Are you familiar with holiday exclusive products? At the time of writing, it is Halloween, and Halloween is extremely lucrative, which means limited edition products galore. While I live, Fanta released a "dark orange" flavour, a variation on the original orange formula, with added black food colouring to add to the spook factor! The problem is, the taste hasn't changed even remotely, and what we have is essentially orange Fanta with a shiny new label; this is Kimetsu no Yaiba within the shounen (or action if that term is contentious or vague) genre, it may look nice, but nothing has changed or is any different, and the bar stays put.
Kimetsu no Yaiba has a bland protagonist, favours internal monologues and flashbacks, contains a fair share of plot armour, and lacks urgency, but damn does it look good.
Even with that said, I'm very conflicted when it comes to the art of Kimetsu no Yaiba. I go from admiring its unique colour choices and aesthetic, and action sequences, to despising the contrast between character designs and their environments. Don't get me wrong, in terms of movement and the animation, it consistently delivers; the fight choreography is sublime, and it's what makes the animation exceptional. There are examples of ugly CGI here and there for random instances of character movement, and backgrounds, but those are minor. However, like I said, I'm on the fence about the art; some colour choices for hair and eyes just don't work (Mitsuri is a prime example of this), and the character designs overall are too stylized compared to the traditional and basic world.
On the subject of bland protagonists, we have Tanjiro, who, upon the death of his entire family, as well as the demonic transformation of his sister, Nezuko (how's that for a bombshell), trains to become a demon slayer, with the goal to revert Nezuko back into a human. It takes two years for Tanjiro to finalize his training; it's reasonable to expect quite a bit of time being used to, perhaps highlight the mental strain and strength it takes to undergo such excrutiating training, maybe dedicate a significant amount to develop Tanjiro as he becomes physically stronger and begins to understand what it means to slay demons, I don't know, something. Instead, in but a single episode, Tanjiro spends a year learning techniques to maximize his physical capabilities, and another year attempting to slice a boulder by utilizing everything he has learned. It's bizarre how such a long and arduous process is rushed so haphazardly. I'm reminded of the first 1/5 of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood; the pacing is this bad. Tanjiro's training feels like a breeze, and the only difference between the Tanjiro from two years ago vs. present day Tanjiro is his hair growth. It feels like nothing has changed, despite the technical and physical growth.
Tanjiro himself upon introduction is hard-working, gentle, and caring, with a proficient sense of smell. With no visible flaws, Tanjiro exhibits maturity and fortitude despite the cruel circumstances forced upon him. His strengths are too great, which leaves hardly any room for development; he isn't selfish, he isn't cowardly, he doesn't have any particular undesirable trait, the only shortcomings Tanjiro has is his physical capabilities, and even then, for where he sits among demon slayers of his rank, he seems to be one of the best already, with only higher ranking slayers besting his skill level, which by extension, grants him limitless potential. One ability Tanjiro has that follows logic so ridiculous, it actively harms my viewing experience, is the aforementioned proficient sense of smell. Before I highlight this, it must be said that the logic behind Kimetsu no Yaiba action, ability system, technique, etc. very much feels selective. This is something I have a problem with in anime like Fairy Tail, wherein characters possess abilities that can be spoken into existence regardless of how random or downright illogical they may be (just to be clear, Kimetsu no Yaiba is absolutely not as bad as Fairy Tail, and also, apologies for shoehorning further Fairy Tail vitriol into my reviews). I prefer to remove appeals to realism from my critique, as I feel like doing so would promote restriction of creativity and vision when constructing a unique world, I mean, this world involves literal demons. However, Kimetsu no Yaiba fails to convey its logic in a way that allows me to reasonably suspend my disbelief, which brings me to Tanjiro's sense of smell. You see, Tanjiro is able to decipher an individual's emotions through their scent, whether they be friend of foe. This is indicative of poor world building, and I believe this ability unique to Tanjiro best illustrates this problem. It is expected of us to accept this as normal; we are expected to tell ourselves this doesn't need an explanation, and that goes for a lot of information given to us about demons, slaying them, and the like. There are apparently 10 or more water breathing techniques, 5 or less thunder breathing techniques, the Hashira (the highest ranking demon slayers) even have their very own Pokemon types, etc. My point is, nothing feels grounded or concise; the illusion of consistency exists, but there is too much going on to the point where I'm questioning every creative decision with every forward motion.
