With its first season having just finished airing and a new movie (Mugen Train) on the horizon for 2020, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba has never been more popular.
Although initially released to little fanfare, the anime picked up major steam around the latter third of its 26-episode run, generating massive hype within the anime community. Now it sits in the top 20 best anime seasons on MyAnimeList. Even more telling, Demon Slayer manga sales in Japan have recently started gaining on the all-time top-selling manga, One Piece (at least in terms of weekly sales during October). All this is to say that, as far as newer anime series go, Demon Slayer is having a real moment.
But that wasn't always the case. Unlike fellow Weekly Shonen Jump darling My Hero Academia, whose manga volumes had been selling out even before the anime premiered in 2016, the Demon Slayer manga was well-liked by people who read it, but it wasn't necessarily generating buzz. The most obvious reason is that, while a series like My Hero Academia felt especially fresh with its Western superhero tropes-meet-shonen hook, Demon Slayer's story is a lot more standard within the realm of shonen: After his family gets slaughtered by a demon and his sister, Nezuko, turns into a demon, Tanjiro, a kind, empathetic young boy, must become a Demon Slayer in order to prevent further tragedies and, hopefully, find a cure for his sister.
Hunting demons (or any other supernatural monster, for that matter) is a pretty common story basis for shonen, and Demon Slayer doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. Moreover, the actual art in the Demon Slayer manga by first-time artist/writer Koyoharu Gotōge, while still very good, is arguably less polished than a number of other mainline Weekly Shonen Jump series. As such, Demon Slayer gained a large enough popularity to continue publication but not much else.
Then the anime hit.
Produced by Ufotable (an anime studio best known for their adaptation of Fate/Zero), the Demon Slayer anime kept everything that made the manga enjoyable (likable characters, a solid plot, and creative battle concepts) while cleaning up and building upon all of the weaker points. Most specifically, the Demon Slayer adaptation features an incredibly strong, unique aesthetic that oftentimes resembles flowing ink paintings. Coupled with complex camera movements and brilliant battle choreography, every battle in Demon Slayer becomes a gorgeous, memorable event.
***DEMON SLAYER EPISODE 17 SPOILERS FOLLOW***
For example, take the battle between perpetual coward, Zenitsu, and the Spider Demon from Episode 17 (Chapter 34 of the manga)––a relatively minor fight within the context of the story.
In this battle, Zenitsu needs to cut off the Spider Demon's head before succumbing to a heavy dose of poison with which he's been injected. But the Spider Demon is high above the ground, and Zenitsu has only one chance to attack before inevitable doom. The Spider Demon believes that Zenitsu is weak and that the battle has already been won––right until he realizes that Zenitsu is preparing for his final move. Here's the build-up in the manga:
The Spider Demon witnesses Zenitsu gearing up for his attack by stating its name. Then we get this single panel shot, tracking Zenitsu's attack path, from tree to tree, up into the sky, through the Spider Demon's den:
Now, watch how the battle plays out in the anime:
Zenitsu vs Spider Demon ~ Demon Slayer youtu.be
Instead of simply watching from up high as Zenitsu states the name of his attack, the anime builds up Zenitsu's total body shift with a multitude of interesting shots. The camera moves in close as the air around Zenitsu bristles with electricity. His eyes glow white as the screen gets doused in yellow light. Then as he names the attack, the electricity intensifies, shaking everything around him. We see Zenitsu's footwork as he leverages a taut string of web to gain air before following him as he soars into the sky. Then we move through a recreation of the single panel shot from the manga, tracking Zenitsu's actual path to the Spider Demon's decapitation. Finally, we land on a gorgeous shot of Zenitsu airborne in front of the moon.
The single lightning track shot from the manga, in context, was a very cool battle moment, but not an entirely memorable one––the Spider Demon isn't even a major villain. But in the anime, it's the kind of battle scene that sticks with you, an absolute visual spectacle.And things only get better from there. Just two episodes later, Demon Slayer features what might be the single most incredible battle animation I've ever seen in an anime. It's no wonder that Demon Slayer has become such a hit when episode after episode delivers such phenomenal animation. In doing so, Demon Slayer proves that not every great series needs to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, greatness means building the same old wheel better than anyone else ever has before.