When Mugen Train rolled into U.S. theatres on April 23, a world of new and exciting possibilities opened up for the anime industry. Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer): Mugen Train broke box office records after dethroning long-standing record holder, Spirited Away, to become the highest-grossing anime film worldwide with $440.15 million.
Needless to say, the anime world has been shaken to its very core. With a surge of people picking up Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba as their first-ever anime after hearing of its global success, anime veterans may be wondering just how the industry will continue to grow from here on out. Let’s take a look at how a touching story about a boy and his sister rose to such critical acclaim and managed to break every record imaginable.
What is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba?
Demon Slayer (sometimes referred to by its Japanese title Kimetsu no Yaiba) follows the life of a young teenager—Tanjiro—as he tries to free his sister—Nezuko—from a demon’s curse. Wanting to return her to human form, as well as seek revenge against the mystery assailant who murdered his family, Tanjiro sets out on an adventure across the globe in search of answers. The series ran for 26 episodes in the Spring of 2019 on several Japanese networks (including; Tokyo MX, GTV, GYT, BS11) and later aired on US networks (including Adult Swim and Toonami) and also streaming sites such as Funimation. The show was well-received and quickly amassed a following of loyal fans.
However, after Mugen Train was released in cinemas, it gained traction from several atypical news outlets (the LA Times for example) due to the sheer amount of money it was generating. It seemed like people who weren’t fans of the original series, nor fans of anime in general were lining up for the chance to watch Mugen Train. It begs the question; just why is Mugen Train so popular?
The Simple But Effective Plot
One of the leading reasons linked to the success of Mugen Train is the franchise’s accessibility. The premise is fairly easy to understand (a tale of unconditional sibling love) and while the fantasy elements of demons and magic remain prevalent, they are not bogged down in reams of exposition.
This allows anyone to pick up the show with relative ease.
However, for those that stick around, the deceptively simple premise explodes into a wonderfully rich and layered world with thoroughly interesting characters each fleshed out with their own backstories and surprising plot developments that keep the simple premise engaging for so many episodes. All in all, Kimetsu no Yaiba’s plot is simple at first glance but those who look a little closer will see a gripping narrative that has clearly been meticulously cared for.
The animation quality is of the highest standard in both Demon Slayer and Mugen Train. Even those who are not particularly interested in the plot will find themselves captivated by the stunning visuals. Even smaller details like the artistically styled water that flows from Tanjiro’s sword whenever he completes an attack, are just breathtaking to see play out.
Demon Slayer does not blow its entire budget on animating great fight scenes, however. The slower-paced moments are animated beautifully and the varied facial expressions lent to each character make for some hilarious interactions. Zenitsu (one of Tanjiro’s friends) in particular has an expressive face (not to mention the stellar voice acting quality of both him and his ensemble cast) which makes each episode’s action lulls a delight.
The Excellent Source Material
A lot of anime are not created from the ground up. While several original shows are produced and sent straight to TV screens, a lot of anime emerge from their respective manga sources. Demon Slayer is no exception here, as the manga continues to release issues periodically, with a story that has long since moved past the events in Mugen Train.
Koyoharu Gotouge—the mangaka mastermind behind the Kimetsu no Yaiba series—has created a stunning piece of art in the form of his manga. Due to this, the animation will always have the inspiration to draw from (granted that it leaves enough space between its most recent episode and the most recently released chapter of the manga). Of course, several scenes will need to be created to fill in the gaps between manga panels, but the base storyline is there for the taking and will continue to be so as long as Koyoharu doesn’t get bored!
Charting the Show’s Success
Demon Slayer’s rise in popularity was remarkable. The show was fairly unknown in its manga form (at least compared to the audience it reaches today). However, this is par for the course for most manga. Without the aid of television advertisements, promotions, and other ways for the story to be advertised, manga sales will rarely result in such a worldwide phenomenon. All of this changes, however, when a manga receives its anime adaptation.
The manga was first published in Japan in 2016 but when the anime released in 2019, it steadily grew in popularity and, as such, entered into sponsored collaborations with various companies throughout Japan. Being a Shounen manga (an easy-to-digest, light-hearted, usually battle-oriented, anime aimed towards young boys) only added to its accessibility, and with Tanjiro’s face being plastered wherever you go in Japan, there was more incentive than ever to join the bandwagon! All of this then culminated in the release of Mugen Train. Having been bombarded with Demon Slayer since its anime release of course the many fans that had been created through its wide coverage would check out the movie.
Make the World Take Notice
All of these positive qualities helped Mugen Train stand out from the crowd of its animated competitors, making it a great watch for the whole family. It goes without saying that parents will be much more inclined to take their children to see a movie that they themselves can find some form of enjoyment out of. Mugen Train, with its perfectly blended cocktail of an animated movie, capitalized on this perfectly. It provided not only stylistic and bombastic action to keep the kids entertained, but also a beautifully crafted and surprisingly deep story that teenagers and even adults can enjoy.
The impact Mugen Train has left on the anime industry is gigantic and, hopefully, we see more care and consideration being given to animated works. Long has a stigma engulfed the world of cartoons. “Cartoons are for children”, “Anime is childish” or “They’re not real movies”, have always been popular arguments of the naysayers. Mugen Train crushes this ideology and proves that anyone, of any age, can find enjoyment in watching anime. Similar to how the Korean Oscar winner Parasite opened the door for foreign films to make their stand at international film festivals, Mugen Train has made it clear that anime is a commercial force to be reckoned with.
The Future of Anime
The popularity of anime is ever-rising and Mugen Train has played a huge role in this. Lesser discussed shows may be picked up by Western television or streaming platforms due to their niche demand. There already exist several ways to stream anime in the Western world. Sites like Crunchyroll and Netflix offer a wide variety to choose from. Hopefully they will be expanding their libraries even further in the near future
In the future, we may find ourselves witnessing more and more anime theatrical releases from studios wanting to capitalize on Mugen Train’s success (post-pandemic, of course). It is evident that animated works can create just as much money as big blockbuster action flicks. Perhaps, we may also see an animated feature film win not only the best-animated picture award but the best picture award in general at the Oscars.
We may also see a rise in the popularity of manga. For one month, in fact, Kimetsu no Yaiba’s manga managed to surpass One Piece in overall sales (something absolutely unheard of since the advent of the unstoppable freight train that is the One Piece manga). Many people became so enthralled by the adventures of Tanjiro and his peers, that they could not help but pick up the manga to check out what happens next. Perhaps, thanks to Mugen Train and Kimetsu no Yaiba’s influence, we will see the birth of a new generation of manga fanatics who will, without a shadow of a doubt, preach to anime viewers that the manga version is “InFiNiTeLy SuPeRioR”.
Eager fans can watch Mugen Train at select theaters across North America, with the rest of the world hopefully being able to watch sometime this year. Let us know what you think of Mugen Train! What anime are you watching to fill the long and grueling wait for Kimetsu no Yaiba season two? Comment down below!
Demon Slayer: Mugen Train is available on VOD in North America now.