Kimetsu no Yaiba favours the sympathetic villain approach, where in which an antagonist is given redeemable features in order to express another side and perspective of their otherwise indefensible character. This usually materializes upon concluding a fight in the form of flashbacks or an internal monologue, a trope commonly found in anime similar. The concept of a sympathetic villain is intriguing and has potential, often serving as a strong alternative to the typical moustache-twirling, one-dimensional villain. It is important to note before I go any further that the antagonists encountered in Kimetsu no Yaiba's first 26 episodes serve to heighten the mystique and status of a higher power, that being Muzan Kibutsuji, the demon responsible for the creation of thousands more like him, only much less powerful. Muzan appears for approximately 20 minutes in the entire show, presenting him as mysterious, immensely powerful, and above else, feared, even by his subordinates. The antagonists we see (the Pretend Family, Susamaru and Yahaba, and the Hand Demon, etc.) are afraid of Muzan or at the very least, are thankful and indebted to him for "saving" them, therefore, loyal. However, this is what simultaneously and collectively forms their characters, and the purpose is solely to elevate Muzan's character further. That being said, their flashbacks and internal monologues attempt to paint a sympathetic picture, coupled with visual and audiovisual cues that serve to emotionally manipulate (perhaps because the material is not enough to provoke a response on its own, who knows). This adequately humanizes the non-human, perceived evil creatures, but it feels like these antagonists fail to make their case to warrant dedication in such a manner, or appeals to sympathy before their defeat; their characters amount to being evil and powerful, and they appear to me as disposable, especially given how a greater threat exists already, which wouldn't be a problem to me if any of these characters were interesting.
As a matter of fact, not only are the antagonists not interesting enough to carry a scene or an episode, if we're talking primarily about power level, the Hashira are demonstrably superior to them. To demonstrate this, after Tanjiro's struggling efforts against Rui, a Twelve Kizuki, which are among the most powerful demons after, of course, Muzan, Tanjiro is then rescued by Giyu, a Hashira, who we saw at the beginning of the show, cleanly and effortlessly defeats Rui. You see the imbalance here, right? This only adds to the notion that suggests demons who aren't Muzan are disposable, and easily defeated, assuming the best demon slayers are up to the task. There's no urgency for the majority of the show, and it's most egregious in this scene.
Finally, I feel like it's worth discussing the supporting cast for a little bit, namely Tanjiro's buddies Zenitsu and Inosuke. Unfortunately, the two mostly serve as comic relief, in the form of shouting most prominently. This is a comedic trope I can do without, especially whenever Zenitsu is on screen. Zenitsu's powers manifest whenever he is unconscious, and whenever he's conscious, he is annoyingly cowardous, unapologetically adolescent, and brutally unmotivated, with warped priorities, which would be fine if he developed into someone greater and befitting of the occupation of demon slayer, but at the time of Kimetsu no Yaiba's run, nothing of the sort has happened. Demon Slayer never seems to find a sweet spot for its character's personalities; they're either flawless to the point of monotony, or flawed to the point of irriation. If a chart were to exist, Tanjiro would fall under the former, and Zenitsu the latter. Inosuke would likely fall just behind Zenitsu, but at least he displays modesty and realizes how limited his capabilities are later into the show. Think of Bakugo with a boar's head. I would talk about Shinobu and her family, but with the current information, I would feel a little more comfortable discussing this as soon as it is expanded upon in an eventual second season.