“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” - Leonardo da Vinci.
For a show to be good, it’s not always necessary for it to have a complex plot and a deep cast of characters. This is exactly what Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer) proves. This show is yet another spectacle by ufotable – the studio that can take an otherwise generic shounen with a fairly linear story and turn it into a show that has fans craving for more every week. The studio has done just that with Kimetsu no Yaiba by making it one of the most popular shows of the year with its animation quality and direction. Kimetsu no Yaiba is a show from Spring 2019 that only got a real popularity surge in Summer 2019. Half an episode of a cleverly directed and masterfully animated battle led this show to become one of the most prominent topics of discussion on online anime communities. That doesn’t mean the rest of the show isn’t a visual feast; it truly is eye candy from the first minute of the first episode to the final minute of the last.
The premise of the show isn’t original. It starts with the family of a hardworking boy who lives in a small village being devoured by a demon while he’s away. The only survivor, his sister, is turned into a demon herself and so the boy begins his journey to not only get revenge on the demon that took his family away from him, but also cure his sister and turn her into a human once again. I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we said that we haven’t come across similar plotlines in anime over the years. However, I’ve watched several shows over the years which have similar plotlines yet didn’t get a fraction of the popularity Kimetsu no Yaiba has garnered because they were done by smaller studios and didn’t have the visual prowess of what ufotable has brought us. One of the first shows that come to my mind when thinking about this is “Sirius the Jaeger” from Summer 2018. It’s got a very similar theme and protagonist to Kimetsu no Yaiba but with vampires instead of demons.
Ufotable really outdid itself here. I just can’t praise the studio enough because that’s how big their contribution has been. I wasn’t an original manga reader but I’ve gone and read the manga as far as the anime has been adapted and it does have some glaring plot pacing and character writing issues. The manga is honestly decent at best. The anime also manages to hide some very cliched moments that were scattered throughout the course of the manga.
Having said all that, there are some problems that the anime couldn’t totally eliminate from the manga. One of them is the pacing in the middle part of the anime. I felt that some fights and arcs dragged on for far too long. While this might not seem as a massive problem to people who binged these episodes, it did feel like a pain waiting weeks just to get to the conclusion of the said storylines. Come on, 2-3 episodes for a one-on-one or two-on-two fight, mostly sword-fights, is taking it too far, especially in a 26-episode season. It wouldn’t really be a problem if these arcs seemed naturally long. But they didn’t. You could easily make out that it was being drawn out to tiresome levels, and I have no idea why.
Like the narrative, Tanjirou Kamado, our main protagonist is a pretty straightforward character. Kind, gentle, selfless and caring are just some of the qualities that he possesses. His determination in the face of overwhelming opponents is nice to see, although again, it is something exceedingly typical of protagonist in a shounen. One of his most defining traits though is the love he bears for his family. He’ll go to any lengths to keep his sister, Nezuko (more about her later), the only real family that he has left, safe. On top of that, the primary motivation he has to find Kibutsuji Muzan, apparently the master of all demons, is not because he wants to avenge his family. Instead, it’s to find a cure that would make his sister human again. Throughout the season, he’s shown kindness towards everyone, human or demon. Even after becoming a Demon Slayer, he sympathizes with the situation demons find themselves in, having to rely on human flesh and blood simply in order to survive, even shedding tears for them. However, he finds out that that’s not true for every demon that he encounters. Some just kill for fun. This was a great opportunity to actually develop Tanjirou.
Unfortunately, this is where the second of my two complaints with the show begins: the handling of its characters and their development. Character development is extremely disappointing in Kimetsu no Yaiba and Tanjirou’s character is the prime example of that. Apart from his demon slaying skills, his personality as a whole did not grow much in the series. Some of the villains that are introduced have short arcs or an episode to themselves and it’s difficult to sympathize with them in that short period of time.
Now, let’s talk about the most tiresome of the entire cast, Zenitsu Agatsuma. He’s an annoying, weak, girl-chasing guy who somehow passed the Demon Slayer exams and became a demon slayer. His pessimistic nature was kinda amusing at the beginning, but it became old very, very quickly. He’s a coward who hides behind a kid when faced with a demon and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The only reason he’s in the show at all is for comic relief, and that gets irritating very fast. Kimetsu no Yaiba has an extremely dark and serious vibe to it so the odd moment of humor wouldn’t have hurt if it was placed well. But no, Zenitsu has to bring out his shitty personality traits 5 times every episode. And even worse, his comic relief moments kill the mood during tense situations when the main cast is against a formidable enemy that they have barely any chance of defeating. How are we supposed to take these moments seriously when he’s drooling over girls or just lying there crying like a baby?! The guy has no major part to play this season and we’re supposed to believe that he’s one of the main characters. Good Lord! Remove Zenitsu and almost nothing would change. He’s the same at the end of the season as he was when he was introduced. Easily one of the more prominent reasons that dragged the series down for me.
