Anime

Review of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Episode 01: Blood on the Snow and Unbreakable Bonds

It’s time to kick off the Spring 2019 anime season, and what better way to kick it off than with another collaboration with Irina’s I Drink and Watch Anime? This season, we’re going to review Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, and it’s available on Crunchyroll.

This time around, I’ll be in non-bold type and Irina will be in bold.

As is now traditional with our reviews, please be cautious: there will be spoilers.

Irina, before we get started, any opening remarks?

I would like to make it clear – this was Crow’s choice. I don’t know if my bloodlust has tainted his pure soul but for once, I’m not the one imposing the horror. I mean even my CGDCT choice was full of death and monsters….

I’m not going to tell you what I thought of Crow’s choice right away. I’m building suspense. Woooooo.

When did I have a pure soul? You would think I would have noticed such a thing…

The show starts on an ominous note: Tanjirou Kamado trudging through a darkened forest, surrounded by driving snow. His straw covered boots leave a dragging trail through the deepening snow. He’s breathing heavily because he’s carrying his sister, Nezuko Kamado, on his back. She’s bleeding, and red splashes mix with his footprints.

With almost every step, he tells his little sister that he’d not going to let her die. But the forest seems endless.

Not even a minute into the show, and we know that our hero and his sister are in deep trouble.

Now, one might reasonably complain that we don’t know these characters. How do we know we should root for them? Maybe she was injured trying to, I don’t know, steal candy from a baby when baby’s mom objected with a hatchet!

It could happen.

Fortunately, the writers are aware of this concern, and the episode cuts to a tranquil, domestic scene. It’s obviously a moment that’s before the opening. It’s morning, and Tanjirou is getting ready to take a load of charcoal into the city to sell. His mom cleans the soot off his face. His little brothers and a more little sister than Nezuko want to go with him; it’s obvious that they love him very much and want to spend time with him, but he tells them they have to stay home.

Tanjirou lives in a warm, supportive, blissful home? Yeah, you know that’s not gonna last! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream (courtesy Irina).

We even meet Nezuko, who’s a loving older sister to a baby she rocked to sleep so he wouldn’t get upset when Tanjirou went into town.

It was a charming, heart-warming domestic scene. Irina, did you think they laid it in a little thick, or do you think this was effective?

Didn’t interrupt once. Are you proud of me, because I’m proud of me! The cold open (pun intended!) was glorious. In fact I called it an opening salvo in my notes because it just felt like right away, shots were fired.

I’d like to talk about the visuals here for a second. First decent and more importantly first person CG is used to give the viewer a disorienting sense. Everything is windy and white, just watching it, you felt like you could slip and fall at any moment. Then we zoom out on the brother and sister. Minimum context but enough to viscerally feel the desperation, pain and fear.

The color scheme is positively frozen. Everything is awash in blue tinge. Not only bleu, grey bleu at that. Not a touch of green (and therefore warm yellow) in the atmosphere tint. Even Tanjirou’s red hair is cool toned. It’s unnerving.

The muted colors drove home the feeling of emotional desolation. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream (courtesy Irina).

 

As soon as the flashback kicks in, everything is shifted to a slightly war neutral. I could feel myself breathing out. The color coding was clear. Things are “normal” now. Safe… Throughout the episode we get two more color shifts like that – and they were all great.

It should be said that I also love the actual designs A LOT. I had to rewatch that first scene because I forgot to read the subtitles – I was too immersed in the pretty pictures.

As for the content of the flashback. The establishing exposition was a touch clumsy but I’ve seen way worse. Yes they laid it on thick but paired with the great visual storytelling, I think it worked.

Tanjirou carried on an inner monologue as he walked down the mountain. He reflected on the transient nature of happiness. Then he introduced a saying that seemed oddly specific: “…whenever happiness is destroyed, there’s always the smell of blood.”

The first time I heard the line I thought it was odd and a little silly….

Did you notice the insane number of electrical wires overhead? Given the technology at Tanjirou’s house, I thought the series was set in the pre-electrical times. But according to Manga Tokyo, the series takes place during the Taisho Era, which was between 1912 and 1926. According to the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, Japan first used electric power in 1878. So, score one for realism!

