Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Cash Grab: To the Swordsmith Village Review
2020’s Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train was an undeniable international financial success for Sony pictures’ subsidiary Aniplex. Following directly on from the popular 26-episode first TV season, Mugen Train broke all previous box office records made by any cinematic anime release — even Miyazaki’s oscar-winning Spirited Away. Perhaps that it was released during the pandemic with little competition at the cinema helped, but it’s no wonder that Sony is hungry for more cinephile weeb moolah.
Demon Slayer’s subsequent second TV season was an odd beast — following an anime-original prologue episode one, the next six episodes comprised the Mugen Train movie chopped up into 24-minute chunks, and the remaining eleven episodes of the season covered the next Entertainment District arc, ending with an extended length finale. TV season three is due to begin in April 2023, and adapts the manga’s Swordsmith Village arc. So short of producing a non-canon “extra” movie, Aniplex is straight out of luck as the manga doesn’t contain a short movie-adaptation length arc at this point in the story.
That hasn’t stopped Aniplex from trying anyway.
To the Swordsmith Village isn’t a movie. It’s a “cinematic event”, currently on a “world tour”. For some reason, the UK gets it two days prior to North America, hence this seemingly early review (Unfortunately Aniplex doesn’t give me special treatment or exclusive screeners. Not that I’d mind if they did, hint, hint…) What this really means, is that it’s the final two episodes of the Entertainment District arc (episodes 10 and 11, originally broadcast in February 2022) plus the first episode of the Swordsmith Village arc jammed together, as a weird recap/preview hybrid monstrosity. Honestly, I wasn’t going to bother with it until my daughter and brothers expressed interest in going, so off we all went.
I should probably mention that my daughter hasn’t watched Demon Slayer since the Mugen Train movie, my youngest brother has seen a few episodes of the first season and read a few manga volumes, while my other brother has never seen single a Demon Slayer thing in his life, ever. Out of the four of us, I am the only one fully caught up on all things Demon Slayer. I was worried they’d all be completely lost, then remembered that Demon Slayer is the most basic shonen since Dragonball Z. My basic plot summary for my Demon Slayer-ignorant brother was “Demons are bad. Demon slayers are good. They fight.” This appeared to be sufficient.
At least it doesn’t throw the viewer straight into the climax of the story’s eighth major arc in media res. There’s a decent length visual recap of the first season, Mugen Train movie, and the first few episodes of the Entertainment District arc to sort-of get the viewer up to speed. Honestly for a non-fan it probably just looks like a bewildering montage of pretty explosions, screaming/crying people and lots of blood splatters. It’s accompanied by a reprise of season one’s excellent opening song Gurenge by LiSA, which I found surprisingly stirring (for someone who has never had that much of an emotional attachment to the franchise).
Then we’re onto episode ten of the Entertainment District arc (episode 17 of season 2), Never Give Up, and boy does this episode work extremely well on the big screen. This is what I wrote about it last year:
I don’t think I’ve ever sat so breathlessly, so completely captivated by a single episode of anime. Words can hardly express how incredible this episode looks, how fluid the action, how beautiful the explosions of colour. It doesn’t matter that the characters are as two dimensional as tissue paper, such concerns are crushed beneath sheer spectacle. Never Give Up’s constant 24-minute barrage of extreme intensity outmatches even Mugen Train’s climactic battle.
If anything, seeing Never Give Up in the cinema is even more of an intense experience, and is almost worth the price of admission alone. What’s really frustrating is that these episodes are presented entirely unmodified, completely unedited. This means sitting through multiple opening and ending credit sequences, complete with recap/repeated scenes at the begining of each subsequent episode. Surely it wouldn’t have taken much effort to at least pretend this was a movie-like release, and edit the episodes together into one seamless whole? This seems so lazy, and frankly is a waste of the audience’s time.
