There’s that cliche phrase of being ‘hungry for more’ and when Demon Slayer season one concluded back in September 2019, I was absolutely ravenous. I waited with bated breath, as news of the teased film came out, its eventual October 2020 release in Japan and finally the confirmed Australian/ NZ release. It felt like I had waited for long and yet, once those opening scenes started, it was like no time had passed since the anime’s airing! Within moments I was very happily spirited away once more into the entrancing world of Demon Slayer.
After a brief opening scene, Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train picks up right where the anime left off . Tanjiro, Insouke and Zenitsu (with Nezuko in tow) race to get on board the Mugen Train and join Flame Hashira, Rengoku, on his mission. Over forty people have gone missing on the train and they’ll need to keep their wits about them to uncover the demon lurking in the train’s carriages. But this will be the group’s hardest battle yet – this isn’t just a fight they can win with their swords. This demon’s cruel ability forces them to confront themselves as they struggle to break through the divide between dreams and reality.
Mugen Train covers about fifteen chapters of the manga and turning this ‘arc’ into a film rather than a few episodes within a season was a brilliant choice. While I’m used to watching anime week-to-week, having this story as a focused film made for a tighter, far more intimate experience. And while the film is a bit slow to start running, once you get into it you can’t help but appreciate how well-crafted the story is.
The story slowly engages viewers into the mystery behind the Mugen Train, laying a tantalising breadcrumb trail that we follow until the final showdown. As we watch the slayers face down the demon, it’s literally an emotional train ride. There are moments of pure heartbreak and then maybe ten minutes later you’re laughing your butt off at one of Zenitsu’s gags. You’d think these transitions would make for jarring viewing but instead it creates a really quite immersive experience. Especially coupled with the film’s stellar music, I swear they know exactly the right time to pull on my heartstrings and turn me into a sobbing mess!! We go on the emotional journey the film wants to take us on with the very carefully timed ebbs and flows of tension. One moment, it will be eased and we’ll be smiling and the next the dial is back up to 100 and I’m gripping my seat! This makes those moments of brutality, especially when the story goes into its second phase, hit all the more harder.
Demon Slayer has always had a wonderful talent of introducing and building up characters in relatable and memorable ways in the short time it has with them. Characters are often a little ‘over the top’ but also there is something deeply human about them that can stir the audience’s imagination. The world of Demon Slayer is not real, but the characters almost are. So while I went into this film excited to see Tanjiro and his comrades on their next adventure, I came away feeling that the true star of Mugen Train was flame Hashira, Rengoku. I was immediately charmed by Rengoku’s 1000 yard stare as he yelled “Delicious” as he chowed down on his lunch box. But as the film progresses, we discover a far more interesting depth to his character.
It’s not something that is shoehorned on, but piece by piece, Mugen Train crafts the compelling and unique character of Rengoku. Through short, yet carefully crafted flashback and ‘dreams’ we see a kind older brother shouldering his family. Through his interactions with Tanjiro and others we see a passionate mentor who inspires admiration. All these scenes combine to create the wonderful figure of a person that follows his chosen path, unwavering. By the film’s ‘second phase’ the audience is not only fully invested in our passionate hero, but also feel truly emotionally connected to him. That’s something some films can’t do over their entire run.
Ufotable is known for their stunning work blending 2D and CGI animation showcased during the Demon Slayer anime and the film is certainly no different. The fight scenes are fluid and dynamic, just as Rengokus character was the star of this show, I couldn’t tear my eyes from the flames that filled the screen whenever he lifted his sword. Besides the fight scenes, shots of scenery were gorgeous and the dream sequences were perfection (and often left me quite teary eyed!).
My only complaint is of one minor segment. I’m being very vague but those who have seen the film know what I’m talking about – but in the film there’s a part where characters have to fight against these ‘tentacles’. The CGI for the tentacles and the ‘body’ just look like awkward blobs. It is hard to be super critical of this as I actually went and read the manga and they’re drawn in a very similar way. But that very small aspect of the animation was the only part of the film that I thought could do with some re-working.
Since the film’s release it seems each week there’s a new report of its insane success. And so when I finally sat in my cinema seat, I have to admit all my nervous-excitement dropped like a pit in my stomach – what if my expectations were too high? And thankfully that brief moment of doubt, was completely wrong. I adored this film. It’s exactly everything I hoped a Demon Slayer film would be. Right from the very first scene, it took my breath away, and heck the final scene – it’s hard for me to be lost for words, but I don’t have the words to describe it. From start to finish this film was an experience and one that any Demon Slayer fan must check out.
Thank you to Madman Entertainment for providing me with a pass to see the film!
Image credit ©Kyoharu Gotoge / SHUEISHA, Aniplex, ufotable