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'Demon Slayer : Mugen Train' Slaying Japanese Box-Office Records

 2019 was a record-breaking year at the global box-office. Thanks to gigantic blockbuster hits like Avengers Endgame, The Lion King, Frozen 2 and Spider-Man Far From Home, there was an unprecedented number of billion dollar grossers. Observers speculated it would not be equalled for some time. None of them would have predicted how big a contrast 2020 would be. Cinemas have been shut for much of the year, and those that are open are running at drastically reduced capacity. Audiences are staying away, and Hollywood studios have pulled almost all their major releases, delaying them or switching to home releases. Surely no box-office records are being broken this year unless they're for lowest earners? Against all the odds, over in Japan, one film has been rocketing up through the all-time charts. And it's animated.

Amidst all the doom and gloom and predictions of the death of cinema, it's a story that can give cinema owners and lovers of the theatrical experience alike hope. Japan is currently doing a lot better than most western countries in terms of controlling the virus, but Japanese cinemas had been struggling like those everywhere else. Most of the new films had been delayed but perennial favourites like Studio Ghibli films or Your Name have been rereleased to fill the gaps. Despite this, Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train, a movie spin-off of the TV anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba has been a huge hit. Not just compared to 2020's anaemic box-office returns, but in comparison to any 'normal' year.  It had the all-time highest-grossing opening weekend, and the highest-grossing weekend totals for all five weeks it has been open.

Since October 16, the film has taken ¥ 25.9 billion (approximately $248 million). This puts it as Japan's biggest film of 2020 so far (and it's been out just over a month) and has seen it pass Your Name and Frozen to be the third highest-grossing film in the country's history, behind only Titanic and all-time-champ Spirited Away.  Eventually beating Titanic is possible, but Spirited Away's ¥ 30 billion is probably going to remain out of reach.

How has a TV spin-off managed to have such a massive success, and in the middle of a pandemic? This is considerably more than the movie outings of anime franchises considered much bigger such as Dragon Ball, Detective Conan and the mighty One Piece. Is Demon Slayer even bigger than those?

The original manga began publishing in 2016 in Weekly Shonen Jump and is available in English from Viz in collected volumes and on the Shonen Jump app. As of October 2020, it was announced it has more than 100 million copies in print making it one of the best-selling manga of all time.  A 26 episode anime adaptation from Ufotable aired between April and September 2019. The movie, described as a sequel to the first series was announced straight away.  Viz describes the series:

In Taisho-era Japan, Tanjiro Kamado is a kindhearted boy who makes a living selling charcoal. But his peaceful life is shattered when a demon slaughters his entire family. His little sister Nezuko is the only survivor, but she has been transformed into a demon herself! Tanjiro sets out on a dangerous journey to find a way to return his sister to normal and destroy the demon who ruined his life.

So it's clear that Demon Slayer is a pretty huge new series, and that would seem to go some way to explain its success. But other anime franchises are just as big, but haven't had a hit as big as this. Even Dragon Ball Z, returning after an absence of 18 years with Battle Of Gods, wasn't even close. What makes this different?

We could speculate that it might actually be partially because of the pandemic, ironically. People right now all around the world are looking for escapism. Many ways people might spend their free time may not be an option right now due to restrictions. Might it be that the film would never have been anywhere near such a big hit if it hadn't been released this year? There's no way of telling.

If you want to check out the series for yourself, to see what the fuss is about, it's available streaming on Funimation Now and Crunchyroll, or on Blu-Ray from Funimation. Funimation and Aniplex plan to screen the movie in the US in 2021.