Kimetsu no Yaiba Review

Title: Kimetsu no Yaiba
Length: 26 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Action, comedy
Year of release: 2019

Lists are a really great way to keep yourself organised. Once you do something, tick it off, and move to the next entry. Easy, right? The problem is that you don’t need to know why you’re doing that, and here we have Kimetsu no Yaiba, a show that furiously ticks those boxes without a care in the world. After delivering a hook to keep itself fresh, it devolves into utter confusion. There’s just no setup or good explanation for its jarring tone changes, stilted pacing and awful, awful comedy, and I found it increasingly hilarious how much the show forgot why it began. But, that’s endgame criticisms, so let’s dig deeper into how this once-promising show turned so sour, shall we?

The narrative hook is surprisingly high-concept, but the simple roots ease that in. Demons roam 1920s Japan, despite the seeming public unawares, and sword-wielders dispatch them. A demon-lord attacks Tanjiro’s family home and his sister is turned into a demon, but Tanjiro is determined to turn his sister back to human – and that determination wins over a top demon slayer, who leads him on the path towards that goal. That initial hook is sidelined for a bit so that Tanjiro can become capable enough to enlist in the Demon Slayer Corps and, ultimately, fulfil this goal. Everything thereafter gets utterly lost, even if the series tries its best to keep the dark atmosphere intact (for a while, anyway).

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I think the key thing to address first is that pacing. The initial training arc, whereby a master teaches Tanjiro a breathing technique and enters him into the ‘Final Selection’ battle, feels a little rushed but in such a way that it wants to get to the storytelling and done with the setup. It’s a pity that not more time was put into the survival, and turning Tanjiro from a badass without strength into a badass with strength and history, because there ends up being little basis for Tanjirou’s struggles later on. That’s a pity, but what comes thereafter is a disgrace, as he begins demon hunting in the vague attempt to get a clue to help turn his sister back to human; he literally just starts fighting demons because he’s told to do so. The first mini-arc of a couple of episodes is a wash as there are no meaningful developments for its characters and, despite the combat being a bit tricky, there’s ultimately nothing narratively gained. The second mini-arc seems to hit the gas pedal immediately, giving an early confrontation with the big-bad, before slamming the brakes on and giving simple goons to fight – and, while there is a major development in that Tanjiro now knows what he must to do turn his sister back to human, there are still few human developments. This continues throughout the next few arcs – too long spent doing nothing but combat where little is learned or made clear, and too much time is spent exposition-dumping combat.

But the biggest blight on the series is the comedy aspect. It discovered this weird and awful funny bone sometime around the first city arc, but then devolved further and further as it become more and more present. Put simply, Kimetsu no Yaiba isn’t very funny, and tries to be at the worst times. There’s only reactionary shouting and boys being girl-obsessed to its gags, hoping that the shock of loudness and stupid faces will help it. But that really grates, especially when Zenitsu’s aggravating crying and Inosuke’s ridiculous antics join the fold, and is actually a permanent addition.

I say permanent, because their introduction is too vague to suggest they will last more than an arc or even a couple of episodes. But they do, for some reason, as the show tries to feel like it has successfully party formed. Characterisation is something this show is pretty poor at, if you haven’t gotten from my previous criticisms. Tanjirou gets a bit more time at the beginning, using his isolation to build a barebones-determined-but-kind character – nothing you’ve not seen before. His sister is a pathetic addition to the show; if she was a puppy, she’d have exactly the same contribution, though the weird almost-incest vibes would be much more palpable. I think she’s supposed to add a theme of ‘family’, but that’s only remembered after about 20 episodes and has poor relation to anything, comes out of nowhere, and does nothing. The villains are only given backstory just after they’re dispatched or as they are being beheaded – and to go back to our pacing issue, that can take several episodes. For characters that are gone. Really? I feel like this is the basics; it’s not uncommon for anime to do this, but the sheer amount of time wasted to try and cop a feel out of an exhausted resource, halfheartedly and misguidedly, is so far from greatness, or even good.

