Demon Slayer: the reasons for an unexpected success

Demon Slayer, the first work of cartoonist Koyoharu Gotoge, has achieved such international fame that it has become a real “must-watch“for all lovers of manga and anime. Released in 2019 by the Ufotable studio (the same one who signed the animated adaptations of Fate / Zero and Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works), this work can boast the prestigious “Anime of the Year” award at the 2020 Crunchyroll Anime Awards. Arrived in Italy thanks to VVVVID and Amazon Prime Video, it has recently also been available on Netflix. But what made it so popular in Japan and around the world? Let’s try to analyze the reasons for this great success.

A Shonen like many … or maybe not?

Let’s start with the plot: as in all self-respecting shonen, the protagonist Tanjiro Kamado he finds himself orphaned by the main villain, the demon Muzan, and vows revenge. To do this, he trains hard with an elderly master and develops superhuman abilities that allow him to kill ever stronger enemies. In this task he is helped by his sister Nezuko, also become a demon but able to resist the lust for human flesh, da Zenitsu Agatsuma (acting as a comic shoulder) e Inosuke Hashibira (the classic rival who then joins the heroes).

We are shown hard training, followed by epic battles during which the protagonist meets allies and antagonists. The work does not preclude even comic curtains and insights into the psychology of the characters, which give life to a good rhythm that does not bore, even without reserving particular twists in terms of narrative quality.

With these premises it seems difficult to believe that Demon Slayer could have become so famous, yet its strength has been to tell a story already heard but adding small details that change the narrative: we think of the fact that the main female character is not the romantic interest of the protagonist, but the little sister, or the somewhat unusual nineteenth-century setting that recalls great classics such as Inuyasha and the most recent Dororo.

What allowed this work to stand out among many others was the skilful mix of characteristics already familiar to the public, such as the eyes of demons that closely remember Naruto’s Eye Arts, and typical elements of the Japanese tradition such as Tengu masks. With this expedient, the author has secured both the attention of Japan, always careful to cultivate the memory of its glorious past, and that of a West constantly attracted by exotic novelties.

All this allows us to gradually enter the world of Demon Slayer and to become familiar with the protagonists. The fact that the characters are characterized by few distinctive traits, which often follow the archetypes of the genre, may seem like a flaw, but it proves – as has already happened to many congeners – a great ace in the hole, because simply allows anyone to identify with them. Added to this was the desire, especially on the part of a young audience, to find a franchise somewhat similar to My Hero Academia, the shonen par excellence of the new generation of otaku.

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An extraordinary anime

Another plus point is undoubtedly the attention to detail of the animations, probably the most distinctive feature of Demon Slayer. In particular, the backgrounds and combat sequences are the highlight of this Ufotable production. The character designer Akira Matsushima in fact, he managed to transform the style – a little sketchy and not always up to expectations, to tell the truth – of the manga into a real work of art, able to perfectly combine digital animation with that traditional.

It can be said that what the characters lack in character and psychological development is abundantly aesthetically compensated, with a riot of colors and details that make them instantly recognizable. Earrings, katanas, scars, clasps and masks tell the story of the characters, their joys and pains, their dreams and fears.

In particular, the uniforms of the demon killer team with the colorful kimonos have entered the collective imagination of fans. But Tanjiro, Nezuko and the others aren’t the only characters in this anime. The more attentive viewers will surely have noticed that, as the episodes continue, Japan itself transforms itself into one of the protagonists: the snowy woods as elegant as they are cruel, the mountains adorned with wisteria, the sparkling and chaotic cities: landscapes that tell a parallel story.

The world in which the story is set is in fact a Japan in transition: the western influence of the metropolises clashes with the traditional culture and folklore that still permeate the rural villages – a struggle that is intertwined with that, much more physical and devastating, between demons and humans. A special mention should be made to the animations of Tanjiro’s kata: if it is true that all the fights are magnificent to watch, those in which his sword is wrapped in water are particularly striking as they remember La Grande Onda di Kanagawa, one of the best known Japanese painters.

These magnificent animated sequences are accompanied by the soundtrack of Go Shiina (God Eater, Tales of Legendia, Tekken) e Yuki Kajiura (Tsubasa Chronicle, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Sword Art Online), mentre l’opening Gurenge is the result of the collaboration between LiSA and the musical group FictionJunction. All the songs in the anime have the advantage of combining the delicate sounds typical of traditional Japanese music of dramatic scenes with the more pop and western ones that make the battles even more epic.

Summing up, this anime can boast a series of peculiar characteristics that have determined its international success, but it will be time to tell us if it was just an ephemeral moment of fame or if it will really remain a must watch even for the years to to come. Meanwhile, we just have to wait for the arrival in Italy of the blockbuster film Demon Slayer: Infinity Train, also expected in Italy.

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