No.. not at all. That is awesome though! The non verbal storytelling here is pretty impressive so far.

Given it’s ufotable, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. But I digress. In my defense, what happens soon is really terrible, and I’m procrastinating a bit…

What do you mean. The episode ends there, right?

How much happier would Tanjirou have been if the episode had ended here? Quite a lot… Capture from the Crunchyroll stream (courtesy Irina).

PS: I’m currently making my way through The Garden of Sinners movies and I got to give the studios huge props for attention to details…

While Tanjirou is in the city, we learn two things, one of which will likely be important to the plot. First, everyone likes Tanjirou because he’s so helpful. Second, he has an amazing sense of smell, as he shows when he proves some poor guy didn’t break a plate — it was the cat.

It’s dark by the time Tanjirou goes trudging back. I’m apprehensive; last time we saw night, poor Tanjirou was carrying his dying sister! Did you have the same feeling, Irina?

I adore that the smell of bloodline was literal. I also just like the idea of super smell as a power. It’s not often used and the potential seems really interesting. A virtual bloodhound.

I have to admit, I didn’t think that first scene was at night. I live in Canada, sun sets at 4pm half the year. Given the first scene though, I was just generally on edge no matter what happened.

I was relieved when a widower stopped him and offers to let him spend the night. And the man’s urgent. He wants Tanjirou to get inside “before the demons show up.”

That didn’t sound very cheerful. It got a bit worse as they got ready to bed down for the night. Not only are the demons that roam the night man-eaters; they might also enter someone’s house. Tanjirou reasonably asked why everyone wasn’t dead then, and the old man told him it was because demon hunters went after the demons.

Well, the title makes more sense now!

Did you notice that the one still with Tanjirou and his Grandma was even yellower. The tones get warmer as we go back in time.  

I missed that! Glad you spotted it!

In the morning, Tanjirou headed back home. Irina, were you ready for what he found?

Whether Tanjirou was ready for what he found, I wasn’t. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream (courtesy Irina).

Yes and no….

Remember his sense of smell? Remember his inner monologue? As he got close to his home, he smelled blood. And sure enough, when he got home, he found carnage. He first found Nezuko’s body fallen as she had obviously tried to protect the baby. Inside were the bodies of the rest of his family.

The old man had been right. Demons would enter someone’s home…

I’m making light of it, but I do want to be clear: the scene was very effective in communicating the horror, especially with Tanjirou’s reaction.

I was fully prepared to see the dead family. The episode telegraphed it pretty hard. I’m sure we were supposed to know what had happened before we saw it.

What I wasn’t quite ready for were the gruesome visuals. Especially his younger brother with the almos curious expression on his distorted little face. This was an effective scene. I’ve watched a lot of bloody anime lately and this single tableau was one of the most disturbing I’ve seen lately. I was thinking for a second, Crow…what did you get me into….

Yeah, I’m working through the guilt feelings…

Next we cut to Tanjirou running down the hill with a barely alive Nezuko on his back. We’re back to the beginning. The poor man was desperate. His lungs were burning, and his legs were about to give out. His only thought was to get his sister to the city where a doctor might be able to help her. He wasn’t paying attention to anything around him.

Irina, what did you think when Nezuko’s head reared back, and her eyes were pure white — not to mention that she had fangs?

Thinking about Shaun of the Dead isn’t entirely inappropriate here! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream (courtesy Irina).

Probably not what I should have thought… I thought Shaun of the Dead and Brain Dead. Immediately I went into happy chipmunk stupid denial mode and started building this complex scenario where he would keep her locked up in the basement and comically murder villagers (only bad ones) to keep her fed.

He would still try to keep up a semblance of normal life. Discuss town gossip as she politely growled at him, that sort of thing.

I realized there was zero chance of that but my brain went into self preservation mode by turning everything into a slapstick comedy…

Playing PlayStation games to celebrate V-Day as they did from Shaun of the Dead would have been less emotionally trying, that’s for sure!

Nezuko’s movements threw him off balance, and the two of them plunged off the path.

Because of the snow. It played a BIG part in this first episode. It slowed him down and kept him from going home. It made him slip and cushioned his fall. Later it obstructs the line of sight. In effect, snow saved Tanjirou about 5 times this episode.

