Our heroes are accompanied by Rengoku, the flame hashira.TWITTER/DEMONSLAYERUSA

Demon Slayer — Kimetsu no Yaiba — The Movie: Mugen Train made headlines when it dethroned Spirited Away to become the all-time top grossing movie in Japan. Whether or not it deserved to beat Spirited Away is a moot point — if anything, it speaks to Spirited Away’s ability to hold its ground in the box office as an original film against a slew of franchise offerings. Mugen Train is indeed purely and wholly a franchise product, unabashedly true to the Demon Slayer series — it is good at what Demon Slayer excels at, but it also fails in the exact areas where Demon Slayer falters.

“Mugen Train is good at what Demon Slayer excels at, but it also fails in the exact areas where Demon Slayer falters”

Mugen Train picks up exactly where we left off at the end of Season 1. Tanjiro, Zenitsu and Inosuke, novice demon slayers, have been dispatched on a mission to investigate a number of disappearances aboard the Mugen Train. The culprit is Enmu, a sleazy-sounding demon with a cool dip-dye. Enmu is a Lower Moon, meaning he is especially powerful due to an above-average level of Muzan’s blood in him — Muzan being the leader of all the demons, and the main antagonist of the series. Our heroes are accompanied by Rengoku, the flame hashira, one of the most proficient swordsmen of the Demon Slayer Corps.

The story is straightforward enough that someone new to the series would be able to follow the action, but they would not know the background explained above: who the characters are, what their cause is apart from saving innocents from demons, and the significance of the events on the Mugen Train. Without such information, Mugen Train would appear to be not much more than an explosive mess of colourfully-dressed humans hacking and slashing at grotesque monsters.

Because it is a direct continuation from the series, it is also structured as such. The pacing of Mugen Train is so strange, someone harsh could call it atrocious. It jumps into the story without explanation, presuming you’ve watched the 26 episodes preceding it. Yet the start feels like a drag and it takes a while to get to the crimson-splattering action that is signature to the series. The film devotes that precious buildup to what looks like character exploration, but is more shallow comic relief than anything concrete or new.

“Mugen Train feels like...broken into chunks it would have fit in along with the other episodes”

The series had the exact same problems. Its issue is not with the style of humour, but the amount of it — often detracting from the seriousness of otherwise very mature themes. This fed into an unequally paced season that had some truly absorbing portions and also some that dragged. The same words can be used to describe Mugen Train. The last hour is gripping and action-packed, but you need to sit through the first half to get there.

Enmu, a sleazy-sounding demon with a cool dip-dye. TWITTER/FUNIMATIONUK

Poor pacing is more unforgivable for Mugen Train than it is for the series, because of the fact that the TV series exists. A film should be contained and structured enough to warrant being made into a film. Mugen Train feels like it did not deserve to be made into a movie; broken into chunks it would have fit in along with the other episodes. It is weak as a standalone because it doesn’t drive the plot forward significantly enough. Mugen Train’s key contribution is showing how powerful the enemies are, raising the stakes. Arguably, this could have been achieved as part of a season, whereas being singled out as a film draws attention to its insubstantiality.

That being said, Mugen Train is still very Demon Slayer in a good way too. The franchise is known for the impeccable choreography, direction and execution of its action scenes, and Mugen Train lives up to that. In classic Demon Slayer fashion, characters leap through the air, swords sparkling and elements blazing, perfectly in time with the arcing soundtrack. The final battle is up there with the iconic events of Episode 19 as my most memorable moment of the series.

What keeps your eyes glued and heart racing is the feeling of high stakes that too many action pieces lack. For a show directed at a younger audience, featuring young protagonists that look young indeed, Demon Slayer is very dark and isn’t afraid to put its characters through pain and suffering to strengthen their skills and resolve. The enemies pose a genuine threat, the fights are brutal and the blows hurt. Demon Slayer utilises these fight scenes to engage in character development in an emotional and meaningful manner, so that the battles matter and aren’t just empty eye-candy.

The visually impressive choreography of Demon Slayer's action sequences is one of its strengths.TWITTER/JUSTFROSTBYTE

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Mugen Train excels in this area as well, arguably even exceeding the series in how devastating its final battle feels. In that way, Mugen Train still brings out the heart of Demon Slayer and its timeless themes of heroism, determination and sacrifice.

While it definitely won’t stop fans (myself included) from continuing to follow Tanjiro’s adventure when Season 2 releases later this year, Mugen Train still feels like a misdirection that I wish was handled better. Those new to Demon Slayer would do themselves a favour by staying away from this film. The only right way to watch it is after watching every episode of Season 1 — and if you’ve committed to that, then you’re in for a ride.