This Demon Slayer review contains spoilers.
Demon Slayer Season 3 Episode 3
“Because helping others eventually ends up being good for me.”
“Demon” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in anime, but right from the start of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba there’s never been any doubt that this series’ take on these monsters doesn’t hold back. There are dozens of battle shonen series that set up clear trajectories where various tiers of demons must be defeated. However, Demon Slayer makes sure that its monsters aren’t just frightening foes, but rather uniquely vexing villains that are legitimately challenging to defeat. Demon Slayer has evolved far beyond the point where decapitations or blade impalings mark the end of a battle. If anything, these drastic acts have become foreplay for the greater difficulties that the Upper Rank Demons pose. “A Sword from Over 300 Years Ago” reminds the audience of these monsters’ eclectic evils as unprecedented power puts pressure on several of Demon Slayer’s strongest.
By the end of “A Sword from Over 300 Years Ago,” Tanjiro has never been in greater need of a special blade, yet the episode’s titular sword mostly functions as misdirection. Tanjiro does in fact stumble upon sacred steel from the Sengoku era, but it’s hardly in working order and requires several days of repair to bring back its luster. This sword’s compromised state is accompanied by bursts of history and exposition, which Demon Slayer lightens through fun visual gags, whether it’s Kotetsu flinging rocks as he struggles to maintain focus or Nezuko’s adorable antics during Muichiro Tokito’s somber speech.
Tanjiro’s fascination over this special blade’s past comes in opposition to Genya Shinazugawa’s own obsession over the weapon. Ownership of this blade intensifies Tanjiro and Genya’s rivalry and “A Sword from Over 300 Years Ago” continues to embrace the playful dissonance that’s found in these two and their separate energies. There’s a real Deku and Bakugo from My Hero Academia quality between these two that hopefully culminates in a comparable level of camaraderie. Tanjiro and Genya are stuck in the same scenario as they emotionally clash just as much as they do with their blades.
This Demon Slayer episode adeptly juggles lore and action, but it also finds time for some humble moments between Tanjiro and Nezuko where they truly feel like normal siblings who love each other rather than a dangerous half-demon and a murderous Demon Slayer. It’s not the most exciting sequence in “A Sword from Over 300 Years Ago,” but it’s these muted character actions that resonate the most between Tanjiro and Nezuko. Demon Slayer needs more of these moments where Tanjiro and Nezuko share the sight of the moon together while they enjoy life’s simple pleasures and forget that they’re on a mission of death.
“A Sword from Over 300 Years Ago” gets all of its sweet interactions out of its system during the episode’s first act when its more action-oriented sensibilities literally intrude and take over. An endearing character moment between Tanjiro, Tokito, and Nezuko gets interrupted by Hantengu and Gyokko’s surprise demon double team that triggers a stressful second-half. The murderous bone-breaking vase that’s tied to Gyokko’s Demon Blood Art is legitimately disturbing. It looks like a visual from out of Jujutsu Kaisen, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, or even Chainsaw Man (to that point, the fish monstrosity that Gyokko sics on Kotetsu looks straight out of a Junji Ito work). It’s such an aggressive and abrasive turn, even after the audience already suspects that something is amiss with this special artifact.
This vase evisceration is also the first time that Gyokko truly feels frightening and it’s a great way to properly “introduce” him this season as one of the primary threats during the Swordsmith Village Arc. Gyokko’s chattering eyes are hard to get past and one of the most unnerving visuals that Demon Slayer has ever imagined, which is saying something for a show that’s ripe in graphic monster dismemberment. “A Sword from Over 300 Years Ago” emphasizes Gyokko’s power, but the episode allows Hantengu to make an even greater impact on these Demon Slayers. This isn’t the only occasion where two demons have worked in tandem, but the scope and speed of Hantengu and Gyokko’s plan trumps anything that was faced during season two’s Entertainment District Arc.
The big wrinkle in Hantengu’s battle plan is that he appears to actively put himself in harm’s way so that he’s susceptible to decapitations. Each of these bloody bifurcations results in a unique clone of Hantengu who all separately reflect the insecure demon’s contrasting emotions. By the time the heroes clue into this defense mechanism there are already four clones, all of which have the strength of a proper Upper Rank demon instead of fractions of Hantengu’s power that’s been divided among the lot. These “re-forming” sequences are both brutal and beautiful as they set the stage for a thrilling fight in the next episode. It’s highly entertaining to have the heroes up against an onslaught of demons–one of which even has wings–while they scramble into action. The best part of this chaos is how Tanjiro’s mind slowly snaps as he attempts to form a strategy over which demon to attack first and who requires the most attention.
The one consistency that’s been present across the grander demons that Tanjiro has slayed is that their defeat hinges upon an informed strategy. Repeatedly hacking away at the enemy is never going to be the solution, which ultimately makes it that much more satisfying when Tanjiro or whoever involved does finally clue into the secret to their target’s destruction. “A Sword from Over 300 Years Ago” puts the heroes on the defensive while they study their enemy’s attacks and it’s still too soon for them to know the best strategy for which to forge forward.
The episode’s second act is electric storytelling as the heroes try to outsmart monsters who are seemingly invincible by conventional standards. Tanjiro’s key to victory isn’t yet clear, but in Tokito’s case success against Gyokko may prove to be as simple as adopting Tanjiro’s empathetic outlook on life instead of operating like a cold robot. Demon Slayer is at its best when Tanjiro and other Demon Slayers are forced to think outside of the box and prove that creativity is just as vital to a Demon Slayer’s survival as physical strength or the sharpness of any blade.
Hantengu and Gyokko put everything into their opening attacks, but “A Sword from Over 300 Years Ago” also includes some awesome–but unsuccessful–demon assassinations as the assembled slayers go into overdrive with blades, bullets, and creative breathing styles. Even Nezuko gets in on the action and lands a brutal kick on Hantengu, which is really all that a Demon Slayer fan can ask for in an episode. It also cannot be stressed enough just how beautiful these chaotic sequences look. There’s such palpable tension that you won’t want to pause the episode for a single second, but the combined displays of Tokito and Tanjiro’s breathing styles along with Sekido and Karaku’s heightened blasts look so good that you’ll want to watch them frame-by-frame.
“A Sword from Over 300 Years Ago” makes an early claim for the season’s best episode, which is saying something when one of those entries has a six-armed samurai robot. The season’s initial installments help Tanjiro–and the audience–catch their breath from season two’s bloody fallout, but it’s such a satisfying surprise that Demon Slayer is already prepared to escalate its story. The heroes sufficiently get their asses kicked here and the stakes already feel so high and like the season has reached its climax, even though it’s only three episodes in.
There’s no doubt that the Demon Slayers will defeat Hantengu–all four of him–but “A Sword from Over 300 Years Ago” makes victory currently seem impossible. Demon Slayer understands that it’s no longer enough to have its villains wax philosophical in the shadows and Hatengu’s attack shows that this season is ready to get its hands dirty and draw some serious blood.