Any relief he felt that he had survived and that Nezuko was up and moving vanished when he saw her eyes and disfigured face. She pinned him to the ground, and he used his hatchet’s handle to keep her from biting him. It was all he could do to keep hold her off, and then she started to grow.

Even faced with his own death, he berated himself for sleeping comfortably with the widower while his family had been brutally murdered. For an instant, I wondered if that was realistic. Even though this is a shōnen series, wouldn’t someone be too worried about themselves for those kinds of thoughts? But you know what? Given what we’ve just seen about how everyone reacted to Tanjirou, I’d already bought into the idea that he’s just like that.

How did you see that moment, Irina?

Despair can trump fear. Not to mention that to Tanjirou, Demons are a folk tale. Think about it, if your smaller, younger family member started attacking you and you weren’t entirely sure why, would it immediately trigger your survival instinct or would it trip your caretaker one? How about both at the same time? That’s bound to make you react awkwardly.

As we see someone approaching at a run, Tanjirou starts screaming at Nazuko to regain her humanity so he can help her. He’s so insistent that after a moment, her tears begin falling onto his face. So there’s really something of his sister left in there after all?

Knowing the Nezuko is still in there is heart-breaking. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream (courtesy Irina).

That’s when we see that the someone who was approaching was Giyuu Tomioka. He was drawing a sword, and he was leaping at Nezuko.

Tanjirou sees what’s happening. In the instant that Giyuu’s movement distracted Nezuko, our hero hurled both of them out of the sword’s arc. It doesn’t really help; Giyuu is so fast that he’s able to pull her away and hold her wrists behind her. Tanjirou begs for her life, saying she wasn’t the one who killed his family — he detected another scent that did.

Unfortunately, it seems Giyuu already knew that. Nezuko’s turning into a demon because her open wounds came into contact with demon blood. That’s how demons procreate!

That’s more than a little creepy…

Irina, did you notice something? When Tanjirou said he knew his sister still recognized him, did you notice that he didn’t say it was impossible?

I did not notice. But I do think Giyuu has some first hand experience with this exact type of situation.

Tanjirou did something a nice guy would do: he bowed and begged for Giyuu not to hurt his sister. Giyuu’s reaction wasn’t surprising so much as it was extreme: he became furious and berated Tanjirou for grovelling and giving his enemies a chance to kill him. Giyuu seems almost over sensitive to displays of weakness. In fact, about people who are weak, he says, “Their only fate is to be relentlessly crushed by the strong!”

He even goes so far to say that maybe demons know how to cure his sister, but Tanjirou won’t get anything out of them by being nice. He’ll have to beat it out of them.

He even berated Tanjirou for trying to protect his sister with his own body. “Why didn’t you swing your hatchet?” Giyuu demanded, implying Tanjirou was somehow to blame for what happened.

Even as he verbally ripped into our hero, I couldn’t argue the logic of what Giyuu said. We’d just seen what happens to people who either aren’t strong enough to protect themselves, or who don’t have someone there to protect them.

Giyuu has apparently had experience with this sort of thing before… Capture from the Crunchyroll stream (courtesy Irina).

You know how you’re watching a show, and something happens that makes you think, “Yep. I’m going to watch this series?” We come to the first of three such moments for me. Even as he’s pointing his sword at Tanjirou, even as he’s verbally tearing him down, Giyuu’s inner monologue condemns himself for not arriving a half day earlier. As a demon hunter, he could have killed the demon before it killed the defenseless family.

For me, that elevated the moment from Giyuu just being cruel to Giyuu just being honest. What did you think, Irina?

I think this was the last color shift I noticed. Actually it happened at Giyuu’s entrance. The colors had been progressively getting colder again (although they didn’t quite catch up to the opening shots). The palette stayed cool toned but the grey blue shifted to purple. Regal and capable. It calls to action. It makes fast movement easier to pick up and follow against the snowy background. It’s a smart design choice.

