The Pakistan-wide theatrical release of Demon Slayer: To the Hashira Training, the third film in the line-up, is both perplexing and wonderful.

On the one hand, the sensation of watching Demon Slayer on the big-screen is exhilarating — hardly any anime films make it to Pakistan, and Demon Slayer, the series, has been a worldwide phenomenon. On the other hand, the film is strictly for fans who are already familiar with the intricacies of the 55-episode long story arcs of the series.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (Blade of Destruction or Demon Killing Blade) — that’s the full title of the manga written and illustrated by Koyoharu Gotouge — is set in the Taish era (between 1912 and 1926), when Japan was slowly adapting to the Western way of life.

In a faraway village, secluded from most innovations, a family is slaughtered by a demon. The two surviving members of the family are Nezuko, who has been turned into a demon, and her brother Tanjiro, who had been away from the house.

The series centered on Tanjiro and Nezuko, is a perfect example of the popular Kishtenketsu narrative-structure from China, Japan and Korea — ie it starts big, takes a long time to develop characters and introduces minor story elements, before adding big twists that carry forward to the climax.

Demon Slayer has been a worldwide phenomenon but the film will appeal only to those already familiar with the intricacies of the series

Storytelling-wise, every arc in Demon Slayer is designed like this: a brief and quick rundown of the scenes that cover the Mugen Train and the Swordsmith Village arc are shown at the beginning of To The Hashira Training, leading directly to the entirety of the last episode of the series, followed immediately by the first episode of the upcoming season.

A big action sequence with a wallop of an ending, leads to the death of a key character, the assembly of the Hashira (high ranking demon slayers with special abilities) and the training of the young cadets. It is assumed that, with their leader dead and Nezuko transformed to a state that makes her impervious to sunlight (demons, like vampires, die when exposed to sunlight), she will likely be the prime target for Muzan Kibutsuji, the uber-powerful lord of demons.

Compilation movies are frequently released in Japan, with fandom making most releases grand successes. Unlike the Mugen Train arc, which was released during Covid-19, and became the biggest release of all time in Japan — it is still the highest-grossing film (not just anime film) in the country to date, beating Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away — To the Hashira Training, with its compilation of the last season’s episodes, feels like a minor offering.

The killing of the last season’s big demon (a particularly nasty villain who splits himself into powerful avatars that wreak havoc) and Nezuko’s big reveal, were already shown in the last season’s final episode, so their inclusion makes little difference storytelling-wise. The new episode, like all first episodes in anime, takes a while to ramp up, and when it does, the end credits start rolling.

Although I haven’t seen it, the last Demon Slayer movie, set in the swordsmith village, might have done something similar. In contrast, one understands why Mugen Train was such a phenomenon: the film was two hours long and covered the entirety of the arc, which was then adapted and expanded to television format.

To The Hashira Training, released globally in 140 countries as a “cinema event”, may not be as exhilarating as Mugen Train, or the following Red Light District arcs (these two are really the high points of the series so far). However for fans — and let me stress: strictly for the fans — the theatrical release, even in compiled form, is still an experience.

The rest of the world, who don’t know about Demon Slayer, can watch this thoroughly recommended series on Netflix.

Released by Sony and HKC, Demon Slayer: To the Hashira Training is rated U and is suitable for all audiences, despite featuring a scene of decapitation

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 3rd, 2024

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