NOTE: This article contains mention and screencaps of potentially disturbing content due to the nature of the series in question. Reader discretion is advised.
To say that Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is “developing nicely” would be an understatement. The series has gone through an important change since its premiere. Something that’s managed to help it stick out, and carry the weight for visually-innovative anime in a somewhat dry season.
Demons & Ghosts
Before we get to that though, we should recap where the show’s been since then. Demon Slayer wisely decided to not spend too much time on training montages, mostly relegating them to a single episode. The third episode of the show focused largely on Tanjiro becoming a competent swordsman. He’s helped by the mysterious, Tengu-masked Urodaki, who became his mentor.
This involved all the usual techniques associated with this sort of thing in anime. Breathing exercises, an ostensibly impossible task (cutting a large boulder in two), some spiel about the scent of his opponents creating a “spirit thread”, and even Tanjiro meeting and fighting what we shortly thereafter found out were ghost children. Said characters have since become spirit advisers of a sort. Indeed, between them and his late family, Tanjiro is quite the haunted lad.
This also had the unfortunate side effect of sidelining the female lead in a very immediate way. She fell into a coma at the start of the third episode, only waking up at the end of the arc. That’s over a year, in-universe.
That’s the long and short of it. Tanjiro training to become a titular demon slayer and eventually succeeding at cutting the boulder in twain. Training episodes of this sort are rarely particularly interesting, so it’s good Demon Slayer really only spent time on one. The fourth episode is where things begin to really pick up.
On The Mountain
The term used in-universe is “Final Selection”. The last screening process for aspiring demon slayers. It’s a great setup for the show’s first serious arc that has Tanjro standing on his feet as both a competent combatant and a protagonist unto himself. He no longer has his mentor to rely on martially, or his co-protagonist to rely on narratively. In multiple ways, this is the most vulnerable Tanjiro has ever been as a character.
The fourth episode thus chiefly revolves about Tanjiro surviving the selection process. A process that is we might add, pretty nasty. It consists of being stranded on a dangerous, demon-infested mountain, where our boy is left to survive for a week, and make it to the summit. While there are other children, the inclination of them to help each other seems slight during the fourth episode.
The series really steps up its visual presentation here. A style is used when Tanjiro uses the techniques that his master taught him, his sword literally flows like a wave.
It’s quite an amazing effect, and it’s enough to make one hope that it’s just a taste of what the show has in store.
This episode’s easy highlight though is when Tanjiro beheads a monstrous demon which spent most of their fight bragging about how it ate Urodaki’s other students. Is it shonen to a fault? Absolutely, but it’s so well executed that in the moment you don’t care.
After The Cut
It’s enough of a moment in fact, that the first section of the fifth episode is spent expanding on it. A flashback to the demon’s pre-imprisonment history on the mountain follows. We see how his encounter with Urodaki fueled his hatred for the man. Then, as we cut back to present, a gloryless, realistic version of the decapitation transpires.
Stylistics aside, the juxtaposition underscores something important. While the visual style definitely helps the show stand out, it’s not all that’s going on here. Tanjiro’s character arc–well-trod as it may be–is important too. This confrontation, which bleeds over from the end of the fourth episode into the beginning of the fifth, is evidence of his growth. As a warrior first and foremost, but also as a person. Barely five episodes into the series, and our protagonist is already a far cry from who he was at the start of episode 1.
He’s not heartless, either. Which is important. As the demon dies, garbled memories of its past life flash before its eyes. Tanjiro expresses sympathy–not contempt–for the creature, even knowing all it’s done.
This over, Tanjiro survives the remaining week. He makes it to the summit of the mountain comparatively-uneventfully. We here meet the remainder of the surviving apprentices. Just three others, out of over twenty.
We don’t get too much of their personalities over their short appearance here. We learn mostly that from top to bottom they are: skittish, angry, and tranquil. Still, this entire sequence is a nice bit of worldbuilding. It includes the newly-minted demon hunters picking out ores for their swords, and getting their uniforms and pet talking crows(!), among other things.
The Black Sword
The rest of the episode consists of Tanjiro making his journey back home, to Urodaki’s house. Most of this is more worldbuilding. It’s a pleasant comedown from the highs of both the first part of this episode, and the high stakes of the last. There’s a nice, tearful reunion between Tanjiro, a newly-awake Nezuko, and Urodaki as he arrives back home. Urodaki theorizes that Nezuko is forcing herself to regain her strength by sleeping, instead of consuming human blood. This does explain her long slumber, but also unfortunately ropes her off from the main narrative yet again. Time will tell if she comes back more often, but speaking personally, I hope she does.
First Day On The Job
A comical swordsmith is introduced, who presents Tanjiro with his finished blade. It’s explained that these swords absorb light, and often change color when first drawn. Hilariously, after a longwinded spiel where the swordsmith explains why he thinks Tanjiro’s sword will be red, he draws it, and it goes black. What this means–if anything–is up in the air right now, but in the moment, it’s pretty funny. It’s good to see the series retain its sense of humor, even after such a heavy arc.
The episode ends on an interesting note. Tanjiro’s crow delivers his first orders as a demon hunter; to investigate a nearby town where girls keep disappearing, and, if necessary, kill the demon causing the disappearances. Order delivered, the episode ends.
The show has many places it could go from here. It is after all, not even a quarter over. Still, it’s encouraging to see it developing so well, and so quickly. There’s none of the drag here that’s often endemic to less well-thought-out The series moving at such a nice clip makes Tanjiro’s development feel both swift and well-earned, it’s a sight to see.