Anime Review: Kimetsu no Yaiba (Season 1) (2019)

TL;DR – When Tanjiro finds his family slaughtered by a demon, and the only survivor is his sister who has been infected by demon blood, he begins a quest to find a cure and to become a demon slayer to protect the innocent.

Review (warning: spoilers)

For anime fans of Shounen, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will be aware of Kimetsu no Yaiba (aka ‘Demon Slayer’). One of the most popular animes of 2019-20, it achieved a number of awards and nominations that reflected the next anime to rival others in the Shounen genre including Nartuo, Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia and Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood.

The sequel movie – Kimetsu no Yaiba Movie: Mugen Ressha-hen – became the first non-Hollywood film to achieve the highest grossing movie when it was released in 2020. In the process it also smashed the previous highest grossing anime film – Miyazaki’s seminal Spirited Away – by a staggering $108 million worldwide.

For those of the uninitiated, Kimetsu no Yaiba tells the story of a boy named Tanjiro Kamado who lives in the snowy mountains with his mother and siblings in an era that parallels medieval Japan. Their father passed away some time ago, and Tanjiro has taken on the responsibilities to provide for the family and does so with a lightness and joy of heart that belies the harsh and unforgiving circumstances of where they live.

After returning home from the nearby village selling charcoal, Tanjiro encounters his worst nightmare; his family murdered in a bloody display. But wait, his sister, Nezuko, is still breathing. Barely. Lifting her unconscious form on his back, he runs down the hill in search of help. His mind racing, he doesn’t notice when Nezuko awakens baring demon teeth. Her sudden bucking movement causes Tanjiro to slip and together they fall off a ledge onto the snow. He then sees that Nezuko is conscious but has transformed into a demon. He attempts to reason with her, plead with her while defending against her desire to eat him. His cries manage to reach somewhere deep inside her and she holds back.

Enter demon slayer, Giyuu Tomioka. Blue eyed, cold as the snow falling around him, cold as the samurai blade he wields in his hands, he rushes at Nezuko to end her life (a mercy killing before she transforms into a full fledged demon that will seek to consume more human lives).

Out-matched and out-skilled, Tanjiro now finds himself pleading to the demon slayer to spare Nezuko’s life. Giyuu is not swayed saying his job is to slay demons and that Tanjiro’s sister is no longer human. The stand-off leads to a desperate act by Tanjiro to protect Nezuko and is a clever bit of action that earns Giyuu’s respect. And when he sees Nezuko attempt to protect Tanjiro in turn even though she is starved for human flesh, he questions whether perhaps this pair of siblings may be different. Giyuu sends the pair off to see Sakonji Urokodaki, a master swordsman, who will teach Tanjiro how to fight and hunt demons.

And that’s just the first episode…

There is a lot to love in this series, which I cannot do justice in one review but for me the highlights and aspects I found fascinating were as follows:

  • Tanjiro is a pure spirit. He is incorruptible and does not care for power or money. He is almost beyond altruistic and does not become jaded no matter what is thrown at him. He has plenty of flaws but stays true to his character and optimism that borders on the unbelievable. As the main character, there was serious risk that Tanjiro could have been a one-dimensional character but creator Koyoharu Gotouge makes you want to support Tanjiro no matter how emotional he gets.
  • The Final Selection is a test for demon slayer students who have to survive for seven days on Mount Fujikasane. Demons reside on the mountain and their power equates to the number of students that have been eaten. Tanjiro is thrown into the thick of it when he faces off against the oldest demon on the mountain.
  • Muzan Kibutsuji is the main antagonist. The most powerful demon and the leader of the 12 Kizuki; an organisation comprised of six ‘upper’ and six ‘lower’ demons considered the most powerful of all demons (other than Muzan himself). He is interesting in that we discover he is posing as a human, has a human wife and a human child. Muzan’s reasons behind acting the family man are not revealed and his motives are a mystery. He is so powerful that I can’t see why he doesn’t simply go around biting every human he can get his hands on and turning them into demons (mind you, not every human can handle his demon blood so most die before turning into demons themselves). His only real threat are the Demon Slayer Corps but their number would be small compared to the number of demons Muzan could generate. We know Muzan wants to destroy the Demon Slayer Corps, but we don’t know his end game. Does he want a world full of demons? I don’t think so.
  • Susamaru and Yahaba are two powerful demons sent by Muzan to get rid of Tanjiro. The battle between the demons and Tanjiro and Nezuko is a brilliant set of episodes with outstanding action animation.
  • Kyogai, a tormented demon, that uses drums to spatially rotate surroundings causing his opponents to become disorientated.
  • Zenitsu and Inosuke, a pair of demon slayers, that become Tanjiro’s best friends. Zenitsu is meek, fearful and does not look like he could ever qualify to be a demon slayer (he also gets distracted by any pretty woman and becomes obsessed with Nezuko). His ‘power’ is definitely one of the more original mechanics I have ever seen, and you will have to watch the anime to truly appreciate it. Inosuke is a boar mask wearing demon slayer who single-mindedly wants to be the most powerful demon slayer and slay every demon he encounters. He is constantly trying to one-up Tanjiro even though Tanjiro has no interest in becoming the most powerful demon slayer.
  • The Spider family, led by a demon named Rui who is one of the lower rank demons. This group of demons battle it out against Tanjiro and company and rounds out the first season. This story arc is important as it reveals what it means to truly be a ‘family’ and the ideas of family and how they differ between Tanjiro and Nezuko’s relationship and Rui and his spider demon parents and siblings.
  • Season one ends with a trial for Tanjiro and Nezuko in front of the Hashira, the most powerful demon slayers, and their master and leader, Kagaya Ubuyashiki. The trial is whether Nezuko should be killed because she has demon blood in her. The Hashira themselves are all different, and their personalities range wildly which reflects their sympathy (or lack thereof) towards Tanjiro and Nezuko’s plight.

Season one will have you binging all 26 episodes in record time. The animation is brilliant. The background settings and environment (especially the winter mountains) are atmospheric and stunning. The character designs are clean, detailed and engaging. And the action sequences will have your adrenaline pumping in no time.

The story has enough depth and mystery that keeps everything ticking along. And the histories behind the demons as much as the demon slayers will have anime fans analysing everything with a sense of glee.

If there is any shortfall, it is the lack of reveal surrounding Muzan (leader of the demons) and Kagaya (leader of the demon slayers). Their motives on the surface is simple – they want to wipe each other out (or rather Muzan wants to wipe out the demon slayers, and Kagaya wants to stop Muzan). But there has to be more to it than that. How they came to be the way that they are, and what they seek to achieve are never scratched beneath the surface. This is a minor quip in what is a gripping and highly enjoyable anime series. You have been warned.

9.5 out of 10

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