This is a film I’ve been sitting on for a few weeks but haven’t had anytime to take a look with other stuff going on. A week has opened up however, and I think it’s no better time than to get this out. This has been the big success story of the year, but how is it as an actual film? After the cut let’s take a dive into Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train
It’s fine. Just fine.
Not good, not amazing, but just fine.
I know that might be blasphemous for some people. Mugen Train has smashed the box office, with rave reviews and enough ticket sales to claim the throne of highest earning anime film, beating the legendary Miyazaki. All great to see, and you can’t deny that in terms of animation, Ufotable didn’t hit it out of the park. But, after watching the film, I can’t deny that I wasn’t going. “Yeah, it’s okay…I mean…it’s not horrible, but just okay.”
I think my feelings come from the fact that I don’t think this arc should have been a movie. It is very clear that the writers and story-tellers involved found themselves between a rock and a hard place. The Mugen Train arc was too short to be a full on anime season, but instead of going for the OVA route, the opted instead to make it a film, and it’s a decision that had mixed results. Sure it’s good to see the anime return to absolutely top form animation, but there is a sense of pacing and structure that feels out of place for a film. The most notable is having the film’s main villain be defeated, only for a new baddie to emerge right at the end for the final battle. While that would have worked easily in an anime season where you know things will continue, having it a standalone film (but still canon) felt very much out of place. Had Ufotable been creating this story from scratch that probably wouldn’t have happened. But they are adapted a manga this time, and don’t have the creative freedom that even Fate/Stay Night normally allows. The result is a disjointed plot that at times feels out of place and anti-climatic.
Furthermore, while Mugen Train really, really, REALLY wants you to feel upset for the death of Kyōjurō Rengoku, the Flame Hashira who accompanies our heroes. I struggled to even care. Don’t get me wrong, Rengoku is a bonafide badass, and his fight with the final baddie of the flick is one of the record books, I just couldn’t bring myself to be invested in this character. There just isn’t enough time spent with him, and his flashbacks, revealing a desire to do good by his mother, while interesting, aren’t elaborated upon enough to care. It doesn’t help that the story again, REALLY, wants you to care, but I found the final moments of the film where everyone is crying for way too fucking long to be more humorous than touching. It would have been different had this been a character we knew from the first season, but for a character who all accounts will be henceforth known as the ‘movie hashira’, it just doesn’t work.
Things are all bad though. Like I said, Demon Slayer has never looked better, and the action and fighting on display is some of the series best. Rengoku lives up to the hype as the Flame Hashira, and the last knockdown fight is something to see. The characters (except Zenitsu) are all still endearing. The powers are intuitive and unique, and the moments with Tanjiro coming to terms with this family’s death are a good way to take his character. Him having to kill himself over and over to break out of the hypnosis is a cool idea, and his final shouts that Rengoku won the fight are probably the movie’s most memorable moment.
I chalk up my lukewarm feelings on Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train to that fact that I’ve always been a casual fan of Demon Slayer. I’ve enjoyed it the two times I’ve watched the series, but it really is nothing special. A classic shonen anime series with fun characters, good fights, and a story that doesn’t get long in the tooth. However a lot of what put this show on the map was the ‘Ufotable Bump.’ Getting one of the best animation studios to create your show is going to have people watch it, if only for the god-tier animation. But even that can’t rub out the Zenitsu sized anchor this show has wrapped around its neck. Still, it’s popularity is earned, and it’s accolades are well fought for. I liked the film, and had fun watching it, but I don’t know if we’ve be having the same conversations had the events of 2020 not given this film a massive handicap. But we can’t change what is, and I am glad that anime film, especially one as well liked as Demon Slayer, gets its time to shine. If you loved the series, check this film out, but keep your expectations in check.