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Demon Slayer: The Movie: Mugen Train review

These days, there's too much anime and too little time. I only watch two or three anime per year at this point, and my criteria usually involves looking at whichever anime people are still talking about from one or two years prior. This filters pretty well for anime which stand the test of time, and helps to improve the signal:noise ratio for my limited selections. This was the case for Demon Slayer, which was about a year and a half old when I first watched it in late 2020.

I enjoyed the TV series very much. The characters are likable, the villains interesting, the world-building compelling, and the action scenes amazing. Ufotable, as always, delivers in spades on the animation, applying their Unlimited Budget Works to another production of incredible action animation. For a Shonen action series, it was remarkably good. I had high expectations for the movie, Kimetsu no Yaiba: Mugen Train, when I watched it this week.

Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed in the film.

In my experience, there are three kinds of feature-length anime films:

Those made for the silver screen, such as Kimi no Na wa or Bakemono no Ko

Capstones on a successful TV anime, concluding or expanding upon the story, such as Madoka Magica part 3

We couldn't sell a second season (and/or there isn't enough of the manga written yet), but we managed to convince the producers to fund a movie instead

Of course, Mugen Train wouldn't stand among the first class. I was hoping it would be the second sort. Unfortunately, it was the third.

The main antagonist of the movie, Enmu, is a poorly written villain who fails to be compelling as the central antagonist of a feature-length film. The antagonists of the TV anime are consistently empathetic, with traces of their former human selves still visible, and are much stronger for it. The use of the train dehumanizes this villain, and we never receive any hints as to how they came to be in their position. I was initially drawn in by Enmu's interesting powers, the scenario it presents to the heroes, and the battle which ensues— but he overstays his welcome, and his involvement in the story wears thin.

Altogether too much time is also spent on exposition in this film, in the form of dream sequences for minor characters which drag on and on, or establishing background information for new characters that ideally would have already been established in the TV series. The new Hashida character is very likable, but their backstory, as told through flashbacks, feels forced and deflates the tension of the action sequences it cuts away from. His emotional climax fails to land. A character introduced late in the film has more interesting motivations, however, and I'm looking forward to seeing them developed further in the coming second season of the TV anime.

The fight scenes were also pretty disappointing, though I admit that, after also recently watching Heaven's Feel part III, which is among Ufotable's most masterful works, I may have unusually high expectations. The TV anime had some of the most amazing fight scenes with the most gorgeous animation I have ever seen on screen, and I expected the ante to be upped significantly in a feature-length film. But, while the action outclasses many other examples of Shonen anime action, it fails to live up to Ufotable standards and falls short of the bar set by the TV series.

In short, it doesn't live up to the hype. Thankfully, it doesn't make any ominous missteps which bode poorly for in the upcoming second season of the TV anime, which I plan to watch — hopefully enjoying a better experience. In general, I suspect that this style of shonen action adventure story is more easily told in an episodic format than in a feature film.

Spoilers follow:

To emphasize that, here's how I would have restructured it as a mini-arc within the TV anime:

The first episode covers the arrival on the train, introduces Rengoku, and plays out the dream sequences. I would have cut them down from "one for every character" to an A plot and a B plot focusing on the two most important characters, Tanjiro and Rengoku. The episode ends when Tanjiro escapes the dream and squares off with Enmu, teeing up a big fight.

The second episode is this fight. Rather than having Enmu merge with the train, we'll leave him as a (more relatable) humanoid character and end the fight when Tanjiro discovers that he can kill himself in the dreams to fight against Enmu's powers. The moment where Tanjiro almost kills himself in real life was good, but poorly delivered in the movie: have Rengoku stop him instead of Inosuke. Prior to that climactic moment, Rengoku and the others are engaged in a B fight in the train cars, fending off lower level demons.

The third episode is a breather, and expands the exposition for Rengoku. The audience needs a breather after the action, and this is the right time for exposition — we don't want to derail the action sequences or undermine the exposition by cutting back and forth between them. This is when we become invested in Rengoku's character, making his sacrifice more impactful in...

The fourth and final episode of the arc: Rengoku faces off against Akaza, and ultimately perishes.

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“Demon Slayer: The Movie: Mugen Train review” was published on July 21, 2021.

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