CAST (ENGLISH VERSION): Zach Aguilar, Abby Trott, Bryce Papenbrook, Aleks Le, Mark Whitten, Landon McDonald, Kirk Thornton, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, Michelle Ruff, Jessica DiCicco, Johnny Yong Bosch, Matthew Mercer
CAST (JAPANESE VERSION): Natsuki Hanae, Akari Kitō, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Hiro Shimono, Satoshi Hino, Daisuke Hirakawa, Shin-ichiro Miki, Houko Kuwashima, Yō Taichi, Kaede Hondo, Takahiro Sakurai, Toshiyuki Morikawa
RUNNING TIME: 120 mins
BASICALLY…: Vengeful Tanjiro (Aguilar/Hanae), a demon slayer, fights various creatures on board a train…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Before you even read this review for the feature spin-off of acclaimed anime series Demon Slayer, I highly recommend stopping right now and watching the show beforehand (it’s only 23 episodes, each around 22 minutes in length, and it’s currently on Netflix, so really you have no excuse). It’s not only a pretty good show, whether you’re an anime buff or a total newcomer, but you’ll also go into Demon Slayer: The Movie – Mugen Train fully aware of the characters, the context, and the overall story, all of which are things that I guarantee you will not be able to follow if you’ve never seen an episode.
Like most big-screen adaptations of popular mangas and anime series, this one is primarily made for audiences who have stuck with this plot and these characters since the beginning, which admittedly isolates those who might not have even heard of Demon Slayer before deciding to see it, but it does reward both long-time fans and recent converts with some highly imaginative, compelling action and drama, all set to some stunningly epic animation that comes with a noticeably higher price tag than the quality of the show.
Because I’m generous, though, here’s a little background for some of you novices out there: the series is set sometime in early 20th-century Japan (at least I’m assuming, given the dress sense and overall vibes from some of the cities), in a world where bloodthirsty demons run amok in the dark. Our main character is a young boy named Tanjiro, whose entire family is murdered by a demon, leaving only his younger sister Nezuko alive but transformed into a demon herself. Tanjiro, desperate to find a way to turn Nezuko back into a human, trains to become a demon slayer, a katana-wielding warrior that is dedicated to ridding the world of evil spirits with the assistance of incredibly sophisticated sword combos (it wouldn’t surprise me if they made a video game out of this series at some point, given all of the extensive moves they break out). Along the way, he meets and befriends other budding demon slayers, including golden-haired Zenitsu who is by all accounts a complete wimp (unless he’s asleep, then he’s suddenly a pretty powerful fighter), and the abrasive Inosuke who wears a boar’s head at all times, and together they come across and slay a number of demons.
Demon Slayer: The Movie – Mugen Train picks up immediately where the first season ends, with Tanjiro (voiced by Natsuki Hanae in the original Japanese version, the one that I am reviewing here), Zenitsu (Hiro Shimono) and Inosuke (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) being given a new mission: to board a night-time train where several people have gone missing, due to a mysterious demon presence that’s already onboard. Teaming up with the heroic Kyōjurō Rengoku (Satoshi Hino), a member of the “Hashira” – basically, high-ranking demon slayers – Tanjiro and his friends find that the demon, a creepy bugger by the name of Enmu (Daisuke Hirakawa), has the ability to put his foes into deep slumber, and instruct others to enter their dreams and destroy their souls via the subconscious. Will our heroes break free from the curse and manage to take down the demon? Well, it wouldn’t be much of a film if they stayed asleep, would it?
As someone who has seen the show, I found that there are plenty of neat details on display here that resonate much greater than they would had I gone into this completely blind. Certain character moments, action sequences and even some very funny tangents (especially when you see what Zenitsu and Inosuke are dreaming about) work because there is already an established context for all of it in your mind, and since the show did a very good job of setting up these characters and their individual personalities, you also have a strong understanding of why and how they function within the confides of this movie. You strongly identify with Tanjiro here because, in the show, he is shown to do some very heroic things which also bring out the pure goodness in his soul, while you’re constantly entertained by supporting characters like Inosuke with his amusingly brash attitude, Zenitsu who in the show can be rather annoying with his constant whining (although he is a little more subdued in this film), and the transformed demon herself Zenuko, who is essentially the adorable Pikachu-like sidekick of this entire concept.
The movie, like the show, also has an abundant creativity to it, especially in the designs of some of these larger-than-life characters. The main demon antagonist can manifest into different things from a walking, talking hand (which itself is a pretty creepy look) to something much larger which I’m reluctant to spoil for other Demon Slayer viewers, but for now I’ll say you’ll never look at something like Thomas the Tank Engine the same way ever again. Such designs are highlighted through some greatly energetic animation, combining traditional 2D looks with CG rotoscoping to a visually-pleasing end result, which often stuns with how sophisticated and theatrical they’ve made it all look. I believe it’s from the same animation studio that worked on the show (though correct me if I’m wrong), and they’ve clearly been given a larger budget to pull some of this very tricksy and ambitious artistry off, which shows in how passionate it comes across as.
If, like me, you’ve watched and enjoyed the show, then Demon Slayer: The Movie – Mugen Train will likely give you everything you’d be hoping for from a big-screen version, and in that sense it’s a solid recommendation. However, if you’re curious to see it but haven’t yet gotten round to seeing even a single episode of the show, I would definitely suggest watching that first season before even booking your tickets, because then you won’t be as lost as you probably will be. Again, it’s right there waiting for you on Netflix, so get to it before boarding this wild and wondrous big-screen adventure.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Demon Slayer: The Movie – Mugen Train is a pleasing treat for fans of the original manga and anime series, with plenty of strong character moments and stunning animation during some of its intense action sequences, although total newcomers who have never seen a single episode of the show will be completely lost.