everyone up and the team split up, half defending the train’s passengers from Enmu’s gross tentacles while Tanjiro and Inosuke go to the front to confront the demon and take off his head. Which they eventually do, Tanjiro again resorting to the fire dance he doesn’t fully understand, rendering immobile for the rest of the movie.
This shows how much stronger Tanjiro has gotten since before his training. He really struggled against Rui; another member of the Lower Twelve at the end of the previous arc, needing to get rescued by Giyu Tomioka in the end. And now, he and Inosuke are strong enough to take out another member of that same faction of powerful demons. Although you could easily argue that Enmu’s real strength is in his power to manipulate and kill enemies without actually fighting him.
He might not actually be anywhere near as strong as Rui when it comes to fighting directly. In the early series, I always felt like Tanjiro’s power was something of point of contention. Even when just starting off, Tanjiro seemed like this super slayer. More than rising to any challenge that he met, although generally not without some broken ribs or near fatal stab wounds for his trouble.
Now it seems like the opposite it happening and he is being thrown well out of his depth over and over. Because no sooner has the demon been slain and the train derailed, somehow without anyone dying in the process, despite the fact that they’re all unconscious and most likely unable to brace themselves for a crash. But we don’t worry about that because they never show up on screen again, nor do any of them ever get mentioned.
We’re too busy focusing on the sudden appearance of Akaza, one of the members of the Upper Twelve showing up for the first time. The final action sequence of the movie is a battle between this demon and Flame Pillar Kyōjurō Rengoku. A super dynamic and frenetic close combat battle between the two. Rengoku’s flame inspired sword arts vs Akaza’s martial arts fighting style along with his endless stamina and ability regenerate.
It’s a battle that points out the severe disadvantage the slayers have against the demons in this world. Because while Rengoku delivers powerful blow after devistating strike against the demon, as Akaza points out, anything short of a decisive, decapitating strike can result in the slayer’s victory.
Which is what eventually results in Rengoku being worn down and dealt a fatal blow himself.
Something I haven’t mentioned at all in this review is how, throughout the movie, we’re given a series of flashbacks into Rengoku’s past. We learn how he is the son of a former Fire Pillar, one who lost his fire and gave up on being a slayer. Instead spending his life in bed and becoming despondent about everything, including his own children.
With his father in such a state and his mother dying young, it’s left to this Rengoku to carry on the family name and protect his little brother. Despite everything, Rengoku tries to fulfil his role as a slayer by gripping onto the demon tightly at the appearance of the only other thing that can kill them: Sunlight.
It’s only through cutting his own arm off does Akaza manage to escape bursting into flame from exposure to the rising sun. An act that frustrates Tanjiro to the point of raging out. He yells after the demon, calling him a coward and the loser of the fight, something that irks the hyper competitive Akaza, but not enough to get himself fried. Tanjiro even hurls his sword at him, impaling the demon with minimal effect.
Great job Tanjirom you lost yourself another sword. Pretty much right after getting a new one.
So in the end, the movie ends on something of a downer. All the characters crying over the loss of of Rengoku. Which is a pretty big deal in the grand scheme of things. I mean, he was one of the nine pillars and so his loss is a significant one for the Demon Slayer Corps. Something we see as the crows deliver the message to the other slayers we’ve met throughout the series.
With Tanjiro, Inosuke and Zenitsu crying at both the loss of their new ally and in frustration and just how weak they still are compared to the demons out there they’re up against.
This movie was great.
Like I said already, this could have very easily been the beginning of the second series and you wouldn’t have noticed. That’s not a slight at the quality of this movie in comparison to an anime series production schedule, but high praise for just how good that series was that it seemed to seamless with the look and content of this movie.
Seeing this in the cinema was a real treat for me. My only regret about it being that I couldn’t go back and watch certain action sequences over and over again. Something I did all the time when I was watching the first series of the anime back in 2019. I’m super ready to see this series continue later this year, so eager in fact that I might just go and watch the first series again in preparation.
I honestly can’t fault anything about Mugen Train, it’s a perfect continuation to the story that really shows how you don’t have to have some high concept or gimmick to tell a good shonen story. Demon Slayer is a meat and potatoes battle shonen that does everything is does to a super high standard. And it goes show that you can keep things basic if you do them well.
I can’t wait for this series to continue and for me to agonise about writing a review of each and every episode as they come out. It’s that good kind of painful motivation that I feel like I need right now.