Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"If You Want Something, You Must Fight for It"~ Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Volume 1 Review

A lot is being said about My Hero Academia these days as one of the best anime and manga series out of Japan. This isn't wrong, MHA has strong art and writing with plenty of heroic themes to get the blood pumping. It succeeds both as a shonen series and a comic book story, and has given the industry more positive press than any series in years. Naturally, it's success is earned.

But there is a little known fact that Weekly Shonen Jump, My Hero Academia's magazine, is actually in a bit of a high point itself. Known for running classics like Dragon Ball, Fist of the North Star, Kimagure Orange Road, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Slam Dunk, Rurouni Kenshin, Death Note, One Piece, and Yu Yu Hakusho, it has recently been home to a string of soon to be big hits that are nothing to sneeze at. You might not yet have heard of The Promised Neverland, Dr. Stone, or Hinomaru Zumou, but you will when said series finally get anime adaptions within the next year. Current hits from the magazine include Food Wars, Black Clover, Haikyu!, and the aforementioned My Hero Academia leading the charge overseas. Old favorites like One Piece and Gintama are still running, as well. Needless to say, Shonen Jump isn't doing half bad, and its hits still rule the roost.

But there is one series I do want to talk about that has flown just under the radar. It is due for an anime within the next year, but it took a while for it to get to that point. This series had an uphill battle and has grown tremendously over the last two years. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a series that went by almost unnoticed by most readers and the overseas audience, but is one that has proven itself to be one of the strongest currently running in the most popular magazine in Japan. And now it's finally out here in an official release.

It didn't happen overnight. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba started two years ago at the start of 2016 and was initially written off as a series that wouldn't make it 10 chapters because it was too antiquated. It is now currently at over 100 chapters and was recently announced would have an anime from the Fate/Stay Night studio, Ufotable. It is a success. And as someone who read that first chapter when it came out, I have to say that it's success should have been no surprise. It just needed a chance to catch on.

There are certain series that get push from editorial when they begin, mostly because they believe they will be hits if the readers just give it enough of a chance. The recent Dr. Stone was one of these, and it ended up taking off in popularitydue to the editors giving it focus, and the team behind it putting in the work. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba was not one of these series. It was decently popular and its volume sales started off rather low, but it held on due to reader interest remaining and growing steadily with every serialized chapter. It did not get many color pages (a sign that a series is doing well is when editorial gives it cover images or center color pages) until it was running for over a year and it was rarely placed anywhere except the middle of the magazine. Needless to say, this is a series that clawed its way up and earned its rising popularity and the anime soon to release. The audience made it a success on their own.

So what is this whole thing about? What type of series could it be that did not connect with Shonen Jump readers off the bat? It isn't anything too out there. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a fantasy horror action adventure series about the battle between humans and demons. That might seem straightforward, but there's a bit more going under the hood than hunters killing monsters. Though the action is really something else.

In the Taisho Era of Japan, there lived a family in the mountains. A mother, and her six children, lived alone far from the village. They were poor, but happy, living as best they could to get by. One day the oldest son, Tanjiro, headed down the mountain to sell some charcoal, but ended up staying too late in the village and slept overnight to beat the cold. When he returned home the next morning, tragedy struck . . .

His family had all been murdered, and his sister had been turned into a demon. And now she's trying to kill him.

To be completely honest, the first chapter of the series is at least on par with the first chapter of My Hero Academia in terms of both how much is crammed in and how in how hard the themes hit for those paying attention. It isn't just mindless violence.

Tanjiro returns to find his family killed, except for his oldest sister, Nezuko. It's late and cold, but still he rushes down the mountain to save his only remaining relative. Soon she awakens . . . and tries to kill him! She's been turned into a monster, a demon. And once a human becomes a demon, they can never return to normal. He learns this from a demon hunter who arrives in time to save his life from his own sister. That's when the confrontation begins that hooked me onto this series.

But it doesn't quite end there. While most series would just use his family as a tool to describe how pointless and cruel life can be and introduce grisly horror after horror, Tanjiro risks his life against both his sister and the demon hunter to save her life. The bond between the siblings is stronger than they both thought, and Nezuko struggles hard to save her brother even with overwhelming bloodlust consuming her and warping her mind. The hunter, Tomioka, a practical man, is impressed by both their willpower and their connection and, instead of killing Nezuko, gives Tanjiro a quest to find a man who might be able to help him learn how to save her. It's never been done before, but Tomioka thinks if anyone can figure it out, it would be these two. Tanjiro sets off with his sister to find a way to save what little family the two have left.

The themes of family bonds and hope in the face of despair absolutely coat this manga. And the action is very visceral and as intense as the themes. What's more as that despite this is a very bloody and violent series covered in death, it never wallows in hopelessness or despair. Tanjiro's quest is a hard one with no end of troubles, but he doesn't give up, no matter how the evil of the demons might try to crush him.

And he definitely has a lot of harsh lessons to learn.

Another plus this series has is the art. I've been told it's very much an acquired taste, but it's exactly perfect for me. Koyoharu Gotouge draws in a very early '80s inspired action style with a touch of more modern expressions to give the series a very unique look. There are no other series with quite this style of art. It improves as it goes, but the first chapter absolutely nails the core look and feel. The series has a very old school aesthetic.

If there is a complaint with the first volume it is that the series doesn't quite reach the heights of the first chapter again within its pages. The rest of the chapters are good, but it is clear that it suffers from the fact that Shonen Jump is known for cutting its unsuccessful series so early, as the early chapters are a bit rushed. There is no telling before about the 10th chapter of any series for the author to know if it is a success or not and if it will live. Throw in that Demon Slayer was not huge off the bat and the series just wasn't sure if it would last. It takes Gotouge a little while to hit her stride, but by volume 3, the series is off to the races. She finds her confidence and cuts loose. Until then you can see her art and plotting improve leaps and bounds in a very quick fashion. Not bad considering this is her first ever series.

Soon enough Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ended up becoming one of the strongest series currently running in Jump. And this first volume is where it all started. Now it can hopefully get more of the audience it needs. My only regret was that Viz didn't pick it up sooner, but they were also probably unsure of its potential success. But its quality is no fluke. It's no wonder they licensed it after two years straight of readers requesting it, as even before it received its anime announcement, it was regularly ranking in the top of the magazine.

If you are looking for another top notch shonen series to read or watch alongside My Hero Academia then this one is for you. What starts off as a tragedy soon turns into a quest to turn it all around and find that little sliver of hope in the darkness. Plenty of action and adventure awaits you in this fun series. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is one of the best manga series currently running, and it is good to see it finally getting the focus it deserves. Now is the best time to check it out.

Highly recommended.

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