The version of Demon Slayer: Mugen Train reviewed here included Japanese audio and English subtitles.
Anime is here to stay stateside. It’s a fact. From the prevalence of the CrunchyRoll streaming platform to the ubiquity of programs such as Attack on Titan, people in the United States – particularly American youth – have connected with these Japanese animations in a big way. One of the biggest examples is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. You can’t walk down the street without seeing a kid sporting a shirt of the green-coated Tanjiro Komado. However, it seems no one was prepared for the success of the film sequel to the series’ first season. Demon Slayer: Mugen Train has set all sorts of box office records. Namely, it has become the highest-grossing Japanese film outside of its native country, as well as landing the #1 spot in the United States this past weekend. It absolutely deserves it.
It’s imperative to note that there’s a barrier to entry with Mugen Train. Meaning you have to have watched Kimetsu no Yaiba. No way around it. The film picks up right where the first season of the anime left off, with his demon slayer Tanjiro Komado (Natsuki Hanae), his demon sister Nezuko (Akari Kitō), and fellow demon slayers Inosuke (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) and Zenitsu (Hiro Shimono) converge with high-level demon slayer, or “Hashira”, Kyōjurō Rengoku (Satoshi Hino) to investigate strange disturbances on a train. For all intents and purposes, Mugen Train is a season of the anime condensed into a feature film. Because of that, it brings all the strengths and weaknesses of the show’s first season.
Fans of Kimetsu no Yaiba rarely talk about the complexity of the story, and there’s a reason for that. At face value, the narrative is straightforward, simplistic even. This made it initially hard to get invested in the show, as character backstory takes the forefront rather than narrative twists and turns. Therefore, Mugen Train rests on the strength of its characters. Thankfully, like the back half of the anime before it, that’s not an issue here.
As the lovable gang of mismatched personalities, the core trio (or quartet, if you count Nezuko) continues to grow together, even as they bicker. Tanjiro remains your anime “best boy”, just the sweetest and most pure heart. Inosuke is still hard-headed, Zenitsu is still girl crazy as ever. Yet, there’s an overall sense of maturity and connection between all of them that shines and propels them to the next step of the journey. Seen briefly in season one, Kyōjurō Rengoku really gets a spotlight here. Equal parts sage and total weirdo, he makes for a phenomenal mentor for the boys, as well as a successful bridge of sorts into the dark new world that lies ahead of them.
That world comes in the form of Enmu, a powerful demon who seeks to feed on all the train’s souls. He’s your traditional Demon Slayer antagonist, nothing more, nothing less. Mostly, he exists to facilitate a key element of the series: awe-inspiring action sequences. Director Haruo Sotozaki knows what we want, and gives it to us plenty. The combination of 2D and 3D animation from Ufotable forms an eye-popping symbiosis that allows action sequences to flow with a frenetic, elemental fervor that is positively brain-melting. Although some of the series’ trademark combat tactics fade away in favor of flashiness, when it looks this good, who cares?
Like its antagonist, most of Mugen Train is classic Kimetsu no Yaiba. However, in its third act, it takes a shift. Sotozaki introduces a new element that forever changes the landscape of this series. Not only is it visually spectacular, but it’s also emotionally grandiose and brave. It forces Tanjiro and co. into adulthood in a way that, well, brought me to tears. It’s a lot to chew on and makes Mugen Train worth it.
That is, if Mugen Train weren’t the full package, which it is. Haruo Sotozaki’s film is a celebration of an anime phenomenon that has already opened the doors for anime films. Not only that, but it also represents a potential opportunity for once-niche properties to get their theatrical due. Without worrying about keeping general audiences up to speed, of course. This is a stuffed anime epic that gives the fans what they want, and when what they want results in something this great, let ’em have it. –James Preston Poole
Demon Slayer: Mugen Train is now in theaters.