What They Say:
A Forged Bond and Hinokami
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Well then. Demon Slayer’s been on an upswing lately, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be this good. These two episodes feature the climax of the mountain arc, and what a climax it is. From a pure action standpoint, this is far and away the best Demon Slayer has ever been, and that’s saying a lot with how many high quality fights it’s had. Everything about the two fights we see here is a step above Demon Slayer’s already high standards, from the animation to the choreography to the raw tension of fighting a Twelve Kizuki. In terms of pure action, this is the best Demon Slayer’s ever been, although the writing, unfortunately, struggles to keep up.
First off, we have the formal introduction of the one Rui and the others call “father.” Rather than any special techniques, he fights with brute strength, which is more than enough to make him an intimidating force. He seems like a force of nature as much as an opponent, smashing trees and rocks while shrugging off blows from Tanjiro and Inosuke alike. Inosuke’s side of the fight, after Tanjiro is sent flying, is far and away the best segment as he tries to figure out how to beat an opponent his swords can’t cut. His “if I can’t cut him with one sword I’ll cut him with two” plan is perfectly in character and downright hilarious, especially since it works. Inosuke’s both an lot of fun to watch, and an interesting character in his own right, as we see when the demon powers up and he’s finally faced with a fight he can’t win. The way he overcomes his fear thanks to Tanjiro’s trust in him and the old woman’s parting advice cements how much he’s grown, from the half-feral warrior we first met to the lovable goof we know now.
Of course, the big standout in these two episodes is Tanjiro’s fight with Rui. The reveal that it was actually Rui and not his “father” who’s the Twelve Kizuki is the best kind of twist: one you don’t see coming until it’s almost there while still making perfect sense with what we already know. His father didn’t have the tattoo in any of his (numerous) eyes, while Rui always kept one eye covered, and his mother never actually said who the Twelve Kizuki actually is. The reveal itself is perfectly timed, too. Right when Tanjiro sees an opening and strikes, which is the moment we’ve been trained to expect as the end of the battle, Rui’s thread snaps his sword in two. The entire setup and payoff is perfectly set, and provides a great lead-in for the main fight in episode 18.
The real standout for this fight is the sheer quality of the production, which far exceeds even Ufotable’s high standards. There’s an incredible level of detail to every motion, emphasizing the fluidity of Tanjiro’s strikes and the speed of Rui’s threads as Tanjiro continues to struggle even with his broken sword. His desperation is tangible as first his sword breaks, then Nezuko is injured and captured protecting him, then he learns that he can’t cut Rui even if he does get in close. His mounting desperation builds to make his eventual comeback even more satisfying. First he manages to cut Rui’s threads, and then the final moment, the one everyone online has been talking about, arrives. Tanjiro uses a new breathing form he learned from his dad to power up (more on that later) and takes the fight to Rui. His final move is a masterful example of fluid animation as he charges at Rui, building momentum all the while, with a dynamic camera following his moves and red flames behind his blade. The insert song backing the scene is perfectly chosen, both soft to emphasize the focus on his family bonds, and triumphant to fit his victory. Even Nezuko gets a chance to shine as she saves Tanjiro with her own Blood Demon Art. All in all, it’s an excellent scene taken by itself, and is almost enough to paper over the flaws in the writing. Almost.
The first notable problem here is Rui’s character. Having a villain grow jealous of Tanjiro’s bond with Nezuko and try to kidnap Nezuko to steal that bond for himself is a good idea as a way to contrast with Tanjiro and Nezuko’s devotion to family, but Rui never feels fleshed out enough to leave an impact. We know that he views family as roles people must perform, and is happy to force people into that violently, but we never learn why. Part of writing a good character is giving them some sort of foundation, some explanation for what makes them who they are. Rui never gets this explanation, so we’re left with someone who has a twisted view of family with no explanation for what drove him to that. His growing fixation on Nezuko feels like little more than a way to add extra tension to a fight that didn’t need it, especially in light of Nezuko’s lack of screen time lately.
She’s been noticeably absent for the past several episodes, so having her suddenly come out again only to take an attack for Tanjiro and get captured feels cheap, particularly on top of the show’s poor treatment of her on the past. Tanjiro declares that she’s a person with her own thoughts and feelings rather than some object, which is a nice sentiment, but loses impact since Demon Slayer has been treating her like an object for far too long. First Urokodaki’s hypnosis (which is still completely unnecessary as a plot point) takes away a lot of her agency, then Tanjiro spends half the series carrying her around in a box while she just sits there. I’m hoping that unleashing her own Blood Demon Art is a sign that she’s going to have more to do from now on (especially since she had her first real line since episode 1), but Demon Slayer’s track record there isn’t great.
Even the climax of Tanjiro’s fight, exciting as it is, isn’t without flaw. Even by shonen power level standards, having Tanjiro go from not even being able to cut Rui’s threads to outright winning the fight in the span of a single episode strains credibility. I get wanting to have the protagonist grow more powerful (I love that aspect of shonen as much as anyone), but this feels unearned and sudden. I’d have liked to see it end with Giyu arriving and saving him, since that would have been a good way to establish what the top Demon Slayers are capable of while also showing Tanjiro that he still has a long way to go. Even the way he wins feels sudden and out of place, since this is the first time we’ve seen his father or gotten any indication that he taught Tanjiro the technique he uses to win. Just giving him a new technique out of the blue in the middle of a battle makes his victory feel almost unearned, like the author was stacking the deck in his favor.
For as negative as I’ve been, I really did enjoy these two episodes. Episode 19, in particular, is a perfect example of how a stellar production can elevate flawed source material and allow the story’s strengths to shine. Tanjiro vs. Rui is unquestionably Demon Slayer’s best fight yet, and Inosuke vs. Father might very well be a close second. Having two excellent fights back to back is very nearly enough to hide the issues with the writing, although I wish there weren’t issues that needed hiding in the first place. At this point Demon Slayer’s pretty solidly established itself as a mid-tier story elevated by a top tier adaptation, which is plenty for me. As long as the writing is at least enough to provide a foundation (though I’m hoping it starts emphasizing its strengths more going forward), the production is more than enough to carry Demon Slayer as an exciting action show. It’s hard to grade something this mixed, but in the end, it’s left me with far more positive feelings than negative ones, so I’ll be generous here.