27th May2021

‘Demon Slayer: Mugen Train’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Features the voices of: Natsuki Hanae, Akari Kitō, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Hiro Shimono, Satoshi Hino, Daisuke Hirakawa | Written by Koyoharu Gotouge | Directed by Haruo Sotozaki

Directed by Haruo Sotozaki, Demon Slayer: Mugen Train (or, to give it its unwieldy full name, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: The Movie: Mugen Train) is a feature-length sequel to the first season of the popular anime series Demon Slayer, which is currently streaming on Netflix. To give some idea of just how successful the film has been in its own country, it recently unseated Spirited Away, becoming the highest grossing Japanese film in history.

Fans of the 2019 TV series will require no introduction to the concepts or the characters, but whether or not the film can be understood and appreciated by total newcomers is a different story. On balance, the answer is probably yes, just about – the animation is spectacular and the storytelling is clear enough to be understood by people who are just boarding the train for the first time, even if many of the background details will be lost on them.

The basic story, then, is very simple. Four teenage demon slayers – Tanjiro Kamado (Natsuki Hanae), his demon sister Nezuko (Akari Kitō), spiky-haired blond friend Zenitsu Agatsuma (Hiro Shimono) and shouty boar’s head-wearing Inosuke Hashibira (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) – board the titular train at Mugen, having been tasked with seeking out a demon who’s responsible for the disappearance of multiple people, including other demon slayers. There, they meet Rengoku (Satoshi Hino), the Flame Hashira who’s been assigned to help Tanjiro and his friends on their mission.

As the train begins its journey, it doesn’t take long for the demon, Enmu (Daisuke Hirakawa), to make his presence felt and soon Tanjiro and his friends are engaged in an epic battle. However, Enmu has a special power that adds a new element to the fight, as he’s capable of transporting everyone aboard the train to a sleep state where they can live out their happiest dreams.

The brightly coloured animation is stunning to look at, seamlessly blending manga-style visuals with more realistic-looking exteriors, particularly on the shots of the train. Similarly, it’s hard not to be impressed by the way Haruo Sotozaki pulls off having almost the whole movie unfold on the train, while still varying the visual locations.

The action is exciting and fast-paced, with Sotozaki maintaining a brisk pace throughout. The anime battle styles might take some getting used to for the uninitiated, but once you cue into their rhythms and punctuations, they’re a lot of fun, with a number of inventive and imaginative fantasy touches, most notably in the things Tanjiro can do with his sword.

As for the dialogue, it’s fair to say that the demon gets all the best lines. Sample Enmu zingers include: “You’re wondering why I’m still alive even after you’ve decapitated me”, and “My plan to fuse with the train and eat everyone was a singular failure.”

One of Demon Slayer: Mugen Train‘s strongest elements is the way it successfully blends relatable emotional moments with real horror. The idea of wanting to stay in a soothing world where everything is perfect and happy is likely to strike a chord with most audiences (especially in pandemic times), and Sotozaki sticks a sharp knife into that with two inspired touches: the first is the extremely violent way Tanjiro learns to escape the dream state (don’t try this at home, kids) and the second is the revelation that there’s nothing Enmu likes better than awakening his victims out of their blissful dream state only to brutally murder them. That’s proper dark, that is.

Ultimately, if you’re unfamiliar with the TV show, then watching Demon Slayer: Mugen Train is a bit like watching Avengers: Endgame without having seen any other Marvel movies – you can tell the good guys from the bad guys, you can enjoy the fight sequences, laugh at the jokes and be affected by the emotional scenes, but you’ll miss the context and deeper significance of the character moments, as well as all the references, backstory and callbacks.

That said, there’s also an undisputed novelty value here, because it’s not often that films like this get shown on the big screen in the UK, so if you’re an animation fan in general, this is an opportunity to be savoured. To that end, you may like to know that it’s being screened in both subtitled and dubbed versions.

*** 3/5

Demon Slayer: Mugen Train is in UK cinemas now.

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