I have to admit, I was sold pretty early on. However, Giyuu’s almost merciful display of tough love towards a complete stranger was nice to watch. This is likely a man that’s been hardened by countless losses but if you forget your desire to save others, then you might as well quit…

The second and third moments that hooked me happened in rapid succession. Giyuu stabbed Nezuko in the shoulder, and Tanjirou sprang into action. He hurled a stone at Giyuu, but the demon hunter brushed it aside. Nezuko’s older brother ran in a circle, throwing another stone, before he hurled himself at Giyuu. The demon hunter knocked our hero to the ground, unconscious, before he realized — where was the hatchet?

Giyuu barely had time to see it spinning towards him and move aside. When Tanjirou had thrown the second rock, he had heaved the hatchet in a high arc that would have intersected with Giyuu’s head — had he not moved.

Was that a cool moment, or what?

Tanjirou surprised Giyuu — and it doesn’t seem like he surprises easily. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream (courtesy Irina).

It was so so cool! Just ridiculous shonen fight cool and I ate it up. The animation is fabulous I must say.

Giyuu had completely misjudged Tanjirou. Our hero wasn’t weak. He was kind, and though some people equate the two, they are very different. Giyuu’s realization was beautiful: “He knew he couldn’t beat me. He tried to bring me down after I struck him!”

Even his expression was priceless.

And the third moment? Which might be my favorite moment of the episode? The hatchet broke Giyuu’s concentration, and Nezuko used the opportunity to kick away from him and hurl herself at her brother. Giyuu almost panicked, thinking she would try to eat him.

That wasn’t what she intended to do.

Snarling, her fangs bared, she crouched in front of Tanjirou, but facing away from him. She was protecting him from Giyuu!

Irina, what’d you think?

I’m a sucker – it was my favourite moment too. It’s  little overly optimistic an approach to the narrative. It makes my comedy fantasies almost seem realistic but heck. It’s cold outside, work is kicking my butt, I can use a happy ending.

Nezuko’s still in there somewhere — and she still loves her brother. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream (courtesy Irina).

When she attacked him, I was afraid that Giyuu would cut her to pieces. But he knew that she was starving, and he knew that a starving demon would devour anyone — even family — in those conditions. He’d seen it himself too many times! Yet, that’s not what Nezuko did. She fought to protect her defenseless brother.

Wondering if this pair might be different than the others, he didn’t kill her. He only knocked her out. When Tanjirou awoke, he found her lying beside with some kind of bamboo bit in her mouth. Giyuu told him to take her to Sakonji Urokodaki, who lives at the foot of Mt. Sagiri. He sternly warned him not to expose Nezuko to sunlight, and then he vanished.

Tanjirou returns home long enough to bury his family, then he and Nezuko jog through the snow towards the old man’s house.

Two random thoughts. 1) They are going to have to feed her at some point. Or even more uncomfortable: Why isn’t she starving anymore…what’s in those graves…

Or what’s not in those graves…

2) Are they just going to have her general design include that gag from now on. That’s kind of hilarious. Very Zombieland Saga…

Maybe we need to start calling her the LEGENDARY Nezuko?

I mentioned that ufotable was the studio making this series. I have certain expectations after watching Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero. Both set a high bar not only for animation, but for character models, for action, and most especially for music.

This episode was three for three.

Did you see if that way, Irina?

I think I made it pretty obvious that I did.

Also, is it just me or does this seem to mix elements from the two previous shows we collaborated on? We’re getting a niche!

Zombieland Slayer? The Demon Neverland? Both of those titles just might work here!

And now Irina has me worried about Nezuko’s diet!

Reviews of the Other Episodes

20 thoughts on “Review of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Episode 01: Blood on the Snow and Unbreakable Bonds

  1. I am a manga reader and i quite like the story. It does start kinda slow in the first few chapter, but when the rest of the cast is introduced( the blond and boar guys) it really kick off, especially the comedy and character dynamic.

    1. “Getting major Blue Exorcist vibes from this show”

      Now that you mention it, I can see some echos of that. Maybe a hint of D.Gray-Man, too.

      “Ufotable made it, so it’s gonna look damn pretty.”

      That, it is! Good action sequences, too.

