Saturday, August 28, 2021

Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train

While Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (aka Demon Slayer) had modest success when it started publication in Weekly Shonen Jump in 2016, the strength of its 2019 anime adaptation by Ufotable made it explosively popular, enough to make it the ninth best-selling manga series of all time. This popularity helped feed the box office sales of a pre-planned film, Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train (aka Mugen Train), which made $500 million on a budget of $15.8 million and broke several box office records, including both the high-grossing anime and Japanese film of all time. The worldwide box office number also made it the highest-grossing film of 2020 in spite of its release during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, which made it the first non-Hollywood production to top the annual box office.

Of course, due to the pandemic and a lack of a vaccination at the time, I hadn’t seen Mugen Train during its theatrical run in the US and tried to wait for a Blu-ray release of the English dub, as I had viewed the first season of Demon Slayer through a Toonami broadcast. When they hadn’t announced a Blu-ray for months, however, I caved and bought the digital version of the English dub through Amazon Prime. During my viewing, I had the unique opportunity to watch it alongside others who hadn’t seen the anime and concluded that it’s definitely a film worth watching in more than one sense.

In Mugen Train, Tanjiro Kamado (Zach Aguilar), Nezuko Kamado (Abby Trott), Inosuke Hashibira (Bryce Papenbrook) and Zenitsu Agastuma (Aleks Le) board a train to assist the Flame Hashira Kyojuro Rengoku (Mark Whitten) in a mission to hunt for a demon that has killed many demon slayers. Soon after boarding, however, the demon slayers all fall under the spell of Enmu (Landon McDonald), the Lower Rank One of the Twelve Kizuki, who plans to kill them and everyone else onboard the train while trapping them in happy dreams. Now, the only way to have any chance at beating Enmu is to wake up before it’s too late.

L-R: Tanjiro (Zach Aguilar), Zenistsu (Aleks Le), Rengoku (Mark Whitten)

Unlike many films based on anime that have one-off non-canon storylines, Mugen Train fully adapts the entire Mugen Train arc of the Demon Slayer manga and picks up immediately where the first season of the anime left off. As such, this film is required viewing for Demon Slayer fans, especially if they’re anime-only fans.

That said, Mugen Train is a very strong film on its own merits. The returning characters all have a great chemistry with each other and their interactions fuel some of the well-timed laugh-out-loud humor. Rengoku, the central character of the film, is very likeable, as the strength of his resolve and dedication to his path in life are endearing. Enmu stands out as a villain not just for his unique design, but also his twisted methods of killing people and just how frighteningly easy it is for him to put his opponent into a dream of his own design. Tanjiro’s dream in particular also acts as an interesting way of exploring his trauma from the beginning of the series and how deeply the death of his family, save for his sister Nezuko turning into a demon, while he was away stuck with him.

Tanjiro's dream provides a unique opportunity to explore his trauma.

As the story goes through several natural twists and turns that ramp up the tension, it ends with a final fight that feels both emotional and climactic. Without spoiling anything, it highlights the strength of Rengoku’s character and ties very well into his own arc that he had throughout the film.

Mugen Train shows off the strength of Ufotable’s talent as an animation studio, skillfully blending traditional and CG animation while adding a surprising level of depth and realism to the world, especially the water effects. Each of the demon slayers’ signature breathing techniques are beautifully rendered and give the already amazing fight scenes a great cinematic flare while staying true to the essence of the series. There’s also plenty of blood and some gore, which contributes to the film’s R rating in the US. Alongside this, the English dub has a great selection of voice actors and the music works really well with the tone of the story, incorporating electric guitar during fights and having a more serious or somber tone when appropriate.

The fight scenes are beautifully rendered.
Left: Enmu (Landon McDonald)

Since I viewed Mugen Train with those unfamiliar with Demon Slayer, I got to test the accessibility of the film and it turned out surprisingly well. While watching the first season of the anime certainly helps with understanding the significance of certain scenes and details, it’s easy to get a sense of everyone’s personalities and follow along with the story as a standalone work, as well as get attached to Rengoku.

With such a strong combination of elements, it’s really no wonder that Mugen Train had as much success as it did. Even if you’re not already a fan of Demon Slayer, it’s a must-see film.

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