The extended-length finale episode No Matter How Many Lives inevitably feels like a big comedown, as it focuses more on the emotional baggage and tragic backstory of the arc’s main antagonists, and the injuries of the surviving heroes. It also jams in a lot of incongruous humour that feels very out of place when watched straight after the previous episode’s apocalyptic firestorm of violence. This is how I described the experience of watching it on TV:
By comparison, the final (extended) episode is something of an overly maudlin letdown, where Demon Slayer does its “let’s belatedly give the enemies some tragic backstory in a blatant yet pointlessly delayed attempt to wrangle some kind of sympathy for them”. Yes, it is emotionally effective, or it would have been six episodes previously. Here, it seems cynically calculated to provide an artificial emotional payoff. It’s very manipulative, but as it’s the third time this narrative technique has been abused by the show, it seems this is the only way the original creator can conceive to add depth to his antagonists.
So after this, having watched what amounts to three episodes worth of conclusion to a twelve-episode-length story, and endured two extended credit sequences, the next arc starts, with the also double-length episode one of The Swordsmith Village, which isn’t the most exciting name for a story.
Again, there’s frustrating repetition of scenes before we get to an overlong and overblown CGI dick-waving exhibition where studio Ufotable demonstrates how wonderful their detailed 3D background-rendering is by spinning the camera through the MC Escher-like Infinite Castle that belongs to main bad guy Muzan Kibutsuji, a sharply dressed red-eyed psychopath whose general appearance reminds me of Smooth Criminal-era Michael Jackson.
It’s all quick cuts and perspective changes timed to ridiculously over-dramatic audio cues and overemotive side characters speaking portentously. This scene is ridiculous, does little to move the plot forward except to introduce a bunch of new antagonists who then fail to appear again before the end of the episode. It does not work at all as part of a supposedly cohesive whole when combined with the previous two episodes.
Thankfully things pick up once we return to main character Tanjiro, two months after season two’s climactic battle. Lots of characters return to make cameos, and even I, as someone who has watched every episode, couldn’t quite remember who everyone was. Pink-haired “Love Hashira” Misturi Kanroji sends the fanservice dial rocketing up past eleven with her “breasting boobily down the stairs” appearance that made my daughter groan and tut out loud. Oh boy. (Sound Hashira Tengen Uzui’s three wives in the previous arc also provide ample buxomness for those who find such things important and not hopelessly distracting and juvenile.) This episode also mostly focuses on loud, goofy, basic humour, and your mileage for this may vary. For once, boar-headed moron Inosuke has a couple of actually funny moments. I’m mainly glad that insufferable blonde buffoon Zenitsu has very little screen time, and I only had to grit my teeth for the few seconds when he did appear.
As expected for the first episode of a new arc, this is all entirely setup for the forthcoming season and acts merely as a (very long) tease. As a first episode it’s fine, as the third part of a frankensteined-together “cinematic experience” it’s not at all a cohesive or thematically appropriate capstone. I suppose it’s nice to get an early sneak peak at the upcoming season, and it ends with the new season three opening sequence, featuring what looks like spoilers for upcoming battles. The OP song is a collaboration between wolf-head-wearing band Man with a Mission and singer Milet, and it is fantastic.
Overall I don’t regret seeing To the Swordsmith Village in the cinema, but I could never quite shake the feeling that its release was nothing but a cynical cash grab, much as how the Mugen Train movie was split up into TV episodes, but in reverse. It’s very much that Aniplex wants its raw, moist, demon-bloody cake, and to eat it. Demon Slayer is entertaining enough, and flashy enough, with a die-hard fanbase willing enough to part with their cash at the slightest opportunity, that I expect Aniplex’s gamble will pay dividends (literally, to some very happy shareholders). It’s a shame that none of this financial success will trickle back down to stellar animation studio Ufotable, whose work on this most recent instalment of Demon Slayer, as usual, is peerless — as a work-for-hire studio, they have no ownership of this material, so likely have been paid no more for this as a theatrical release than as it would have been as a TV-only release.
If you have the time and opportunity to visit your local cinema, it’s a fun evening out, but don’t kid yourself that it’s anything more than three TV episodes cynically stitched together with the sole aim of emptying your wallet. But what pretty, shiny TV episodes they are.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: To the Swordsmith Village
Directors: Toshiyuki Shirai, Takashi Suhara, Haruo Sotozaki
Based on the manga by: Koyoharu Gotouge
Language: Japanese audio with English subtitles (English dub also available)
JP cinematic release: 3rd February 2023
UK cinematic release: 1st March 2023
NA cinematic release: 3rd March 2023
Runtime: 110 minutes
BBFC rating: 15
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