  2. Glad you’re reviewing it this season! I’m not a fan of demons/demon hunters etc, so not sure if I stick with this show, but first episode was good. I liked it for the wrong reasons though… such as great depiction of Japanese culture (by the way you’ve pointed out how electric wires in the city are historically accurate, and I’ve noted that too), the way the tragedy and Tanjirou’s response to it were handled, Giyuu’s words to Tanjirou that begging for his life won’t help him survive, things like that. The music (Shiina Go and Yuuki Kajiura’s duo! Wow!) and the visuals were awesome too. Guess, I’ll have to see how it goes…

    1. “I’m not a fan of demons/demon hunters etc”

      It looks like the show could get pretty dark/gruesome at times. I hope it doesn’t get gratuitous.

      “the way the tragedy and Tanjirou’s response to it were handled, Giyuu’s words to Tanjirou that begging for his life won’t help him survive”

      Good points! It felt a little of the same vibe I got from Golden Kamuy in that regard.

      I really liked the music as well.

      If you keep watching, I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the episodes!

      1. I’m okay with the show being dark (though, I do agree with you), I’m just not really into that kind of supernatural phenomena… But I’ve heard some good things from those who’ve read the manga, so I’ll watch a couple more episodes. If the rest of the show is as good as the first episode, it’ll be worth watching for sure!

        Haven’t watched Golden Kamuy, but from what I’ve heard, seems like it.

        Yeah, I’ll sure stop by to check your reviews and share my opinion!

  3. Well, for me this was the most boring premier I still finished this season so far. The opening scene was a turn-off style-wise; I dislike this particular combo of CGI environment and foregrounded characters. And it’s becoming more common. For example, I dropped Bubuki Buranki because something similar, and that show had a far, far, far stronger premier than… this.

    Just about the only thing that worked for me was demon Nezuko. Main character was dull. Demon slayer was dull. The kids were just cute cute enough to feel the loss, but not memorable enough to miss them in any way. The axe scene got in the way of the emotional drive of the scene for me. I spent the widower scene wondering why the hell someone who lives in the wilderness knows nothing about demons. When you get warned about wolves, but you make that way often enough for the villagers to keep you back, surely the reaction is either “wolves aren’t a problem around here,” or “nobody’s seen a wolf in ages around here,” or something. Not, “Wolfs? Huh.”

    The show wasn’t bad. All those things are little things, easy enough to ignore. But the show wasn’t good either, so my thoughts tended to linger on those details. And here I am back at where I started out; if a show’s this ugly (I think it’s very ugly) then I’m not really getting into the experience, and when I’m not really getting into the experience, suspension of disbelief suffers.

    At this point, I’m not even sure I’ll watch the next episode. It’s a weekend show, and the weekend isn’t exactly light on alternatives.

    Oh, and btw, Tanjirou feeling survivors guilt over self preservation is something I find very plausible. I had many little niggles with this episode, but this wasn’t one of them.

    1. It’s always fascinated me how a scene like the opening can provoke such a wide variety of responses! I thought it was okay until I read Irina’s insights on the color palette, and now I quite liked it. It didn’t appeal to you at all.

      You make a good point about Tanjirou not knowing anything about demons. All of them should have known if demons were that big a problem. That’s a wrinkle in the world’s continuity…

      If you do keep watching, please consider stopping by to share your perspective!

      1. Everyone everywhere seems to praise the show, and most people say it looks good, but to me it looks they put bright and colorful character stickers over washed out scenery CGI/paintings. The show’s look is my only major complaint. All the other niggles I have are minor and could even have a purpose, but when you’re not into a show they stand out.

        I’ll see next week whether I’ll watch some more of it or not. I’d probably watch it if it weren’t a weekend show.

        1. “Everyone everywhere seems to praise the show, and most people say it looks good, but to me it looks they put bright and colorful character stickers over washed out scenery CGI/paintings.”

          Well, I’ve not know you to let other opinions influence you, so I take this as a good thing!

          Let’s hope the story and characters stay strong. Maybe they’ll help you overlook the art!

  4. Please forgive my crass opening, but: SCREW THE DEMON HUNTER!!! Family is family, whatever malady they might have. Do what you need to do to protect your sister, your brother, your family. Any goodie-two-shoes can hope for Heaven; be better than that, be loving and loyal.

    1. Tanjirou certainly agrees with you! I suspect that deep down, Giyuu does, too. Seems like he’s lost folks he loved… And I tell you what — I was relieved that he eventually gave in! I was really worried that he would kill her…

Please let me know what you think!

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