Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train review – an anime fever dream

If, like me, you have not watched the hit 2019 Japanese TV series Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, let alone read the manga series it was based on, then you may struggle somewhat to understand exactly what’s going on in this feature-length instalment in the saga. But even if you don’t dive into Google to work out the backstory, it’s not that hard get the hang of; or at least who are the slayers and who are the demons.

The good guy slayers have huge eyes, albeit ones with weird polygonal shapes and strangely coloured irises, while the evil demons often have kanji characters where their pupils should be, as well as shapeshifting abilities. The latter also have hard-to-define but distinctly “villainous” voices, while the good guys tend to speak in a staccato, declamatory fashion, prone to awkward enunciations such as: “While this our first time meeting, I already dislike you.”

Either way, the animation is fantastic, a superb blend of classic anime character design supplemented by CGI effects and swooping camera work. The action, like South Korean features Snowpiercer or Train to Busan, takes place mostly on a train where the demon slayers – brunette, magenta-eyed hero Tanjiro Kamado, his tame demon sister Nezuko, blond pretty boy Zenitsu Agatsuma and shouty half-man-half-boar Inosuke Hashibira – come to find a slaying master Kyojuro, who has unique fire-adjacent properties. But just as the ensemble are getting to know each other, they are sent into sleep comas by a powerful demon and his bewitched child demons. In his dreams, Tanjiro meets his family once again – the ones who were killed by demons in the TV series – and the others have similar reveries, compelling them to decide which reality they want to live in.

Squint a bit, relax your mind and you might find in it a touching allegory that accidentally corresponds to our own, collective emergence from the oneiric, mesmeric lull of lockdown life, in which sleeping too much and dreaming about dead loved ones could have become the new going out.

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