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It’d be easy to throw my hands up and say it’s a strong production, but it really isn’t. It’s hard to look past the rather grating CGI walking scenes. While there are some fantastic looking setpieces and storyboarding, the macrodirection of scenes, particularly during the Forest Arc where there are multiple perspectives to follow, is utterly confusing as chronology tiptoes forward and characters are forgotten for episodes at a time. Hell, the big powerup that Tanjirou gets to beat a big-bad near the end of the series is pulled from the series’ ass. What is setup, Kimetsu no Yaiba? And yet, after a whole episode setting that power-move up as he’s mid-stroke of using the damn thing, some ridiculously convoluted segue means that he didn’t defeat that boss after all. 

I suppose there’s two examples I should leave this review on, to prove how there are just too many cooks in Kimestu no Yaiba’s kitchen trying to ensure everything is there without wondering why everything should be there. Firstly, to save his sister, Tanjirou is supposed to be collecting bounties from the boss demons – it takes a whole 3 episodes to realise he forgot to do that, and he didn’t really care about it. The major hook of the series was utterly forgotten. Secondly, the series ends with a training arc, whereby Tanjirou takes the best part of 4 episodes to work on his stamina – in contrast, it took him 2 episodes to go from mildly fit country bumpkin to an expert swordsman, and ultimately, stamina wasn’t a problem he’d had before. What are you doing with your time, Kimetsu no Yaiba? What’s important to you, Kimetsu no Yaiba? I don’t know, and I don’t think the show itself knows. And for that reason, I cannot recommend it. It’s got no clear identity, its narrative structure is a mess, its characters are somewhere between forgettable and frustrating and the action doesn’t set itself up at all.

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7 thoughts on “Kimetsu no Yaiba Review

  1. Tanjiro’s powerup didn’t beat Rui, Rui cut his own head off before Tanjiro could give the final blow. It was Giyu that killed Rui, not Tanjiro. Tanjiro’s training took him almost two years to complete which is condensed in to 2 episodes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That first point speaks to the convoluted nature of the show and, thusly, makes the whole scene feel like even more of a farce. Perhaps I should add that point to further illustrate the mistake of that scene? And the fact that it’s two years condensed doesn’t change the fact that the show spent twice as long of its own time – not chronological time – teaching him something that’s essentially useless. It skimps its own developments and uses pointless developments instead of meaningfully moving forward.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What would have been a farce is if he killed Rui. It would have shown just how pointless Nezuko is. Or that their connection to each other is. Or the power differences between the upper and lower moon, how the upper moons have killed more hashiras like Shinobu etc. To have Tanjiro do that whilst still being a rookie, then the whole thing would be convoluted.

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        1. So why waste a whole episode leading up to a big power-move that shouldn’t work, and doesn’t work? Do you see what I’m getting at here? Kimetsu no Yaiba’s ideas of big moments fall flat in narrative terms, misusing directorial-level demonstrations to sell something that it isn’t, and ultimately just wasting time and resources (and misusing cliffhangers).

          Liked by 1 person

          1. In terms of narrative wise, it planted a seed in regards to Tanjiro’s move set and Nezuko’s blood art. Tanjiro pulled a big power move, however unlike other shounen shows, it didn’t finish the job, it makes it more believable that Tanjiro tried and failed. In comparison to others where they pull a big power move out of thin air and make it work. It’s shounen cliche 101. In terms of cliff hangers and narrative I’m disagreeing there.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Perhaps this is me being relatively sheltered to shounen shows, but I still think this is poor writing, and also poor direction: the big move was used successfully as a cliffhanger, then backed out of in the next episode, and using such loud music. In terms of timings and audiovisual direction, it screamed ‘finale’. And, even with regards to this potentially being foreshadowing for a much longer story, I don’t see why it’s only decided in episode 19 to introduce some of these ideas. It seemed like poor planning, too.

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