Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 57 minutes, Director – Haruo Sotozaki
A group of demon slayers board a train believed to be full of demons who have been killing fellow blade-wielders.
Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train is perhaps the first time since cinemas reopened in the UK where the big-screen experience truly elicited a genuine “Wow!”. Its visual flare and style, mixing together stylish anime with dashes of CG animation, is fantastic, drawing you into the action-packed world of demon slaying battles that make up the fast-paced near two hour run-time of the piece. The narrative carries on from the first series of the hit anime series Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, acting as a bridge between that and the upcoming second series. However, the film successfully ticks the boxes of working for both the worldwide fanbase of the show and those who may not have seen it or are completely unaware of it – myself falling into the latter camp.
For those who haven’t seen the worldwide phenomenon – as the feature has also become, now in place as the highest grossing film of 2020 – the main story revolves around a group of young demon slayers boarding a train which is believed to hold many demons who have been killing fellow slayers. Led by Tanjiro (Natsuki Hanae), they board and meet master blade-wielder Rengoku (Satoshi Hino). While for audience who are more engaged with the series there’s a look into characters past and minds, elements delving into background and context – although nothing to exclude other viewers. In fact there’s something interesting about the nature of the film as it delves into the dreams and subconscious of the central figures. Forming a connection with them and engaging the audience into the film all before the action once again kicks off.
There’s almost a solid 30-40 minutes of non-stop action. Finely styled to match the tone and themes of the film, not to mention the visual nature which commands to be seen on the big screen, especially when it comes to the design of the various battles. Each one filled with tension and excitement. What makes the action work even better is the fact that even with so much going on there’s a focus on where each character is, you know where they are at all times, who they are and what they’re doing. While focusing on one figure the film never allows others to be forgotten at any point, simply making the action all the more better. Allowing it to flow with more ease and catch those watching up in that world-involved action. Causing them to lean forward in engagement and intrigue as the simple base narrative pans out, adding in character detail and background along the way to make for an even more effective piece of work.
This is far from a dark film. The contrast between the character styles shows that, demons are often darkly shaded, covered in what look like tattoos and body markings – one main villain, Enmu (Daisuke Hirakawa), bringing in a lot of fun and some of the best combat exchanges and sequences, has a hand with its own mouth; think a scarier, more gothic version of Thing from The Addams Family – while slayers have more lighter colours and abilities. Rengoku has a fiery nature, often surrounded by bright blasts of yellow, orange and red. Intensifying the flare and stunning visual nature of the film that truly comes to life on the big screen. There’s so much detail present in the animation that the senses and responses to the unfolding action are heightened making for an even better experience. All wrapped up in a wholly entertaining film, almost from the very start as the central characters run to leap onto the train as it departs from the station.
Alongside this the film is certainly not without its slight humorous beats. Most of which come from half-man, half-boar character Inosuke (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka). Initially his appearance on the train is treated as fairly normal, he walks past people who generally appear to ignore him. And within the world of the film this works perfectly, it’s simply another factor that adds to the detail and brings you further in and therefore has an even bigger impact on the already repeated effects. Add to this a not half bad score and the generally consistent nature that the film has, rarely missing a beat and working for all kinds of audiences, no matter what their familiarity with the series is – although the final 10-15 minutes perhaps leans more towards the fans as it establishes the end of the bridge towards the likely start of the second series – and you have an excellently entertaining time. One that commands the big screen thanks to its visual style and finely pieced together near non-stop action which expands the world and makes for what’s perhaps one of the most entertaining films of the year. Cinema is very much back!
The brilliant blend of animation and fluid world-involved action are already great, however where Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train truly succeeds is in its ability to explore characters, with detail, for both fans and those unaware of the series it extends from.