In a year where theaters were shuttered across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one film defied all odds and earned a remarkable $500 million haul at the box office. That film was “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train”, the first feature film of the Demon Slayer anime series, which was the highest grossing film in the world last year.
Mugen Train follows young demon slayers Tanjirō Kamado (Zach Aguilar), Inosuke Hashibira (Bryce Papenbrook), and Zenitsu Agatsuma (Aleks Le), as well as Tanjirō’s demon sister, Nezuko (Abby Trott) as they board a train. There, they meet Kyōjurō Rengoku (Mark Whitten), a Hashira (the highest demon slayer rank). The film takes place after the first season of Demon Slayer, which I reviewed here, but for those who haven’t watched the show, it’s not required viewing to enjoy the film, but you will get a deeper understanding and appreciation for the film if you’ve seen the show.
Demon Slayer as a whole is a story about Tanjirō, whose family was murdered by demons except for Nezuko, who was turned into one. He becomes a demon slayer, bent on finding a way to turn her back to human, while protecting the world from demons. Essentially, demons are humanoid creatures who feast on humans and who have superhuman strength and special powers, and the only way to kill them is to either cut off their head or expose them to sunlight.
I don’t want to spoil anything — this is a film that keeps you on your toes with its quick action and twists that make it hard to look away — but the group runs into a demon on the train named Enmu (Landon McDonald) who is one of the Twelve Kizuki (the twelve strongest demons), who has special dream powers that allow the film to escape from its confined train setting, and it is through these dreams that the audience is introduced to each character (or reintroduced, if you’ve seen the show), which is honestly brilliant, as the dreams are centered around each character’s deepest desire, which allows us to get to know them in a very efficient, intimate way. Tanjirō and Mr. Rengoku are given the most screen time and character development, but Inosuke, Zenitsu and Nezuko serve as important secondary characters, though Zenitsu and Nezuko aren’t given a whole lot to do (and truthfully, I don’t think Zenitsu or Nezuko were introduced all that well for first-time viewers).
Much of the film is dedicated to adrenaline-filled sword fights with demons (there is another one in the film, but I’m not spoiling it), but the film takes its time setting up why each protagonist (except for Nezuko) is fighting, with Tanjirō and Mr. Rengoku having strong parallel motivations tied to how their families, living or dead, shaped their identities and ideologies. Enmu proves to be an interesting villain, as he shows his victims some mercy by creating ideal dreams for his victims before he kills them, though his motivations amount to killing for amusement, sustenance and rank, though his ambition does elevate the film.
I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to call Mugen Train the ultimate Shonen anime film, as it has all the hallmarks that make the genre great, with few of its weaknesses, most of which disappear if you take the time to watch the season of television that precedes the film. It’s a good watch, and I recommend doing so.
But in truth, most of its issues are fairly minor, because even if you know nothing about Demon Slayer or its mythology, Mugen Train works on its own as a fantastic standalone work. There’s a reason why it was able to override the panic of the pandemic, and that’s because it’s just a very well made, engaging film that transcends its genre. Had it released outside the pandemic, this could’ve easily been a billion dollar film, and as it stands, I have no doubt that it will open the door to wider distribution of anime films across the world.
Japanese animation is already filled with a plethora of masterworks that I encourage you to check out, and Mugen Train serves as an impressive milestone film that pushed its industry forward into the global consciousness.
“Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train” gets a 9.5/10