Book Review | Demon Slayer by Koyoharu Gotōge
There will be spoilers for the manga and anime series for Demon Slayer. This review is exclusively for the manga, but because the anime is based on the manga, there is a likely chance this will spoil both.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of blood and gore as it appears in the manga series Demon Slayer will be discussed.
In Taishō-era Japan, Tanjiro Kamado lives in the mountains with his family. He is the eldest son of a charcoal-seller who passed away not too long before the story’s beginning. As the eldest son, Tanjiro takes on a fatherly and protective role over his entire family. One day, he decides to take a basket of charcoal down the mountain to a nearby village to earn some money for his family.
Here we discover Tanjiro has an impressive sense of smell as he is able to clear up a family dispute by determining who broke a vase just by smell alone. In the village, we also discover how beloved and helpful of a person Tanjiro is, as many villagers come from their homes and businesses to greet him and ask him for help.
Unfortunately, due to all of the distractions, Tanjiro spends all of the day and most of the afternoon in the village. On his way back home, a kind older man calls Tanjiro and requests that he stay with him overnight. Tanjiro isn’t willing to at first, but the older man warns Tanjiro of the dangers that lurk in the nighttime, one of which is demons – creatures who feed on humans and can’t walk in the sun. Tanjiro isn’t sure if they exist or not but ends up agreeing and stays with him for the night.
The following day, Tanjiro makes it home to find his entire family has been slaughtered. Blood and bodies litter his once peaceful home. As he works through the scene, he discovers his eldest sister Nezuko is still breathing and is the sole survivor. Putting her on his back, he starts back down the mountain, desperate to save his sister. However, his sister awakens and struggles, causing them to fall into the snow-covered ravine below.
When they both come to, Nezuko immediately goes on the offensive. Her teeth have become fangs, her nails talons, and she doesn’t respond no matter what Tanjiro says. He also discovers she has gained the ability to change her size as she forces him down into the snow with her growing weight.
Thankfully, a boy with a strange sword appears and fights Nezuko off of Tanjiro. However, before he can perform the killing blow, Tanjiro begs his sister’s life to be spared. The boy with the sword refuses at first, mocking Tanjiro for his weakness. How could he ever possibly save her if Tanjiro isn’t willing to fight for his sister’s life? Tanjiro attempts to attack the boy, and though he is knocked out, he nearly successfully hits the boy with the hatchet he had.
It is then that Nezuko crouches around Tanjiro. The swordsman nearly kills her but finds she isn’t trying to eat Tanjiro as he suspected. Instead, it appears she is trying to protect him, which is something he has never seen before. Demons eat humans to survive. They don’t protect them, yet, it seems somehow Nezuko does.
Earning the swordman’s respect and because of his surprise over Nezuko, the boy spares her and warns Tanjiro that she has become a demon. If she ever does eat a person, Tanjiro must kill her. To save her, Tanjiro must seek out a master named Sakonji who will help him become a member of the Demon Slayer Corps. Then and only then could he possibly save his sister. Unfettered by the daunting task, Tanjiro takes it on in stride, and so begins the story of Demon Slayer.
The artwork is beautiful. It is such a unique style and is all the more beautiful for it. I think the art style in itself is enough to cement this series in its place as one of the most memorable shounen series of all time. I am also a huge fan of gore, which this series has plenty of. Seeing the demons and their forms alter and change as they take damage might gross some people out. If you don’t like body horror, you probably won’t enjoy the visuals of this, but I found a lot of the gore beautiful. However, the art style is only the icing on the cake.
The story itself is entertaining and engaging. Each character we meet has their reasons and goals for joining the Demon Slayer Corps, and even the enemies have pretty good reasons for accepting their role as demons. There is a consistent theme of family overcoming all, and we see family take many different forms, which was such a nice thing to experience.
We, of course, start this journey with the powerful bond between Nezuko and Tanjiro. Nezuko’s love for her brother is so strong that she can break through the power of the demon blood and protect him, even though he is human and should be her prey. Furthermore, Tanjiro is willing to protect his sister and alter his entire life to cure her demon curse. This, of course, is the first and strongest representation of the familial theme throughout the series.
However, we also see relationships between teachers and students, multiple wives having a sisterhood, the husband and his wives, members of the corp becoming family for each other, adopted siblings, people who are friends becoming family, and even interesting versions of family among the demons. Everyone fights for their version of family, including the demons. There are, of course, selfish goals and reasons intermixed, but family is the core of the story.
