[Image courtesy of ufotable.]
One of anime’s greatest strengths is the way it tends to mix different tones. The medium is capable of taking its audience on an exciting journey through every emotion, sometimes using a switch of tone to keep viewers interested. ‘Demon Slayer’ is shaping up to be an example of this, though in the first few episodes it falters somewhat.
I was fortunate enough to catch a premiere screening of the first five episodes of this upcoming anime by Ufotable, and I must say I am looking forward to seeing more.
The titular ‘Demon Slayer’ is Tanjirou (voiced by Natsuki Hanae), a teenage boy dedicated to supporting his fatherless family in early 20th century Japan. When he comes home to see his family slaughtered, he discovers that the only survivor, his sister Nezuko (Akari Kito), has turned into a demon. However, she appears to still retain an ounce of human emotion, so he decides to become a demon slayer in the hopes of finding a way to turn her back into a human.
As anime is largely a #visual medium, especially when a particular show is animated by the famously flashy Ufotable, I may as well start with the art and animation. The character designs are striking, with emotive eyes that lend strength to both dramatic and comedic moments. The animation is smooth and the action scenes are engaging, especially with the use of tilts and orbital shots to give the viewer an adrenaline rush. The decision to traditionally animate water as Tanjirou attacks with his magical sword was a wise one as it matches the character designs and makes the action stand out. The backgrounds are also beautifully designed and rendered.
On the other hand, as great as the character designs are, during the first few scenes they were not successfully integrated into the background, breaking viewer immersion by preventing audiences from believing the characters are really there. This may just be a byproduct of the show being played on the big screen, however, so this may not be an issue when it premieres on television and streaming services. There are some scenes that utilise CGI, such as when Tanjirou walks through the snow, which can be a little distracting but doesn’t look as terrible as CGI often looks in anime. Overall this show is pleasing to the eye.
As for the ears, the soundtrack’s use of traditional Japanese chants lends an air of eeriness and tension that fits the demon-focused plot. There is also an element of grandness in its instrumentation that works perfectly for the action scenes. The voice acting is solid, with Natsuki Hanae’s raw emotion standing out. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword. His voice in some scenes is so over the top in its emotions that it makes it hard to take the scene seriously, made worse by the script’s need for his character to monologue about every action that the audience can already see onscreen.
Yes, the show appears to have a bit of a tonal problem. I’m usually willing to defend and even celebrate mood changes between scenes in a TV show or even within scenes. After all, life is full of twists and turns and one day of happiness can turn sour, or vice versa. Nevertheless, it helps if the audience knows what emotion is being conveyed in a scene and some parts of this anime made me laugh when I wasn’t entirely sure humour was what they were going for. This was certainly not helped by Natsuki Hanae’s at times overdramatic voice acting. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that these segments are surrounded by serious scenes, making the dramatic moments funny and some of the intentionally comedic moments fall flat. That being said, there are quite a few intentional bits of comedy that are genuinely funny.
Aside from the aforementioned issues with the tone and the show telling the audience things they can already see, the writing is quite captivating. The characters are charming and leave room for further development in future episodes. Nezuko’s character, in particular, manages to be adorable and hilarious while having very little dialogue. The anime also seems to be intriguingly steering into a morally complex direction, with Nezuko having both a human and a monstrous side that makes Tanjirou’s slaughter of demons come across as cruel and hypocritical.
Though there is some room for improvement, ‘Demon Slayer’ looks to be an interesting and visually stunning entry into the seasonal anime charts. If you like historical action with fantasy elements, this is the anime for you.