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Manga ● Review: Demon Slayer by Gotouge Koyoharu

English Title: Demon Slayer

Japanese Title: 鬼滅の刃 [lit. “blade of demon destruction”]

Writer & Artist: Gotouge Koyoharu

Released: 2016–2020

Length: 23 volumes, ~200 pages each.

Publisher: Shonen Jump (Japanese), Viz Media (English)

My Verdict: Simple premise and structure. Tanjiro’s family is slaughtered by a demon so he fights them, basically a “gauntlet run” to the demon boss.

Demon Slayer: Volume 1 (English cover)
Demon Slayer: Volume 1 (English cover)

● The premise is simple: set during the Taisho-era, Kamado Tanjiro is the eldest child in a large family. His father has passed away. As a means of living, the family makes charcoal which Tanjiro takes into town to sell. One day, he finds his family brutally murdered when returning from town. His sister Nezuko is alive but has turned into a demon. Tomioka, a hashira (lit. “pillar”, a high-ranking swordsman) in the Demon Slayer Corps, comes across them. Instead of dispatching Nezuko since he notices that she uniquely refrains from attacking humans and that Tanjiro has expressed the desire to find the murderer and turn Nezuko back to human, he instructs Tanjiro to visit Urokodaki.

● Urokodaki takes care of Tanjiro and Nezuko, training the former to become a swordsman. Tanjiro eventually joins the Demon Slayer Corps. He soon meets and teams up with fellow corps members Agatsuma Zenitsu and Hashibira Inosuke.

● Like the premise, the structure is also simple. It is perhaps too simple, although not to the point that it ruins the work. It is aimed at shonen so that is understandable. Tanjiro trains, passes the trial and joins the corps. He then goes on one mission after another. As he gains experience, he learns more about swordsmanship and the demon world, and gets assigned to harder missions that get him closer to the big boss who killed his family. Tanjiro literally moves from point A to B to C and so on, basically a gauntlet run, until the end.

Demon Slayer: Volume 8 (English cover)
Demon Slayer: Volume 8 (English cover)

● There are many swordsmen and demons but the overarching conflict is between the Demon Slayer Corps led by a man named Ubuyashiki Kagaya with nine hashira and the demon big boss Muzan Kibutsuji with six upper-rank demons and six lower-rank demons. One can predict how the plot involves them as the war between the two parties escalate.

● The story is very action-orientated. Often, a chapter is basically an action sequence. Most of the major arcs are basically battles with smaller arcs of recovery, training and rehabilitation acting as filler in between.

● Thematically, it is about perseverance, amongst other things. This is simply expressed through the “gauntlet run” structure as Tanjiro stays focused on the objective and keeps fighting in the face of increasingly difficult adversaries.

● In terms of characterization, Tanjiro follows the template of the kindhearted individual who is a victim of circumstance; in this case, his entire family except for one sister is killed. His weaknesses, at least initially, are mostly physical, including the lack of sword skills, and the lack of knowledge regarding demons. He has no major character flaws; he tries to stay positive and is hardworking but is at times a little hard on himself, which is hardly a flaw. Although he is a likable character, some flaws would make him more interesting.

Tanjiro (anime)
Tanjiro (anime)

● To contrast and complement Tanjiro, he, Zenitsu and Inosuke form the Freudian trio. Inosuke was raised in the wild so he lacks certain social skills and is somewhat of a hothead, whereas Zenitsu is the “scaredy cat” who is overly cautious but understandably so. Both are there as comic relief also, with Tanjiro balancing those two extremes. Unlike some stubbornly hotheaded heroes, Tanjiro remains cool under pressure and tries to make sound tactical decisions in a fight. As a kindhearted and patient individual, he not only tolerates but is able to accommodate his two friends’ strengths and weaknesses.

Zenitsu (anime)
Zenitsu (anime)
Inosuke (anime)
Inosuke (anime)

● Although Zenitsu and Inosuke are intended to be a little annoying as part of the comedy, they do not feature prominently for the entire 23 volumes. Although they are main characters, this avoids saturating the series with these two but not showing them enough can be dissatisfying even if it is realistically plotted. This kind of decision is not easy for writers. In my opinion, since these two are so strongly introduced, they could appear more after the Entertainment District arc.

● As Tanjiro takes Nezuko with him, her presence reminds the audience of one of his main motivations to fight as well as to fight, saving Tanjiro in key moments. She doesn’t talk much, which avoids any cringe dialogue but for a work of this length, a few more lines might give her character a bit more for the audience to relate to.

Tanjiro and Nezuko (anime)
Tanjiro and Nezuko (anime)

● Without spoiling, Gotouge does reveal the backstories of hashiras, demons and the Demon Slayer Corps. Some of these expositions are a little clumsy, taking the form of long flashback sequences, but that is a minor issue. The point is that the story is not pointless, there is important history leading up Tanjiro’s family being murdered.

● Gotouge also tries to inject some pathos into the so-called demons. This may seem strange to English-speaking audience who happen to think of “demon” in Judeo-Christian terms. After all, in that context, a demon is a fallen angel who is damned anyway so why pity them? But that is not necessarily what the kanji means so I am assuming Gotouge is not pushing anything nefarious here. In this story, these so-called demons are more like vampires with varying degrees of supernatural abilities consistent to the fantasy genre. By revealing their personal histories, it gives a little emotional complexity to what is otherwise a simple story.

