Wayne Rock, Anime Head Writer
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train (good lord that is a mouthful, we’ll just call it Mugen Train from here, okay?) is finally upon us. Well, more accurately, it’s been out for a while and I just got around to watching it. In any case, let’s talk about what I thought of the film and whether or not it’s deserving of all the critical and commercial success it’s been garnering both in Japan and the West.
Long story short, hell yeah it deserves all the praise! As someone who was initially skeptical of how faithfully a two-hour movie could adapt a 14-chapter long manga arc, after watching the film all my skepticism was put to rest faster than the characters in this movie got trapped in their dreams.
Not only is the film an incredibly faithful adaptation, only moving a handful of events around for better pacing and including a few more instances of expository dialogue, but it drastically improves it. You would think that any conversion of still pictures to an animated format would always be an improvement, but it isn’t consistently the case. However, Mugen Train’s gorgeous animation, excellent fight choreography, stellar voice acting (disclaimer: I watched with Japanese audio and English subtitles) and beautifully-renditioned soundtrack all worked in perfect harmony to elevate the source material to a format that managed to give me chills and make my eyes well with tears multiple times.
To be fair, if you haven’t seen the first season of Demon Slayer, first of all, what are you doing with your life? But more importantly, you really won’t understand this movie. The movie continues directly from the events of the first season, so if you just jump in headfirst, you’re going to be more lost than if you were inside the maze of Inosuke’s subconscious. The film follows main characters Tanjiro, his demon sister and best girl Nezuko, everyone’s favourite badass coward Zenitsu, and the boar-head masked crazy swordsman Inosuke as they board the titular Infinite Train with the dual goal of meeting the Demon Corps Hashirama (Pillar) of Fire Rengoku, and beating a demon that is supposed to be at the end of the destination. Only, it turns out that, no, the demon isn’t at the end of the journey, but on the train itself.
After a bombastic early fight scene displaying what a powerhouse Rengoku is, we see that all the main characters have been put to sleep and are trapped in their dreams. Each dream is individually designed to make the characters happy so they never try to wake up, keeping them trapped so demon villain Enmu can use his human servants to defeat the Demon Corps members’ spiritual cores and render them helpless in the real world. As this is a spoiler-free review I’ll stop the summary there, but what follows is an exploration of the true natures of happiness and sacrifice that is emotional and extremely deep.
I’ll admit, the premise of this film had me very confused as to how the entire movie could take place on one train. My doubts were quickly put to rest by how expertly the filmmakers utilised each character’s unique dream space to not only explore and develop these characters but also to create a larger world for this film to take place. The film radiates the same kind of energy as films like Inception, The Matrix and even A Nightmare on Elm Street. Focusing largely on Tanjiro and Rengoku’s dreams meant less time and development for Zenitsu and Inosuke, but since those characters were deftly used for comic relief and are given adequate time to shine in their action sequences, it works brilliantly and allows the audience to form a sufficient emotional bond with Rengoku.
Introducing a brand new character and getting the audience to care as much about them as main characters we got to know in an entire season of anime is incredibly difficult, but the film pulls it off almost flawlessly. The writing in the movie is also extremely well-done, with the film moving deftly between comedic, dramatic, and action beats without creating any tonal dissonance. I love that we got to explore scenes of Tanjiro basically getting what he always wanted (his family back) only to see him have to give it all up again because he realises the importance of moving forward.
I’m going to slightly SPOIL something here so if you want to head in spoiler-free, skip ahead to where I end the spoilers. (SPOILERS BEGIN) Tanjiro quickly learns that to exit the dream world he has to kill himself inside the dream. This quickly leads to a marvelous action sequence where Enmu repeatedly puts Tanjiro to sleep, but he instantly realises and, without hesitating, continually slits his own throat in his dreams to get brought back to reality. This forces even the demon to acknowledge the gigantic Titan-sized balls on Tanjiro to be able to do this. It’s then a testament to the writing of this narrative that, even though this is written to give us positive insight into Tanjiro’s character, it’s brought back later on as a character flaw. Later on in the film, Inosuke has to stop Tanjiro from cutting his own throat in reality because Tanjiro is so committed in his resolve. It’s writing and reincorporation of themes like this that establishes Demon Slayer as a shonen that is a cut above the rest.
This doesn’t mean that the other characters don’t get a chance to shine. What Mugen Train manages to do is use seemingly innocuous moments to give very deep insight into these characters. Inosuke’s initial fear of the train is referenced very early on and then is incorporated into his supposedly-happy dream, where he and his minions, squirrel-ified versions of Tanjiro and Zenitsu, literally fight the train itself. This is further reincorporated later in the film but is used to cleverly reference Inosuke’s often overlooked sharpness and fighter’s acumen when it comes to demon slaying.
There are many other little character moments like this for Zenitsu and even Nezuko to show aspects of their personalities. Like Zenitsu’s subconscious being a sleep-deprived maniac or Nezuko more easily using her demon powers. The subtle is just as important and impactful as the larger moments. (SPOILERS END)
If I had any criticisms of the film it would be that there’s a point where you think the film is over and then another, more powerful demon shows up and a new action set-piece begins. There’s just no setup for it and it leads to an abundance of “character needing to dig deep to push past their limits” moments in a film that already has its fair share of these. Really and truly, this is the only point where this being a film adaptation hurts the story, because if it were a regular season of anime this would’ve been an excellent continuation from a previous episode’s cliffhanger. Nonetheless, that’s basically a nitpick at this point. In no way did it take away from my enjoyment of the film. And despite everything it does lead to what is arguably the most beautifully emotionally poignant scene of the entire movie.
If you are a fan of Demon Slayer, this movie is not optional. It’s directly tied to the first season and it sets up character motivations for upcoming storylines. More than that, it is an insanely well-animated, almost perfectly-paced, balanced film that is a great companion piece to the main story. You owe it to yourself to check this one out.
Wayne’s Score: 9 out of 10
So did you check out Mugen Train? What did you think of it? You can check out more anime-zing reviews below:
Wayne loves to complain, and that was an unintentional rhyme. When I’m not watching movies, TV, anime or trophy hunting on PS4, you can usually find me deep in my thoughts preparing my next scathing review of a bad movie. I think Zack Snyder’s take on superheroes is terrible and that The Quick and the Dead is actually a decent movie. I re-watch Death Note every year. Unlike the other fine writers on this site, I’m not a critic, but I can definitely Rock a review…(Read More)