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Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba [Season One] (2019)

There has been a sea-change in how A-list anime is made over recent years. Previously the latest Shonen Jump hit would be adapted in a year-round format. churning out as quickly and cheaply as possible. And for their many strong points, even the most ardent fan of the likes of One Piece, Naruto and Bleach would have to concede that their animation quality is variable, to say the least. The same could not be said of the new generation of Shonen anime such as My Hero Academia or Attack On Titan, which have a more conventional production schedule, producing a single season at a time. And without the need to produce 52 episodes a year, there's been a noticeable improvement in production values (and a decrease in the dreaded filler episodes). Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba is one series that has definitely benefited from this shift.

Koyoharu Gotouge's original manga is the biggest series to launch in the 21st Century. It ran in Weekly Shonen Jump from 2016 to 2020, and its collected volumes have sold more than 150 million copies to date, making it the eighth highest-selling manga of all time. The anime was adapted into a 26 episode series that originally aired from April to September of 2019, and streamed in English on Crunchyroll and Funimation. It was directed by Haruo Sotozaki with animation production by ufotable.  A feature film that adapted the manga's second arc, Mugen Train was released in Japan in 2020 and became the most successful film in Japan's box-office history, finally dethroning Spirited Away, and was even the most successful film of the year at the (pandemic-hobbled) international box office. A second full season adapting the Entertainment Arc District will air starting on December 6, 2021.

Shonen Jump is- theoretically, at least- primarily aimed at kids, so Jump series tend to keep things in broadly PG-13 territory. Although culturally the Japanese have a different idea of what is acceptable for young eyes to the majority in the West, you can normally expect a Jump-derived anime to be relatively kid-friendly. With this in mind, the opening episode of Demon Slayer comes as a bit of a shocker.

Set in the Taisho-era of Japan (early 20th century), we meet Tanjiro Kamado, a young man living an idyllic life with his loving family in the mountains. One day, he's sent off on his regular errand down the mountain to a nearby village to sell firewood to the residents. However, due to a freak blizzard, he finds himself temporarily stranded. The next day he returns home to a shocking scene. His family has been brutally slain by a demon, all except for younger sister Nezuko, who has been possessed by a demon herself.

Leaving home to find help, Tanjiro and Nezuko are attacked by a Demon Slayer, and Tanjiro fights to defend his sister- who has never attacked a human. The slayer turns out to be from the secret Demon Slayer Corps who have been in a secret war with demons for centuries. Tanjiro resolves to join the Corps himself to find the demon responsible for his family's murder, and somehow find a cure for Nezuko, whatever it takes.

As an opening salvo, the first episode makes quite an impression. It's much gorier and more brutal than standard Shonen Jump fair. The demons are actually pretty scary and disturbing- they feel much more out of something like Devilman than the more knockabout fun you might expect from the publication that brought us Dragon Ball.

And with ufotable responsible, you can be sure this is a damn good-looking show. It has a high-quality sheen similar to the likes of My Hero Academia and its ilk. CG is incorporated into the visuals excellently, pulling off some exciting dynamic camera-work. It's consistent too, so there's no radical variation in animation quality that is common is long-running anime.

Tanjiro's first battle is certainly impressive. The thrilling set-piece takes place in a forest during a blizzard, with slick, well-choreographed action and a constantly moving 'camera' , it's really quite something to behold. And Demon Slayer is starting just as it means to go on.

This first battle is with a human foe- things step up a gear when he begins his training and starts actually fighting demons themselves. There are exciting action sequences throughout the series, as Tanjiro meets more Corps members and tries to find the high-ranking demon who killed his loved ones. Tanjiro fights increasingly powerful demons in flashy and kinetic fights as he tries to gain entry to the secret society

Nezuko's refusal to eat human flesh seems pretty much unique among demon-kind and Tanjiro's protection of her sees him at odds with the top brass of the Corps- so he often has to fight fellow slayers and demons alike. The bond between Tanjiro and Nezuko is the real beating heart of the show. It's refreshing for the central love story to be a sibling relationship and not a romantic one. Eventually, Nezuko is even able to fight alongside her brother.

It's not only the violence that makes this feel different from the rest of its Jump predecessors. It also often has a much more serious, darker tone. It's not completely void of humour exactly, but it's less prominent here than you would see in something like  My Hero Academia or Full Metal Alchemist for example- at least at first. Tanjiro is a rather serious, earnest young man, far removed from the goofball heroes of One Piece or Naruto. Nezuko is basically mute, too so most of the comedy has to come from other characters we gradually meet throughout the series.

It has a fairly relaxed pace, and much of the wider cast is not introduced until towards the end of the series. The cast isn't quite as full of wacky characters as your classic anime (yet) but they do add a bit more variety and extra colour to proceedings- even if we'll have to wait to later seasons to know what they really bring to the table.

The setting of the series also adds some novelty. With traditional dress and weapons, the series does also have a sort of timeless quality. As the series begins, it could easily take place at some point in Japan's feudal history. But it's only when later we visit a city and encounter more modern tech such as early automobiles and trains that it's obvious that this isn't samurai-era Japan. 

Notable by its absence, however, is fan service. Its characters are generally appealingly designed and attractive enough but the female characters are not really overly sexualised or pneumatically designed like so many of its Shonen Jump predecessors.

If you are a veteran anime fan, you'll notice that beneath the surface trappings, at heart it does stick pretty closely to the classic Shonen Jump template. A hero on a quest to become the best (insert thing here) in the world- only this time it's a Demon Slayer instead of pirate, ninja, superhero, Soul reaper or whatever. 

But it's a tried and tested formula for a reason. It doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel- its concept isn't anything we haven't seen before. However, it's just executed so well that it makes for a highly enjoyable, frequently thrilling watch. And with the season finale leading directly into the movie (or the recently concluded Mugen Train TV arc) it's clear this is one series that's only just getting started.



IN A NUTSHELL: Its bleak, harder-edged world isn't for the faint of heart but Demon Slayer is a dark delight.



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