Smash-hit ‘Demon Slayer’ anime resonates during pandemic

After months of suffering, the Japanese movie industry finally has something to celebrate. The animated film “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” has smashed box office records, with more than 3.4 million people shrugging off fears of the coronavirus to see it on its opening weekend. The box office revenue of 4.6 billion yen (about $44 million) in the first three days was more than double the previous record.

The movie is based on a smash-hit manga set in a Japan of about 100 years ago. It follows a young hero, Kamado Tanjiro, whose family is slaughtered by a demon. Only his younger sister Nezuko survives the ordeal, but she is transformed into a demon.

Tanjiro begins a quest to help his sister become human again while slaying demons to exact revenge for his family.

As the story unfolds, the reader realizes that the demons aren’t simply evil characters, but human beings turned into demons after being attacked.

Weekly origins

Demon Slayer was published in the Weekly Shonen Jump magazine from 2016 to May of this year. All told, standalone editions have sold more than 100 million copies. When it was turned into a weekly TV show, that too became a smash hit.

So, cinema owners were expecting the movie version to be a hit, even in the midst of the pandemic, and they packed the schedules with showings. One cinema in central Tokyo has been offering 7 am screenings for those who want to catch the movie on their way to work.

Professor Hikawa Ryusuke of Meiji University Graduate School says the coronavirus may have helped boost the manga’s popularity. “It shows the willpower of those who take on overwhelming challenges,” he says. And as people spend more time at home with their families, Hikawa says the manga’s focus on the importance of interpersonal ties probably resonates more.

A train in Kyushu has been given a Demon Slayer makeover.

Since the movie’s release last Friday, social media has been flooded with glowing reviews. One said the film was making the hearts of coronavirus-fatigued Japanese beat again. Another described Demon Slayer as their family’s “bible.”

Nakamata Naomi and her eight-year-old daughter Chiyoka were among the early viewers. Naomi says she became emotional and cried seven or eight times when she saw the film.

Life lessons

She says the story has a dark side, because the characters kill each other, but it also teaches children that they need to be strong to survive and should empathize with others. She says she can use the movie to discuss important ideas with her family.

Professor Hikawa says the story is good at conveying complicated human relations, which might otherwise be difficult for children to understand.

“It's a good opportunity for parents to explain such things as they watch the anime together,” he says. “Family members can share opinions, and it can facilitate communication within the family.”