Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- the Movie: Mugen Train has come out in theaters and on streaming platforms. Impressive in many ways, it notably overcomes the challenges that come with not just being the first film of one of the hottest anime franchises of the past five years, but also daring to be canon.
WARNING: MOVIE SPOILERS BELOW!
Demon Slayer: Mugen Train follows the continuing journey of Tanjiro Kamado, a kind-yet-strong boy who becomes a Demon Slayer to avenge his family and restore his demon-turned sister back to her human self. Along with his allies, he boards a train in order to assist one of the Corps’ strongest members, the flame-wielding “Hashira” Kyojuro Rengoku, on a mission to figure out why both civilians and Demon Slayers alike have been disappearing after boarding a certain eerie train. When they fall into a demonic trap, Tanjiro and the others are tested not only in terms of their fighting prowess but also when it comes to their inner resilience.
The Perils of a Canon Film
Typically, movies based on shounen anime are non-canon one-offs meant to provide excitement without upending the status quo. Mugen Train is based on an actual arc from the manga, which means numerous adaptation hurdles, such as having an inherent barrier to entry for the uninitiated and needing to take into account that existing fans want to see some plot progression. In these respects, the film succeeds on all fronts. The film not only quickly introduces all the major characters’ personalities and motivations without feeling overly forced, but also the very narrative of Mugen Train lends itself to working as short yet penetrating character explorations that can be appreciated by new and old viewers alike.
For the Shounen Who Has Everything
Reminiscent of the classic Superman comic For the Man Who Has Everything by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Tanjiro and the others slumber into dreams and nightmares that feel all too real. Here, we get to see what they value and what they see as happiness, and whether it’s comic relief or a reminder of a tragic past, we also get insight into the (literal) cores of their beings. Tanjiro’s inner goodness and devotion to his sister and Kyojuro’s sense of righteousness are on full display, and seeing both helps to drive the relationship that develops between the two. By the end, Mugen Train feels like a vital part of the story that can’t be ignored.
Big Movie Feel with a Few Loose Ends
The TV series for Demon Slayer is astounding on a visual level, and the film kicks it up ten notches, albeit not without a few flaws. Elaborate fight scenes feature mind-blowing animation and thrilling fight choreography that’s hard to match even among the best action series. They help to give Mugen Train a memorable cinematic impact and improve the odds of Demon Slayer becoming one of the most consistently strong adaptations ever, though even these strengths don’t entirely cover up the fact that there are inevitably sparsely explained aspects and twists that might not make complete sense to anyone unfamiliar. Nevertheless, the movie does a good job of bookending this particular arc to feel largely satisfying while also creating anticipation for the follow-up. Mugen Train manages to come across as both relatively self-contained and a piece of a larger puzzle.
A Recommended Watch
For those who follow Demon Slayer, it goes without saying that Mugen Train is worth watching. It’s the best parts of the anime distilled into a purer strain of storytelling and entertainment, and the portrayal of Kyojuro alone is deeply memorable. But even those who don’t know where to start with Demon Slayer and are unsure of devoting time to an entire 26-episode show could do worse than to jump in with the Mugen Train film. There are many questions unanswered, but the charisma and authenticity of the characters and their convictions might be enough to fill in the gaps on an emotional level.