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‘Demon Slayer: Mugen Train’ Review – Picks Up Steam After Slow Start

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(This review contains story spoilers.)

This is a movie that generated a truckload of hype among anime watchers across the globe. Partly because it took way too long to reach international audiences, and because most fans of the anime decided to wait for almost a year instead of pirating a trashy copy. The movie is a direct sequel to 2019’s runaway hit Demon Slayer (Kimetsu No Yaiba). This means two things – you need to have watched the first season of the anime, and you need to watch the movie if you’re eyeing season two, which drops later this year. 

That brings us to the first and most important warning. This movie is NOT beginner friendly. It makes no attempt to summarize the previous season or at least give you a basic idea of what’s what. That’s something you will have to figure out for yourself. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it, but chances are you might feel pretty much lost about the story if you’re going in blind. So I highly recommend getting at least a little familiar with the premise if you want to experience the movie as it is meant to be.

Let me give you some context very quickly. There are demons and there are demon slayers (no points for guessing). The demons feed on humans and are immortal beings with regenerative powers that would put Wolverine to shame. There are a few ways to knock them off, but the most common ones are exposing them to sunlight or lopping their head off with a nichirin blade. Stronger demons can also use their own unique kind of blood magic. The twelve most elite of them are called the Demon Moons, divided neatly into six Lower Moons and six Uppers based on their power level. And above all of them, stands the first and the greatest demon to ever exist – Muzan Kibutsuji. On the other hand, demon slayers are swordsmen with nichirin blades who use breathing techniques and a rather painful training regimen to counter the demons’ superhuman strength. The strongest among them are called the Hashira, slayers who can imbue their sword skills with the element their breathing is based on.

And so we come to the present story. By the end of the first season, the Lower Moons are all dead. All but one – the demon Enmu, who’s got some nice bangs but looks like he’s perpetually stoned. Tanjiro Kamado, the protagonist, and his little squad of slayers are ordered to get on a train and investigate reports of people going missing aboard it. The movie begins with Tanjiro, Inosuke, and Zenitsu looking for Kyojuro the Flame Hashira, who’s supposed to be waiting for them in one of the coaches.

The first one-third of the movie is comparatively slow.  The story progresses, but not much, and most of it is centered around our main characters asleep under the demon’s spell and trapped in their own dreamscapes. The pacing is that of a multi-episode show, and this part is what I call the ‘noob-breaker’. In other words, this is where first-timers are very likely to close the video and decide to watch something else. For those willing to endure, the movie uses this chance to give us Kyojuro’s backstory and try to flesh him out as a character, while Tanjiro gets to be with his long-lost family. 

Kyojuro’s backstory was pretty clichéd and nothing out of the ordinary, although it was relatable to some extent. The idea here, it seems, was for the usual heroes to take a backseat while viewers could spend their time knowing and connecting to the Flame Hashira. Still, it did feel like the story dragged on for a bit. But when Tanjiro manages to break the spell and the action begins, boy, does it get good! The pacing changes, the music changes, and all of a sudden you’re not dozing before the screen anymore! 

Calling the animation brilliant would be an understatement. Ufotable, the studio behind this movie, is is one of Japan’s best, and for good reason. I mean, their regular shows look like high-budget, movie-grade productions, their assets are top notch, and their action sequences are worth dying for. 

For Mugen Train, they’ve combined their signature soft blur technique from shows like Fate Zero and God Eater and combined it with Demon Slayer’s own traditional ukiyo-e inspired art style, enhancing it even further. In fact, I found myself rewinding or pausing the video every now and then to admire a beautifully-composed scene for a little longer. Including the very first ten seconds of the movie. Pair that with Yuki Kajiura’s haunting, adrenaline-pumping soundtrack, and you have an audio-visual delight that’s best experienced on a large screen.

At the time of writing this review, I have re-watched the movie thrice already. The experience has been nothing short of excellent, although the ending felt a little too over-dramatic. They could’ve cut down on the emotion factor there because it ends up feeling a little too forced.

I’d probably say as a standalone work, the movie does hold its own, even if it isn’t exactly what I’d call a masterpiece. But it would be unfair to rate it as a standalone movie, because it clearly wasn’t meant to be one. Was the hype worth it? Absolutely. Is it better than Spirited Away, the Ghibli classic it dethroned? I don’t think so.

As a bridge between season one and two, Infinity Train does a spectacular job of adapting the manga’s Mugen Train arc to film, while thoroughly satisfying fans of the franchise and keeping them excited enough for the second season.

The only thing I regret is not being able to watch it in a movie hall.

RATING: 8/10

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You can find Ashley Suvarna on Instagram Twitter. He also does book reviews at The Flitting Bookmark.

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