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Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train
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by Jay Seaver

"Not a great introduction, but likely a blast for fans."
3 stars

"Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train" is not the biggest pandemic hit at the American box office, but it has sold a lot more tickets than movies that have had a lot more play in the media, even those sites dedicated to the "geek beat". That's understandable - even if an outlet wants to talk about it, there's a lot of catching up to do, a lot of work for something that may be a flash in the pan - but maybe short-sighted. This is a big deal, even if the movie itself may feel like a two-part episode of an animated series stretched way out to feature length to those of us jumping in for the first time.

After a brief prologue, young demon-slayers Tanjiro Kamado (voice of Natsuki Hanae), Zenitsu Agatsuma (voice of Hiro Shimono), and Inosuke Hashibara (voice of Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) race to jump aboard the train from Tokyo to Mugen, where they are to meet veteran "Hashira" Kyojuro Rengoku (voice of Satoshi Hino). Initially under the impression that their target is in Mugen, Rengoku tells them that the threat is actually onboard the vehicle - 40 people have been killed in recent months, and over 200 people are on the train now. They appear to beat the demons preying on the train back easily, but all is not as it seems.

There's a bit more to it, including Tanjiro's sister Nezuko who has become a demon but apparently not evil, and needs to stay in a box during daylight hours, kind of a lot if this is your first encounter with this sort of thing, though the broad strokes are clear enough to those who have followed serial manga/anime before. Mugen Train feels like a feature-sized case of the week, and while I don't blame the filmmakers for not giving me a little more exposition even as they let the villain run his mouth about nothing, there's not much to this other than "scary villain is cool and powerful guest star is also cool". It never feels bigger than that, and with so much of the early going taking place in dream worlds, it not only limits the amount of time the characters are playing off each other, but also tests the rule of thumb that any movie can get a boost by being set on a train.

There's bits that work, though - the brought colors and bold lines that suggest [I[Promare is part of a broader evolution in anime style rather than a simple one-off, for instance; a leaning-into what digital production does well while staying true to its analog roots. There's a heart-on-its-sleeve earnestness even as stories get grim and gruesome, to an extent that will make some in the audience snicker (these powerful warriors can cry like nobody's business), but in most cases, it's a reminder of the characters' youth and what they've gone through, even though they've triumphed in enough battles for a TV series. The main trio are a bunch of fun - I don't know what the deal with the board-headed Inosuke is, but he's a ton of fun. The soundtrack rocks a bit, and doesn't let up as the film becomes wall-to-wall action. That action is fast and impressive, even when filled with ever-more-powerful energy attacks, with diretor Haruo Sotozaki staging acrobatic and impossible motion and dramatic pauses in a way that keeps it going without exhausting the audience.

At least the action itself doesn't wear the audience out, but there's this whole extra drawn-out fight after the apparent climax that's seemingly got nothing to do with the rest of the story; a completely new villain shows up with his eye on Rengoku, who as far as I can tell wasn't a regular part of the series, making it feel like the movie is going off on a long tangent when the main business is done. It's big and almost as well-done as the main train fight, but so disconnected from the main characters, and repetitive as heck, putting the movie firmly into "just friggin end already" territory.

At least for me. The guys behind me who were interested in the minutia seemed into how powerful everybody was. I'm glad they enjoyed it, and based on the stealthily healthy box office (and friends' anecdotes about how much anime and manga kids and twenty-somethings have consumed during the pandemic), they're far from alone. I can't say this movie has done much to interest me in "Demon Slayer" lore, but it's good enough and a big enough deal that folks should probably be paying more attention to the medium in general.

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originally posted: 06/14/21 05:44:22
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  23-Apr-2021 (R)

  26-May-2021 (15)

  25-Feb-2021 (MA)

Directed by
  Haruo Sotozaki

Written by

  Natsuki Hanae
  Hiro Shimono
  Yoshitsugu Matsuoka
  Akari Kitô
  Satoshi Hino
  Daisuke Hirakawa
  Akira Ishida

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