Kimetsu no Yaiba: Mugen Train is the first movie under this insanely popular title. With the help of ufotable’s unlimited budget, they have knocked it out of the park. Mild spoilers ahead.
It starts from where we left in the previous season. Muzan Kibutsuji had convened his lower rank moons. To my dismay, characters with great designs were killed and only one of them survived to receive his blood as a power-up. Now he is on a train, planning to terrorize its passengers without realizing that our cast of characters is boarding it to. Surprisingly, there is no preview of the previous season at the start of the movie, so you might feel a little disoriented if your memory of the prior events is foggy.
It shouldn’t be a deterrent to your overall experience though, because Koyoharu Gotouge uses creative dream sequences to remind us what our cast is all about. Inosuke is a wild mountain boy who hasn’t seen much of modern civilization. His gag where he refers to the train as a Demon Lord of the region, not only works as foreshadowing for the upcoming events but also is responsible for some of the hardest laughs. Comedy is generally handled well, Zenitsu being a pussy is kept on the back-burner(and I am all here for it, you can only take so much of him), and the overused exaggerated anime faces are also on a leash to conserve time. Once everyone is in their coach, the lower moon called Enmu, uses his demon technique to put them to sleep.
Gotouge uses the dream sequences to put us in our cast’s psyche. This narrative device works brilliantly with Enmu’s character to give us insight into Tanjiro and a backstory to Kyojuro Rangiku. One of the things which makes Tanjiro interesting for me is how he views death. Unlike other anime characters, who become distraught when people die, Tanjiro becomes calmer and even more determined than before immediately. Seeing him confront his demons lets you know how he works while retrospectively making his family’s death hit harder. Lightning pussy’s dream sequence finally made me laugh out loud at the repeated Nezuko and Zenitsu gag too. My criticism is for Inosuke, as much as I like him, his part should have been chopped to give Kyojuro more time.
Enmu has a sadistic and manipulative nature with a tinge of narcissism when it comes to humans. His personality is reflected in his power to put people in a loving dream sequence, where he gives them what they lack, and once they are satisfied with their new life, he converts their happy and pleasant moments into terror and torment. After he is given a generous amount of Muzan’s blood with a promise to receive more if he defeats Tanjiro Kamado, he is competent enough not to get overconfident and seek him. Instead, he does the smart thing to capture a train filled with passengers to satiate his thirst for more blood so he can get stronger and manipulate his hostages in killing others. Coincidentally though Tanjiro and the Hashira are there too.
That’s where his character flaws come in, instead of eating humans immediately, he believes that he can capture the Demon Slayer Corps with his techniques — if he has them, the boost to his powers will be monstrous, perhaps he will even be capable of defeating one of the upper moons. He can finally be acknowledged by Muzan Kibutsuji as that’s his true goal. I believe after encountering our heroes, he should have been more cautious. Instead, he becomes reckless and greedy..which ends his dream life even before it could start. That’s a decent character, but the way he is portrayed in the movie, with his 5-minute monologue before his fight and after his defeat, makes him insufferable. The fact that he merges with the train takes away from interactions between him and our squad too. Even the action scenes don’t have the choreography of the upcoming fight or the battles from the anime.
Generally, every villain in Kimetsu no Yaiba has a backstory. Their powers and actions in the present are motivated by it which gives a fight emotional investment. This one has none of it. If you thought he’d do something extraordinary, be meaningful to the plot since he is the last lower moon…well think again! Enmu seems to be only there to show the mental fortitude of Tanjiro and to remind us of his struggle with the Hinokami Kagura dance.
Eventually, everyone wakes up and Enmu is defeated. Now, you will be forgiven to believe that the movie ends here. Because the arrival of Akaza, the upper moon 3, is out of nowhere. There is no narrative setup, he jumps straight into it. He lacks ideology that could be unique and diametrically opposite to our heroes.
Akaza wishes to be the strongest, so does Rangiku and everyone else present — the difference being he(Rangiku) isn’t willing to discard his humanity for it. Perhaps, Akaza will be explored more down the road but his current appearance is narratively jarring if you are not expecting him. An anime which does this better is One Piece, where towards the end of an arc, after the main antagonist is defeated, we see another figure. His presence is terrifying, his motives are clear. Akaza’s entrance, however, will keep you wondering, “why was he here?”
Fights, character design, and the details used on their techniques look sharp and distinct. It contrasts well with their surrounding — action is impactful! When characters vanish from a place to another, they don’t just vanish. You can see the train shaking, windows crackling, and hear the air swooshing behind them. Their legs bend to absorb the impact or propel them forward. The film manages to top all it had done in the first half during its climactic battle with exceptional sound design and acrobatic character movement. Remember the last few minutes of Tanjiro VS Rui, the spider demon? It’s that kind of work extended for 25 minutes as music is blaring in the background. It’s mesmerizing enough to awestruck Inosuke. Even when Rangiku needed help, he couldn’t move immediately.
Rangiku, for someone who isn’t in the movie for long, something which could have been easily fixed, is capable of making a place in your heart with his amiable and enthusiastic personality. He embodies everything that is good about the shounen genre, a larger-than-life role model with the will and strength to save everyone who is weaker than him — an ideal enlisted in him by his mother. Kyojuro was given the mission to save the 200 passengers and even one of them dying meant failure. He kept the weak safe while acknowledging their strength, he supported his juniors and he won his fight.
So, does it work as a movie?
No, it doesn’t. It lacks a distinct middle and a start which can build towards an end. Generally, movies don’t follow a manga, and now I know why. Either they are way too large to cover in a 90-minute feature or they work as a transitional arc between two bigger ones. This is a transitional arc in the manga with its goal being to introduce us to the difference in strength between an upper and a lower moon. It also points Tanjiro in the right direction so he can uncover the mystery behind the Hinokami Kagura dance. When those are the motives of a story, it becomes harder to give the ending some sort of finality. Since we are not building the movie around a central idea, it feels disjointed too. For example, in another popular film, Kimi no nawa, we have a goal and the end serves it well.
The animation is great but apart from photorealistic backgrounds and some stuff towards the end, it was honestly not much better than the series itself which is more of a compliment towards their work on the anime than a slight against the film. Usually, movies based on anime films will see a noticeable bump in animation quality and art but that was not as apparent here.
If they were set on making this section of the story into a movie, then they should have taken creative liberties with putting more focus on Rangiku and streamlining the plot so that it felt like a cohesive film and not episodes put together for a screening. Considering how Kimetsu no Yaiba has broken records all around — It has a higher rotten tomato rating than Kimi no nawa, Koe no Katachi, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke — I expected a bit more from it especially after how spectacularly it delivered in the latter half of the anime, and the hype around it.