● So far, the anime follows the manga very closely in both design and plot with very good production. The shots and sequencing often replicate the panels in the manga. As expected, some panels can get a bit but Gotouge does well enough with his clean linework and measured shading and texturing. There could be more graduated shading at times, as opposed to solid or near-solid coloring, to give a better 3D feel but that is not a major criticism given the volume of the work.

● The artist does use larger panels, at times using long flowing action/speed lines to show the character’s ongoing movement/attack. Although these are not randomly drawn, they don’t always entirely make sense either as it is not clear where they are moving relative to the opponent. In a few instances, the artist uses the old-school technique of repeated images of the character which are much clearer. It would be better if these could be utilized more in complex fights.

● Although common in manga, some of the sound effects lettering can be smaller as they often cover too much of the object, which is a shame since the art is generally good. Also keep in mind that although some English manga maintain the Japanese sound effects, this English manga has English sound effects.

● As it is action-orientated, anime is visually superior since in manga one has to infer the action from the context, character’s poses and speed lines. Despite the action, the anime’s linework and coloring are also very clean. In dramatic moments, it uses momentary slow motion to emphasize Tanjiro’s decisions and his improvement in swordsmanship as he fights.

● The story has a certain emphasis on swordsmanship by presenting the various kata (forms) of different styles our heroes practice. The anime is obviously better suited to this than manga and although it’s not as if the sword techniques shown are unrealistic, both could be more technical about them. It may be fantasy but the emphasis on swordsmanship demands more attention to this kind of detail.

● And on that note, it is refreshing that although the demons have supernatural/blood magic powers referred to as “blood demon art”, our human characters do not even if they do have ridiculous physical abilities, relying on physical conditioning and breathing techniques (which is another topic). This is presumably a vague point on the importance of the natural, even though the story strays from that a little by having some mysterious condition the humans attain but, importantly, by non-magical means.

● Some little details are better conveyed in the manga; for example, Ubuyashiki’s illness can be seen to progress even early on.

● The manga is 23 volumes. Each volume typically spans approximately 200 pages and is usually organized into nine chapters. So far, two chapters translate to about one anime episode but this does vary. Action-intensive sequences still require a number of pages to at least half-convey what is going on but animation is much more efficient. It will be interesting to see how many episodes will cover the final battle (arc).

● There are 11 arcs. The earlier arcs, as expected, are shorter as this faster pacing helps draw the audience in. This also makes sense since Tanjiro is the main viewpoint character and the Demon Slayer Corps is not going to send a newbie like Tanjiro on missions that are too difficult. The 11 arcs are below:

  • Final Selection Arc—chapter 1 to 9 (volume 1 to 2): This obviously includes the initial setup and Tanjiro’s training that leads to his participation in the “final selection”.

  • Kidnapper’s Bog Arc—chapter 10 to 13 (volume 2): Tanjiro’s first mission to a village in which young girls are missing.

  • Asakusa Arc—chapter 14 to 19 (volume 2 to 3): Tanjiro comes across a pair of powerful demons.

  • Tsuzumi Mansion Arc—chapter 20 to 27 (volume 3 to 4): In Tanjiro’s next mission, he meets Zenitsu and Inosuke. The trio enter a mansion in which the demon can cause the interior to shift.

  • Mount Natagumo Arc—chapter 28 to 44 (volume 4 to 6): After a short break, Tanjiro, Zenitsu and Inosuke are sent to this location to assist other corps members to deal with a lower-rank demon. This is the first long arc, in effect serving as the climax of season 1 anime.

  • Rehabilitation Training Arc—chapter 45 to 53 (volume 6 to 7): After their battle at Mount Natagumo, the trio need to recover from their injuries. Season 1 anime with 26 episodes covers up to this point.

  • Mugen Train Arc—chapter 54 to 69 (volume 7 and 8): The trio are sent to support hashira Rengoku Kyojuro on the train in which people have been disappearing. The anime film (or the 7 episodes) covers this arc.

  • Entertainment District Arc—chapter 70 to 97 (volume 8 to 9): The trio are “recruited” by hashira Uzui Tengen to investigate the red-light district where he has lost contact with his three wives who are undercover operatives. It is no surprise that Tanjiro and his comrades face another lower-rank demon. Season 2 anime with 11 episodes cover this arc.

  • Swordsmith Village Arc—chapter 98 to 127 (volume 12 to 15): During his recovery from the previous mission, Tanjiro visits the swordsmith village. Despite its secret location, two upper-rank demons are sent to attack it. With two demons and two hashira who are not operating side by side, the action alternates between the two fights. Zenitsu and Inosuke do not feature prominently in this arc. Season 3 anime covers this arc.

  • Hashira Training Arc—chapter 128 to 136 (volume 15 to 16): As the conflict escalates and sensing the end is near, the hashira train corps members as preparation for the final battle.

  • Final Battle Arc—chapter 137 to 205 (volume 16 to 23): Both sides know there are not many more moves each can make. Muzan predictably makes the first move but the Demon Slayer Corps is ready as it can be. The conclusion includes an epilogue of sorts. Although satisfying enough, just a fraction more on the lives of the survivors would enhance the story.

Demon Slayer: Stories of Water and Flame (English cover)
Demon Slayer: Stories of Water and Flame (English cover)

Stories of Water and Flame are two side stories by Hirano Ryoji. The first is “Tomioka’s Story” in which he has to track down a man-killing bear or so it has been reported. This story is around the time of the opening of the series. The second is “Rengoku’s Story” of how he became Hashira. There is also a collection of what are basically skits related to some of the episodes.


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