Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, also known as KNY, burst onto the anime scene in April of 2019. The show is based on the manga series of the same name, which ran from February 2016 to May 2020. The manga had been highly reviewed for a variety of reasons, including its unique art style and engaging storyline filled with relatable characters, all with a sense of real depth. The anime was highly reviewed just as the manga had been, and has won a host of accolades. The most notorious of which being Polygon‘s choice for the best anime of the 2010s, even though the series came out in 2019. This award was met with some pushback in the anime community, as some felt that it wasn’t fair.
I find myself partially in this camp of people, to be honest. KNY is a beautiful show and easily lands a spot in my top 3 of all time. However, its hard to call KNY the absolute best of the decade when it’s up against shows like Kill La Kill, PMMM, Hunter X Hunter, and even Attack on Titan. When considering a show for anime of the decade, I believe more should be considered than simply the content of the show. In my opinion, one must also consider the cultural impact that the show had on the decade. I think that Attack on Titan would have been a better fit for this award, despite KNY being an objectively better show. Attack on Titan defined a new era of anime watchers, and the fanbase for the show was absolutely enormous while the show was in its prime. But I digress.
Demon Slayer is set in the Taisho era in Japan, somewhere between 1912 and 1926. It follows the story of Tanjiro Kamado and his sister Nezuko, as they (first episode spoilers) work to find a cure for Nezuko, who has been turned into a demon after an attack by a demon that killed Tanjiro’s entire family. Tanjiro becomes a demon slayer, an elite warrior who uses a special sword that can kill demons and a breathing technique to transcend the limits of human capabilities. Spoilers from this point forward. In the first episodes, we watch Tanjiro’s training, seeing his abilities grow and morph as he gets ready for Final Selection, a test for those who wish to become demon slayers. He passes the test, but during this arc we see how terrifying and dangerous a demon can be. Tanjiro struggles to defeat just one demon, and at the end of the test, the once-large group of fellow students is reduced to only four survivors.
The way the anime sets up the threat of demons is handled very well. Demons are presented as horrifying, unstoppable forces that humans can just barely defeat, even at their peak possible performance. This sets the tone for the remainder of the show as being a dark one, with a constant looming threat. We see other humans die in the first few episodes, so we’re shown that this series is not a stranger to killing off characters. This, combined with the ever-present threat of demons, gives the story a genuine weight to it. With anime logic, we know the main character can never die – but Demon Slayer forces you to think “what if?” What if Tanjiro can’t beat this one demon? What if Nezuko does die somehow? In this way, the narrative is very well designed. It’s difficult to create a true feeling of suspense in a shonen anime, because we’ve been shown over the years that the good guys always win and the bad guys always lose. But Demon Slayer manages to transcend that. Demons can lose limbs or even their heads and still grow them back within seconds. But if Tanjiro loses his arms, they’re gone forever.
Demon Slayer is lauded for its fight scenes as well. While other shows may shy away from frequent fight scenes to avoid burning out the viewer, Demon Slayer manages to have very frequent fights while still keeping them feeling fresh and enjoyable to watch. Instead of taking the typical shonen battle route where there is a heavy amount of exposition leading up to a multi-episode fight that’s dragged out for viewership, KNY condenses this into having a fight nearly every other episode. The fights themselves are incredible, and a perfect example of how to write a good shonen fight scene. There is the sense of weight that I talked about above, which lends itself to the fight well, giving a feeling that every battle is high-stakes. The fights are choreographed flawlessly as well, with the characters dancing across the screen in bright colors.
A stellar example of what makes this show so great can be found in the scene where Tanjiro kills the Mother Spider. He sees the pain in her eyes, and understands that she is powerless. She does not want to kill him, but she’s forced to. Despite the fact that she is a demon, Tanjiro shows mercy and uses a special technique to kill her peacefully. The scene is aesthetically beautiful. Throughout the Spider Family arc, the setting has been a dark, deep forest, and the colors have been dull and muted to reflect this. Yet, as Tanjiro kills the Mother Spider, light shines through the treetops to reflect against a gentle mist of water raining down on the Mother Spider. This scene is considered by many to be a perfect example of why Demon Slayer is so different, and so good.
Demon Slayer is definitely a masterpiece of animation and story. It defines the genre of shonen battle anime. The viewer is perfectly immersed in the world and its characters. Some of the plot lines are simple, but they are executed in a way that makes them unique. The idea of a hero killing monsters for the good of humanity is not a new concept, but Demon Slayer does it so differently that it’s hard to consider it to be on the same level as other monster-killing shows. The monsters all have unique backgrounds and lives, and those backgrounds are explored thoroughly. It’s simply a fun show to watch, and I highly recommend you give it a look.