Having recovered from their ordeal on Mount Natagumo and survived their encounter with the Hashira, the strongest members the Demon Slayer Corps has to offer, Tanjiro, Nezuko, Inosuke and Zenitsu are sent out on their next mission. This particular mission involves the mysterious Mugen Train, which has recently seen over forty passengers who have boarded the train inexplicably vanish. Boarding the train, the group team up with renowned Flame Hashira Kyojuro Rengoku to investigate what has been causing people to disappear, and hunt down the demonic figure lurking aboard the Mugen Train.
Released in 2020, Demon Slayer – Kimetsu No Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train, has an impressive number of financial accolades under its belt. It was the highest-grossing film of 2020, and at time of writing, the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. However, as impressive as that is, this isn’t a review about numbers or the context in which Mugen Train dominated the box office – although it’s honestly a fascinating storm of hype and COVID-19 factors – it’s a review about the contents of the film. While I’ll be discussing the film in the context of the Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba series, you can also check out Mangaman’s review of the film’s theatrical release for the perspective of someone whose first foray into the series was Mugen Train.
Having already reviewed Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba Part 1 and Part 2, my feelings on the series are overall positive – it has an exciting premise in its demon riddled Taisho setting and an engaging sibling struggle at its heart with Tanjiro and Nezuko journeying to find a cure to Nezuko’s demonic transformation. It’s flashy, bloody, visually distinct, and it’s got heart, but has missed opportunities in the past to properly characterise the struggles of its protagonists in meaningful ways. That being said, the core cast of characters and narrative concept is strong, and the series is an excellent candidate for a film that it can cram full of high-budget action set-pieces and some cool character moments for fans and anime enthusiasts to enjoy.
Mugen Train takes place following Part 2 of the anime series. I appreciate that the film is a bridge between the episodes of the anime, offering a bite-sized spectacle of an arc from the manga that perhaps would have struggled to take up an entire arc but is a pretty good length for a feature film. The presence of the Flame Hashira Rengoku also ups the stakes somewhat and gives the film a sense of being a big affair as the Demon Slayer gang embark on their first mission where they are teamed up with a Hashira. The blend of situational tension and sound design also led to several moments throughout Mugen Train where the film commanded my undivided attention, which I was pleasantly surprised by. In particular there is a series of clever (and fairly gruesome) set ups and pay offs in a battle that involves Tanjiro (and later Inosuke) trying to avoid a particularly tricky demonic attack that feel well-constructed and really elevated the sequence.
While I appreciated these compelling moments, Mugen Train also contains some elements that fell flat for me. The film definitely feels like it has nominated a small number of characters from the main cast to actually focus on, with other main characters (Nezuko and Zenitsu in particular) feeling confined to the corner save for the one or two moments the film gives them to participate in the narrative. Even side characters who play a fairly important antagonising role disappeared from the film entirely once their purpose had been served. It is clear that the film has elected to focus its efforts elsewhere, with Rengoku, Tanjiro and Inosuke getting the most characterisation and getting to participate in the more interesting action set-pieces. Admittedly, I am a big Inosuke fan so I am not complaining but I know others may feel differently about their favourites getting short-changed.
The focus on Rengoku and his backstory takes centre stage which is necessary given Part 1 and Part 2 of the series gave audiences limited information regarding his history and character. Sometimes this works – Rengoku’s off kilter personality but incredible dedication to his role as Hashira is communicated clearly and helps him stand out among what we know of the other Hashira and works well alongside the main Demon Slayer team. Other times it works less effectively, with what flashes of backstory are given feeling surface level and cynically rationed out – enough to have Rengoku be a character with some background, but overalln not enough to make a big impression. I genuinely believe Rengoku would have benefited from more time as a character in the series beforehand, or even one or two more team-up moments in Mugen Train (even Rengoku is not immune to being confined to the corner at times) to more effectively communicate his background, motivations and have further moments with the series’ main cast.
Mugen Train is a concentrated helping of everything there is to enjoy about the Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba anime; the shonen battles are bombastic, desperate, sometimes exceedingly clever, and full of larger-than-life demons and the demon slayers that battle them. The film has clearly picked the characters it wants to focus on, leaving some of the core cast to play background or support roles and trimmed a lot of its padding in this regard. Overall, Mugen Train is a neat way to bridge the episodes of the series with something of a spectacle and is flashy enough to carry its feature film length.
©Koyoharu Gotoge / SHUEISHA, Aniplex, ufotable
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.