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Demon Slayer Mugen Train: All Aboard The Hype Train

I’m 100% Shonen trash, which means I love Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. The gorgeously detailed setpieces, unique historical setting, and memorable cast of characters (and Zenitsu) made for one of the most exciting Shonen Jump series in recent memory. I binged the entire manga shortly after finishing the first anime season, which only made the wait for the follow-up film more excruciating. The US release was delayed several times due to COVID, even as it became the highest grossing film ever in Japan. But it was worth the wait. Mugen Train is a highly entertaining movie that brings the best arc of the manga to life, and has only gotten me more excited for what’s to come.

We start right where the series left off, with Best Boy Tanjiro and co. boarding an old-fashioned train to do some old-school demon slaying. Of course, things go south almost immediately, as a sharp-dressed demon has taken over the train and threatens to kill everyone on board with hypnosis powers. Luckily, there’s an elite demon slayer on board: Rengoku, the Flame Hashira. And yes, he does have a lot in common with his Dragon Ball namesake. He’s a glutton, none too bright, obscenely strong, and a total show-stealer. It’s up to all of them to save all the passengers on the train, fighting a psychological battle to (literally) save their souls from destruction.

The story is well-paced and easy to follow, but it still assumes you’ve seen the first season going in. There’s very little exposition, and the action starts almost immediately. You won’t be completely lost if you haven’t seen the series first, but you might miss some of the call-backs and subtle characterization moments. Then again, Demon Slayer is a lot of things, but it is not subtle. So you should be fine if you just want to turn your brain off and enjoy the spectacle.

And what a spectacle it is. Studio Ufotable has some of the best animators in the biz, and they went all-out with their unlimited movie budget. Tanjiro’s Water Breathing technique has never looked quite so smooth and detailed, and the new Blood Demon Arts expertly combine 2D and 3D animation. Series composers Go Shiina and my waifu Yuki Kajiura deliver another heart-pounding OST, punctuating each sword swing with an exhilarating gothic choir. I used to think Ufotable’s Fate movies were the gold standard for anime action, but they outdid themselves once again with Demon Slayer.

That’s why it’s so surprising that my favorite part had no action at all. About halfway through, the film takes a deep dive into the subconscious of each protagonist (and Zenitsu). There’s some hilarious moments with our favorite pig-man, Inosuke, but Tanjiro’s scenes just broke my heart. He’s overcome with guilt for being unable to save his family, and breaks down in tears from having to go for so long without them. Many Western action heroes are so stuck in this Clint Eastwood/stoic badass mentality that they never emote, and I can’t relate to them. But all my favorite Shonen heroes, from Tanjiro to Gon Freecss to Shinji (especially Shinji) wear their hearts on their sleeves, and their characters are better for it.

Really, the only weak characters are the evil demons themselves. They spend most of their time generically monologuing about how evil they are, with little motivation beyond “humans are tasty om nom nom”. Sure, their fights are a joy to watch, and the hypnosis power is actually pretty rad. But they don’t have as much depth or stage presence as the more memorable villains in the series, like Rui the spider demon or the King of Pop, Muzan Kibutsuji.

Mugen Train is a movie for Demon Slayer fans. If you haven’t seen the series, you might be a little lost. If you watched the series and thought it was kinda meh, this movie won’t do anything to change your mind. But if you love Demon Slayer – the anime, the manga, whatever – this movie is essential viewing. It works as both a self-contained arc and the continuation of an ongoing saga. The characters are all great, and even Zenitsu has his moments. There’s comedy, drama, subtle horror vibes, and a ton of ass-kicking. I went to see it shortly after getting vaccinated, and it was a great way to celebrate being able to go out again. Also, Nezuko is freaking adorable and I want to get a Nendoroid of her.

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