Demon Slayer: Mugen Train has finally made its way to the United States and it is just as action-packed and beautifully animated as you would expect from a studio like Ufotable (Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel), quickly picking up popularity overseas as well. It debuted second in its opening weekend behind Mortal Kombat, grossing only $2 million less than it despite less theaters hosting Mugen Train. After seeing the film, it is easy to see why it has garnered so much acclaim, as not only is it incredibly entertaining, but it also packs an emotional gut-punch at the end.
For those unfamiliar with the anime Demon Slayer, based off the manga by Koyoharu Goutoge, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba follows Tanjiro Kamado, a coal-burner who joins the Demon Slayer Corps after most of his family is killed by a demon and his only remaining family member, Nezuko, is converted into a demon. Hoping to find a way to save her, Tanjiro hunts down other demons across Japan, encountering other demon slayers along the way. At the end of the first season Tanjiro, along with fellow demon slayers Inosuke Hashibara and Zenitsu Agatsuma, are sent to help Kyojuro Rengoku, a Hashira (one of the nine strongest members of the Demon Slayer Corps), to hunt down the demons who have been plaguing the Mugen Train. This film acts as a direct continuation of the first season, with its ending leading into the second season which is set to premier later this year.
If you have seen the anime, then you know just how good Ufotable’s animation is. The combination of 2D characters and effects within a 3D environment makes each action set piece in the show stand out compared to that of other shonen-action series. However that style is usually used for only the most gripping sections of the fights, such as the finishing move. Now imagine that animation but used continuously throughout the entirety of every fight in Mugen Train. With a higher budget and more time spent on the action setpieces compared to the show, director Haruo Sotozaki (Naruto), along with the many animation directors, was able to utilize the full talent of Ufotable’s animation team. The result is some of the most breathtaking fight scenes I have ever seen in anything, not just in anime.
The different breathing styles utilized by the demon slayers especially shine, appearing even more vibrant than they did in the anime, with the animators having the flames, waves, lightning, etc. flow through each frame. The art style of Demon Slayer lends itself perfectly to the talent behind the film’s animation. I am certain much of the framing was thanks to cinematographer Yuichi Terao, whose work on the various Fate series and films was already noteworthy. Mugen Train is a true visual spectacle.
The Japanese voicework throughout the film was quite rich, especially from the three central characters and the two demons they are forced to fight. Natsuki Hanae brings so much emotion to his portrayal of Tanjiro, with many of his scenes nearly bringing me to tears early on in the film. To balance this, Yoshitsugu Mastsuoka is absolutely hilarious as Inosuke, bringing some much needed comedy to the darker elements of Mugen Train. The two actors play off of each other incredibly well. Daisuke Hirakawa also gives quite the entertaining performance as the primary demon attacking the Mugen Train, Enmu. The coldness and drawn out voice work reminds me greatly of Roswall from Re:Zero, making it easy to enjoy hating him.
However, the two stand out performances for me come from Satoshi Hino as Rengoku and Akira Ishida as Akaza, one of the three most powerful demons in the world. Combined with the gorgeous animation, their voice work made the characters’ fight incredibly impactful, making it easily the best moment of the entirety of Demon Slayer so far. Hino’s performance, alongside Hanae’s and Matsuoka’s, managed to bring me to tears near the end.
When it comes to the English dub, the performances from the main cast produced mixed results. Zach Aguilar is a talented voice actor that does a fantastic job portraying the humanistic qualities of Tanjiro, such as his kind and generous nature while having a sense of wonder when learning. However, Aguilar fails to deliver that extra level of emotional depth during the most intense moments, causing some of those scenes to leave a lesser impact on viewers.
However, Bryce Papenbrook, Mark Whitten and Lucien Dodge all deliver standout performances as Inosuke, Rengoku and Akaza. Papenbrook does a fantastic job portraying anger and deeper emotion during the climax of the film, especially when he is giving encouragement to Tanjiro. This allows me to care more for Inosuke despite him being incredibly silly and annoying at times. Whitten has incredible range as Rengoku, allowing him to bring me to tears with his emotion while making me laugh with his comedy, such as when he says “delicious” after every bite he takes from his meal. Lastly, Dodge is menacing as Akaza, displaying such a raw amount of power in his voice and adding to the threat he poses.
Demon Slayer: Mugen Train is an absolute art spectacle and is easily the best story the anime has told so far. While tough to follow if you haven’t seen the first season of the anime, I would still recommend Mugen Train to the most die-hard animation fans. Trust me; you won’t want to miss it while it is in theaters.