MANILA, PHILIPPINES — In 2019, there was perhaps no more popular new anime series than Kimetsu no Yaiba. Literally translated to “Blade of Demon Destruction” but titled Demon Slayer for English-speaking audiences, the anime was an adaptation of the manga series written and vibrantly illustrated by Koyoharu Gotouge with animation provided by animation studio Ufotable. So popular was the 26-episode first season that the series was not only renewed for a second season, the story was set to continue in a feature film. And not even a pandemic would stop Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train from being a blockbuster.
Set immediately following the events of the first season, Demon Slayer Corps members in training Tanjiro Kamado (Natsuki Hanae), Zenitsu Agatsuma (Hiro Shimono), and Inosuke Hashibira (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) board a train as ordered by a Kasugai crow to board the Infinity Train. They are joined as always by Tanjiro’s sister, the demon Nezuko (Akari Kito) and they proceed to meet the Flame Hashira (or pillar), Kyojuro Rengoku (Satoshi Hino).
When the train’s conductor punches their train tickets, each person falls asleep and begins to dream of things that they wish for. This is the ploy of the Emmu (Daisuke Hirakawa), Lower Rank One of the Twelve Kizuki who are all loyal to the thousand-year-old progenitor of demons, Muzan Kibutsuji. Emmu entices four passengers suffering from severe insomnia to enter the Demon Slayers’ dreams and destroy their spiritual cores to ensure they never wake. In exchange, Emmu will give them peaceful sleep.
As they dream and see what their innermost desires are, each sees what life could have been or could be for them. Nezuko crawls out of the box that Tanjiro keeps her in and, seeing her brother sleeping blissfully, attempts to wake him through their filial bond. Tanjiro, Zenitsu, and Inosuke will have to overcome their fantasies to return to reality and stop the demon even as Rengoku comes to grips with his strained relationship with his own father.
The beauty of Ufotable continuing to animate this film like they did with the series is that the art remains consistent in the transition and everybody looks like they did from TV. The character of Rengoku the Flame Hashira was merely in the background during the end of Season One, but this striking design and his flame abilities were hinted enough to make him appealing to viewers and fans alike.
Just as the first episode of Kimetsu no Yaiba was heartbreaking when Tanjiro returned home to see his mother and four siblings murdered while Nezuko had been turned into a demon, Tanjiro’s dream here was just as heartbreaking. Seeing his mother and siblings alive, with Nezuko fully human, are everything Tanjiro has yearned for and it was easy to empathize with this dream of his.
It’s no different from the trope of “what if?” situations used in movies and TV series in the past, presenting an idyllic scenario that the protagonist wants most but knows cannot be real. While Zenitsu’s dream just has him being close to Nezuko and Inosuke gets to order his friends around, Tanjiro’s vision of what could have been really tests his resolve to return to reality.
In the case of Rengoku, so full of bluster and confidence with his bright hair and flame breathing abilities, he only wishes to have his father Shinjuro (Rikiya Koyama) be proud of him like he used to be before his mother died. His dream with his brother Senjuro (Junya Enoki) is sad although he encourages Senjuro by saying that things are not as bad as they seem.
The animation of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train is as good, if not better than the series, perhaps owing to a bigger allocated to it after the success of that first season. The battles are as fluid and energetic as ever with Rengoku’s fire breathing technique, Tanjiro’s water breathing, and the malevolence of Emmu and Akaza, the Upper Moon Three (Akira Ishida) on full display.
Fans of Kimetsu no Yaiba get the continuation of the story that started in Season One, but newcomers to the title can still enjoy this movie as a stand-alone story even as it leads to Season Two. Although it was released in Japan in October of last year in the middle of the pandemic, it eventually grossed over $500 million worldwide, the highest grossing film of 2020 hands down.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train is not just the highest-grossing anime of all time, it is the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. In both instances, it topped Hayao Miyazaki’s critically acclaimed Spirited Away from 2001, a film that won Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards.
So rich and varied is anime that although this film and Spirited Away are such different pieces covering different genres, they are both immensely popular both inside Japan and overseas.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train is currently streaming on Viu and begins streaming on Netflix Philippines on September 11, 2021.