“Trainer Sakonji Urokodaki”
What They Say:
It is the Taisho Period. Tanjiro Kamado is living a modest but blissful life in the mountains with his family. One day, when he returns from selling charcoal in town, he finds his family slaughtered in pools of blood after a demon attack. Tanjiro rushes down the snowy mountain with the sole survivor, his sister Nezuko, on his back. But on the way, Nezuko suddenly snarls, turning on Tanjiro.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Building off of last week’s setup, this week’s Demon Slayer has Tanjiro and Nezuko traveling to find the person Giyu directed them to. In the process, we get to see more of what kind of dynamic they’re going to have going forward. Nezuko’s condition could very easily render her little more than a device driving the story forward, but this episode confirms that she’s far more than that. Though she still can’t speak and doesn’t seem to have her mind completely back, all of her little gestures and expressions convey her affection for her brother and her desire to communicate with him. She even fights to protect him once again when the duo encounters another demon at a temple.
What ensues is just as much a struggle to survive as it is a fight, as Tanjiro is once again badly outclassed. You can feel the weight behind every blow from the demon, even after Nezuko beheads him, and the two only just manage to survive by helping each other fight him off. Ufotable’s animation is on full display here, giving it a real feeling of momentum as the eerie vocals from Yuki Kajiura’s score perfectly complement the fear that comes from fighting something that’s borderline immortal. We still don’t know a lot about the demons here, but they seem to have a lot in common with vampires; they appear human at first glance, are almost impossible to kill, and burn up in sunlight. The last bit, in particular, becomes relevant as Tanjiro has to construct a makeshift basket to shield Nezuko from the sun when they’re traveling.
For his part, Tanjiro is pretty clearly out of his depth here. Beyond barely surviving the fight with the demon, he’s still unused to fighting, and even hesitates at the idea of killing the already-defeated demon. The demon slayer Urokodaki calls this a weakness, but it’s also a large part of what defines Tanjiro. The same compassion that made him hesitate to cause further pain to the demon is also what makes him so determined to protect Nezuko, even after she turned into a demon and almost killed him. The show seems to recognize this, and frames his problem as indecisiveness rather than just compassion. It’s that hesitation that Urokodaki seems poised to train him to overcome.
Urokodaki himself is still mostly an enigma (and not just because he always wears a tengu mask), filling the role of the stern mentor more than anything else so far. His connection with Giyu, particularly with the implication that Giyu has had some experience similar to Tanjiro, leaves a lot of room to flesh out both of them as the show progresses, though that’ll have to wait as a good chunk of the episode is his test for Tanjiro. It’s a simple task on its face, just get to the bottom of the mountain before dawn and avoid the traps, but it really shines in execution. The entire sequence makes good use of the mountain setting with how well hidden each trap is, as well as Tanjiro’s struggle to breathe in the thinner mountain air. Even the basic swinging log traps have a real feeling of impact when they hit him, making every blow a reminder of how much of a struggle it is for Tanjiro to keep moving. Using his keen sense of smell to dodge the worst of the traps is a clever use of Tanjiro’s innate abilities, and it works well without needed to strain credulity. All he needs to do here is keep pushing and smell the spots where a human paused to set the traps. It’s a clear test of his survival skills and determination, both of which will likely be essential going forward. His determination, always tinged with a hint of desperation, hints at how important Nezuko is to him. Tanjiro obviously loves her dearly, and his desire to save her seems to partially be a way to assuage his own survivor’s guilt. If he can at least restore her humanity, then he hasn’t lost everything yet.
Ufotable’s animation once again shines during Tanjiro’s dash down the mountain. By using CGI for the backgrounds (and good CGI at that), Ufotable is able to show Tanjiro dashing around and dodging each trap while moving the camera to follow him, a technique that’s extremely difficult to do with just 2D animation. Similarly, the flute music in the background gradually builds and builds as Tanjiro starts to pick up on the traps and learns how to bypass them and reaffirms his determination to find a way to restore Nezuko. Ufotable and Kajiura have done amazing work before, and it looks like they’re continuing that trend here. I’m excited to see how they do the action scenes later on, as the opening hints at some sort of supernatural power that’s animated almost like ukiyo-e artwork come to life. With such a solid foundation, I’m eager to see the fights ramp up even more later on.
Between last season’s Promised Neverland and now Demon Slayer, 2019 is shaping up to be a great year for Shonen Jump adaptations. Seeing more of Tanjiro and Nezuko’s dynamic now that she’s a demon reinforces just how compelling our core duo is, both together and separate. Urokodaki’s challenge for Tanjiro also makes good use of the show’s setting and Tanjiro’s relative powerlessness to add some real weight to his struggle. Now that he’s passed, it looks like we’re being set up for a training arc that will hopefully include the techniques shown in the opening. Between the strong hook for next week and the fight against the demon at the temple, Demon Slayer has more than enough to satisfy any Jump fan so far.