Demon Slayer: What the Anime Tells Us About Compassion

It is said that bad people do not exist, only wounds. The generalization is controversial and hasty, but if a good part of the spiritual and philosophical traditions of the world agree on something, it is that, for a person to acquire the characteristics we attribute to evil (violence, lack of empathy, selfishness, search for absolute power, etc) had to have suffered a lot before.

People are not born bad but we are made that waywhether due to an encounter with the devil, an initiation trauma, the effects of the structural violence of the context, a sith inviting us to the dark side, or a goat asking us if we want to live deliciously.

If evil is not something inherent in who we are but something we become, then the path can always be reversed and, with it, the possibilities of redemption, justice and forgiveness.

These possibilities are mediated by diverse perspectives and institutions, such as the legal justice, religious morality or recently the psychological therapy.

Resorting to these services or institutions is a form of avoid taking justice into one’s own handsa controversial act because it exists outside the margins of the organisms that regulate us.

Although these institutions have their functionality, many times they fail to consider something: a blow hurts the same regardless of whether it is intentional or not; lives that are lost do not come back, no matter the intentions or pains of the people who took them.

What is done with it? What is done with the ambivalent emotions that usually exist in both the victim and the victimizer? What do we do with the time that elapses between when the injury happens and when we reach forgiveness, redemption or revenge? What do we do when we cannot forgive even though we want to, even when we suffer from not being able to? What are we if our heart begs for revenge and no matter how much we stop the impulse we don’t stop wanting it?

Enter here Tanjiro Kamado, the protagonist of ‘Kimetsu no Yaiba’, also known as ‘Demon Slayer’.

The summary of the anime is: in the Japan of the Taishō era (1912 – 1926) there are demons. Demons eat people. Not only that: the demons ever they were people, but now they are evil monstrosities with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Although, you are creatures are a constant threat to public safetythe government has decided to ignore them, which has led to the appearance of an external and secret group that has assumed the task of extinguishing them: the Demon hunters.

Tanjiro is a demon hunter. Young and good-hearted, he one day returned to his house after doing his chores to discover that his entire family had been killed by a demon, leaving only one survivor: Nezuko, her younger sister. However, despite being alive, Nezuko is no longer human, but demon.

Being newly converted, has not tasted human fleshso even though her tendency will be to desire her, she still cannot be considered an evil being, and therefore cannot be punished for any crime against humanity. His appetite is voracious, but having not yet committed any transgression, he is innocent.. The evil of him is in what ‘does‘ not in what ‘it is.

Tanjiro joins (along with Nezuko) the Demon hunters and with that, he becomes a prosecutor.

In this role, Tanjiro is in charge of searching for demons to cut off their heads. What sets him apart from other hunters is his empathy: Tanjiro is able to see humanity (and therefore the pain) that exists behind the evil of demons. Yes, he cuts off their heads because that’s his role, but he also holds their hand so they don’t die alone as the life drains from their body.

Despite being his enemies, Tanjiro even grants them some empathic gesture: “your technique was admirable”, “in other circumstances I could have been like you”, “rest in peace and stop suffering”.

Tanjiro is unflinching in his quest, but his contrast to the rest of the hunters is that while they define themselves as people who hunt demons, Tanjiro has another motivation: for Nezuko to return to being human. Her starting point is not hate, but compassion and the possibility of redemption.

In a way, Tanjiro’s gaze into pain and violence offers an interesting window into the meaning of compassionespecially in times when it is required that all people have defined, personal, critical and absolute visions about how we should react to the violence that is exercised around us.

It is not easy to do this. The pain is sometimes too great to allow empathy to touch, because a blow does not hurt less because it is accidental and what violence takes away from our lives does not always come back. But it is also true that absolute evil rarely exists in this world and, more times than not, we are going to see bits of humanity in the people who hurt us, even when it is against our will. What to do with this paradox?

There is no single answer, but different models that come close to solving it: revenge, turning the other cheek, delegating to the corresponding institution, taking justice into one’s own hands. Sometimes these models are enough, sometimes they are not enough to know what to do with the pain. And I think that demon slayer offers an interesting proposal for some situations.

When starting from a compassionate look towards his sisterTanjiro explores a possibility: people are not bad until proven otherwiseeven if it resembles the people who have ever hurt you, even if their circumstances are ones that invite pain.

in the world of demon slayer, the redemption does not exist absolutely: a demon that tastes human flesh will not be able to turn back and must be exterminated.

However, even in that case, the administration of justice is not fought with the fact that there may be the possibility, if desired, of look with compassion at your life and the circumstances that brought you to that pointextending a final acknowledgment to the humanity that still exists within him.

Peaceaccording to the character Tanjiro, does not come only when evil is removedbut when it is recognized as a human possibility gone wrong and, therefore, that it should be looked at compassionately to prevent that outcome in future circumstances.

By this I do not mean to suggest that demon slayer It is a very complex reflection on restorative justice or anti-punitive or something like that. The opposite: it’s still a relatively simple story about good vs. evil. However, I think seeing Tanjiro’s infinite compassion on screen works like a little balm for the uncomfortable conflict that arises from not being able to reconcile the aforementioned paradox within oneself.

Because perhaps to solve it we can start from a first point: that the “human” and the “evil” can coexist in the people who harm us and that the objective of the compassionate gazewhen you want and can exercise, is to grant peace to the person who inhabits it.