I also like that this theme wasn’t abandoned in the ending. The very, very end is a more modern version of Japan where we see how ancestors and reincarnations of the people we met throughout the series interact with each other. We see the world that Tanjiro and all the people he touched fought and sacrificed for, for the future of the families they would never see. It is a beautiful thing to see after such a painful journey.
Something else worth discussing is Tanjiro and his growth as a foil against Muzan, the big bad of the series and the creator of demons, and his eventual downfall. Tanjiro starts as an ordinary boy taking care of a large family in the middle of nowhere – weak in terms of his fragile mortality and humanity. Muzan, however, started his life even weaker than Tanjiro, sickly and near-death even in the womb. Muzan, fearing death and his humanity, turns himself into the first demon. Tanjiro, on the other hand, when faced with his death and the death of his family, seeks to empower himself as a human. He joins the Demon Slayer Corps and works hard to grow his strength.
Furthermore, the way they grow their strength in numbers is also very different. Tanjiro offers his friendship openly to others, allowing them to choose their path to join him or not. Because of Tanjiro’s tenacity, positive attitude, and willingness to fight and work hard, people are drawn to him.
Muzan, though, forces people. He puts them in impossible situations, such as killing their family members, seeking them out when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable, and offering them to die or become a demon, which isn’t a choice when humans by default are desperate to survive.
These two conflicting methods are part of the reason Muzan ultimately fails. Tanjiro’s force is more of a family, and family is more willing to fight for one another and has a source of strength within those bonds. Muzan has created more of a cult or government whose bonds aren’t as tenable. Due to the weakness in those bonds, the demons are more prone to emotional attacks from Tanjiro and his team. So, while they are physically strong, the demons are mentally weak and are usually defeated mentally rather than physically. On the other hand, Tanjiro’s forces are easily defeated physically. At the same time, mentally, they can persevere and push past the limitations of their bodies and, as a result, defeat the demons.
Finally, I have to talk about how amazing the final battle between Muzan and the Demon Slayer Corps was. When Muzan is at his very end, his only defense is to turn himself into a giant baby – the weakest form a human can take. The irony in that cannot be minimized. It was a great way to show how truly weak demons are compared to the tenacity and heart humans have. Yet, not even that is enough to save him as he succumbs to the sun, the one thing he couldn’t defeat.
As a final push, though, he ends up turning Tanjiro into a demon, and because Tanjiro hails from the same bloodline as his sister, who was able to withstand the sun, he can do the same. However, even that fails because of the bonds Tanjiro formed as a human. No matter how many humans he forced into demons, Muzan could not be saved from the sun. Yet, because of all of the bonds and friendships Tanjiro made, he is saved and turned back into a human.
Then, we get a lovely scene of Tanjiro and his friends traveling back to Tanjiro’s home, where this journey began, and the home is filled with laughter and love once again. I couldn’t think of a better way for Tanjiro’s journey to end.
It’s tough to come up with something bad. I will say some of the standard anime/manga things were corny, like saying the name of the attack when fighting, but that wasn’t necessarily bad. I do think the fight scenes were a bit muddled up due to how prominent the attack names were in the midst of the motion.
Tanjiro’s breathing changes were also a bit weird. First, he started learning the water-breathing forms, which he seemed to excel at, but then he discovered sun breathing and thought he’d be better at that. It just felt a bit random transitioning from something he was so good at to suddenly saying he wasn’t good at water breathing and was stronger at a type of breathing no one seemed to practice any longer. I wish we had seen some evidence of that earlier on.
For example, perhaps when he learned the water forms, he had remnants of memory from when his father did the fire breathing dances and compared them. Maybe we could have had hints of him struggling with the water forms early on and perhaps his teacher noting how unusual it looked on him. Something to indicate there is a better form out there for him. In the end, the sun breathing just felt shoehorned in, but that is a small note. Overall I think this series was well crafted.
I loved this series. I will be watching the anime because I imagine this is even more beautiful in motion than on the page. It had a strong protagonist that was easy to root for and follow through the story. There are very few negatives, and I highly recommend this manga for anyone who enjoys shounen. Again, if you don’t like body horror, this might not be the series for you, but if you can stomach some gore and altered human forms, this is definitely worth reading.
Have you read Demon Slayer? Did you enjoy it? Do you disagree with my assessment? Please let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.