I could just write ‘the animation’ and call it a day.
Anime fans are simple people with simple wants. Slice of life fans want their shows to be relaxing and wholesome. Romance fans want their favorite ships to progress faster than not at all. Fate fans want to turn every historical figure in recorded history into a hot anime waifu.
Shounen fans are the simplest of the lot. They just want to see cool action. Whether people are beating the tar out of each other or just playing an intense game of a sport, they’ll be happy as long as it exhilarates them.
Oh, and the story should be good too, I guess. But that’s a secondary need.
In recent years, Demon Slayer has become one of the most popular shounen anime on the charts. Even people who don’t normally watch anime have at least heard of this show. And its momentum shows no signs of slowing down; with a solid release date locked for season three, it seems that the hype train is just refueling before setting off once again.
Now, say what you will about Demon Slayer as a story. Whether you think it’s mid, it’s bad, or it’s a modern shounen masterpiece, that’s your prerogative. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, I’m fairly sure we can all agree on one thing: the fight scenes are dope as hell!
Most people will cite the obvious reasons for it. The animation is insanely good. The choreography is cool. The demons have interesting and wacky powers. While these statements are all true, I find that there is more to them than that.
A truly engaging battle is one with stakes. The protagonist is out of depth, facing an enemy far stronger than they are. Consequences for failure should be high; if the hero fails, you should fear that something far worse than death is coming, either to them or someone nearby. Victory is at its most sweet when it is achieved against all odds.
Demon Slayer is excellent at this. In every single fight our protagonists enter, they feel outmatched. They’re more or less ordinary people with swords. Meanwhile, the demons they’re fighting are supernatural monsters with all kinds of mind-bending, reality-defying powers. How is an ordinary dude with a sword supposed to deal with that?
My favorite example can be found in season one with the Demon House arc. In this mini-arc, Tanjiro goes toe-to-toe with a demon who can manipulate the dimensions of the house or attack at any range simply by striking a taiko drum on his body. The entire fight, you’re wondering: just how is Tanjiro supposed to even get close to this dude?
This is furthered by how vulnerable our heroes feel and how invulnerable our villains seem. When Tanjiro or his friends take a hit, you can feel how much it fucking hurts; they sprain muscles, break bones, and they push their lungs so hard they start to collapse. Meanwhile, the demons more or less instantly heal from any blow that isn’t fatal, all without ever getting exhausted. The longer the fight goes on, the more difficult it becomes for the heroes.
The grand finale of season two is a fantastic example. Tanjiro is exhausted, his fingers broken, Inosuke got stabbed straight through the chest, Zenitsu is crushed beneath a rooftop, and the ultra-elite Hashira Tengen is down an arm and half-dead. On the other hand, the two demons, Daki and Gyutaro, are completely unphased, not so much as a single scratch on either one. All seems lost…
…which makes our heroes’ ultimate triumph feel truly monumental.
At the same time, this makes the defeats our heroes suffer all the more painful. They fight and struggle for all they’re worth, tearing their bodies apart to come just within an inch of victory only to fail. It can be devastating to watch.
Rengoku VS Akaza is the most heart-breaking example of this. In terms of choreography, this isn’t the most creative battle in the series; it’s a basic melee between a swordsman and a brawler. But it’s still among the most compelling battles in the series because of Rengoku’s struggle; he comes so close to killing the demon so many times, but all of his best efforts are still not enough.
Well, not in the traditional sense. That fight isn’t about the good guy trying to kill the bad guy. It’s more about the struggle of a hero to maintain and uphold his morals in the face of certain death and failure. It’s so good that I might have to write an entire article just on that one fight.
The best Demon Slayer fights are a rollercoaster. You’re not watching an anime brawl, you’re watching the characters march their way through a hurricane. This series is a master of high-stakes battles with great push-and-pulls.
It certainly helps that Ufotable has some of the best animators in the industry. And that the accompanying score is amazing. And the actual choreography of the fights looks incredible.
Say what you will about Demon Slayer’s story, but when it comes to hype, it’s hard to compete with it.
See y’all come time for season three.