We then have Inosuke Hashibira, another one of the new demon Slayers. A hot-headed boy who covers his face with a boar mask, he’s got excessive pride and a love for battle. His favored opponents are demons but he doesn’t mind beating up a human if they happen to come in the way of his fights. At first, he does come off as annoying with these traits dominating his character, but he does change into a more understanding person as the story progresses. He begins to see that there are beings out there, both humans and demons, against whom he’s no better than a fly to be swatted. I honestly quite enjoyed watching him as a character grow out of his little shell.
Next, we move on to everyone’s favorite girl: Nezuko. Even after being turned into a demon, she’s shown to have incredible restraint in her demonic thirst. Without speaking a single word since becoming a demon, she’s demonstrated her love for her brother over the course of the season. The bond between the two siblings is one of the driving points of the series. Her little “demonic” idiosyncrasies are amusing to say the least even though there are certain moments which made me question the physics side of things in the show. If you’ve already watched Kimetsu no Yaiba, you’ll get the reference.
There are two supporting characters who actually had massive impacts on the story, and whom I personally really enjoyed watching in the brief screentime that they got. They're Giyuu Tomioka and Sakonji Urokodaki. These two actually shaped Tanjirou as a person going forward. Tomioka is the first demon slayer we’re introduced to, and the one that shows the path to Tanjirou to do the same. Urokodaki is the person who trained Tanjirou to be a demon slayer soon afterwards. Both of them impacted the way Tanjirou developed (although I have to say, he didn’t develop a lot) and his actions in the series are partially driven by what he was taught by them. There’s not too much else to say about the other characters without spoiling a bit since most of the remaining important characters are introduced in the second half of the season. The villains that do appear in the first half are very basic and slightly disappointing to be frank: almost all of them are shown to have a tragic history but I could never really sympathize with them. The author tries to invoke emotions with their past but fails in conveying it in an original manner that would actually leave an impact on the viewers.
Overall, the characters are easily the weakest part of the series. Zenitsu’s constant ramblings are a pain, and the writing as well as the lack of development of some other characters leaves a lot to be desired.
Visually, this show is a masterpiece. No other way to put it. In terms of animation, Kimetsu no Yaiba can compete with any other anime and still come out on top. It’s arguably the most well-animated series of the year and will go toe to toe with any other anime series you can throw at it. The animation is the reason that led to the popularity of the show and hats off to ufotable for that. Every episode is a visual feast. From the fluidity of the animation to the vibrant character designs, it’s all top-notch. Some of the fight scenes in Kimetsu no Yaiba are simply stunning and what's equally stunning is their effective use of CGI. The aforementioned battle sequences are some of the best in anime in terms of animation quality, and that’s not an exaggeration.
The audio side of things isn’t shabby either. I was somewhat surprised by the decision to have only one opening and ending for both the cours. The opening was very pleasing in the first few episodes, but I began skipping it in the latter half of the show, not because I got tired of the vocals or the music, but because it had the same visual sequence as well. They definitely could’ve done with a second set of opening and ending although this is a small issue and doesn’t put any stains on the great production quality. The voice acting is splendid for the most part sans the annoying and repetitive trash that came out of Zenitsu’s mouth. Yes, it was fun in the beginning but it didn’t hold up well. His ramblings were just plain annoying after a few episodes. That complaint aside though, I felt that the VAs did a superb job of conveying the necessary emotions when required. Special props go out to the VAs doing the demons. They created incredible tension which when paired with the stupendous animation had me totally immersed.
And of course, how could I not mention the incredible work done by Yuki Kajiura and Go Shiina? Yuki Kajiura has a history of producing outstanding soundtracks for anime like Fate/Zero and Sword Art Online (the only good thing to come out of almost every season of SAO is the OST), and she certainly doesn’t disappoint here. The OST perfectly compliments the visuals, and I thought it immaculately suited the Edo period setting which Kimetsu no Yaiba seems to be based in. The series has a multitude of soundtracks which add variety and prevents any major overuse of a particular track. Near perfect score to the overall sound department.
At the end of the day, Kimetsu no Yaiba is a typical shounen with top-tier production values and a few critical issues such as some poor character writing and pacing. Despite these issues though, I enjoyed Kimetsu no Yaiba for what it was: an anime with stunning visuals and soundtrack which managed to keep me hugely entertained for the majority of its run. Even if you don’t particularly like shounen, I’d urge you to give this a shot just for the aesthetics if nothing else.