Terror as an element of renewal of the shonen manga in Demon Slayer | Tomatazos

Kimetsu no Yaiba, by the author Koyoharu Gotouge, better known in this part of the world as Demon Slayer It has been a phenomenon in the shonen world that nobody expected. More anime than manga. The reality is that as the editor-in-chief of Weekly Shōnen Jump, Hiroyuki Nakano, in an interview for Nikkei Entertainment, the manga didn’t start selling like hotcakes until the anime ended:

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Normally, a manga gradually sells more copies during the anime’s airing, but sales for Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba soared when the anime ended. The way people interact with him has changed and I feel like we have entered a new phase. There are more manga posts and internet sites, so there are more places to find them that suit your tastes. No matter how great a manga is, it is not going to become a hit just because it was published in Jump. Even the success of Demon Slayer was due to the word of mouth recommendations that were generated when the anime ended.

The second part of the meteoric rise of this franchise came with the premiere of the movie Demon Slayer: The Infinity Train – 100%. As we all know the film broke all kinds of box office records in Japan despite the fact that it was released in the middle of a pandemic (October 16, 2020), the most impressive of which is being the box office film in the history of Japan, beating Spirited Away – Terror as an element of renewal of the shonen manga97%.

Because that anime went viral around the world when it premiered in 2019, there were fans who were willing to go see the movie when it premiered around the world. The film broke even more remarkable records at its world premiere. It is the highest grossing anime film and Japanese film in history, but above all it is the highest grossing film of 2020 with more than $ 500 million raised worldwide.

The question we all have is: why is this particular anime so immensely popular? I agree with Yoshiyuki Tomino, creator of Gundam, when he said, in an interview for Livedoor News, that its success was a coincidence, basically because many positive factors of production lined up that resulted in an anime that stood out from the rest:

When Demon Slayer came out, I was like ‘Hell! Those guys did it right! When I discovered the team they had put together. The voice actors are great, the songwriter that everyone knows is superb. Many talented people came together for that project. In that sense, what I felt was beyond envy and I began to think ‘Man, those guys are something’. That said, I don’t think Demon Slayer is a calculated or artificial work. I think that meeting [de talentos] it was a coincidence’. It’s strange to have encounters that line up so perfectly.

The reality is that in the following paragraphs I am not going to explain why I consider this anime to be a success, but I am going to say why it seems to me that it was able to connect with the public. To me that boils down to something that might seem very simple, but that anime managed to do very well: merge the shonen formula with terror.

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You’d think that’s been done before. There are a good amount of supernatural shonen that combine terror platitudes with the hero’s battle shonen formula that with his effort will manage to overcome all obstacles and be the strongest. Bleach Y Yu Yu Hakusho come to mind immediately. The point is that in these animes, the demonic beings that the protagonist faces are ornamental or rather they are adjusted so well to the formula that viewers do not feel fear or by mistake and one of the main elements of that genre is missing: the tension. For example in Bleach hollows are basically ghosts turned into soulless beings that devour humans. The thing is, Ichigo is so freaking strong and fit that we never feel like he’s going to succumb to them. It doesn’t help the fact that over time the hollows were turned into less terrifying and more conventional humanoid enemies (the Arrancar) in a shonen of this type and in the end they were made secondary and unimportant to the story.

In complete contrast to this, in Demon Slayer there is always tension. The enemies are demons / oni, who here basically function as vampires. They are weak to sunlight and to the flower known as wisteria or wisteria. That said, their strength surpasses that of the humans who face them. The Demon Slayer Corps have breathing techniques that allow them to have superhuman strength to face those enemies and special swords called nichirin, which are made with a special mineral that absorbs sunlight. That does not mean that they are on an equal footing. That is one of the keys to the success of this series. Throughout history we see characters die or be mutilated in their confrontation against these creatures that used to be human.

Even as in any shonen there is a hierarchy; that is, the strength of the characters is measured. The strongest warriors in the corporation that fights against demons are the pillars. If someone has only seen the anime and the movie, stop reading what I’m going to say. The point is that even the strongest in the hierarchy of this world die facing these beings. That is generating the feeling that the protagonist is really putting something at risk in their confrontation. That puts a pretty refreshing twist on the shonen formula. Know that characters can die.
That’s just also what makes this horror while Bleach and similar animes stay in the realm of monster action. You have to remember most horror films in which there are supernatural threats, the human is powerless against them. Sometimes you can get them, but you are at a complete disadvantage. The fact is that in many of these works the human being tends to lose. A clear example is the zombie movies, the less defenseless the human being is against them, it is likely that the film begins to lean more towards action and adventure than terror itself.

In Demon Slayer, the characters are not completely defenseless as I said, they have their special swords and their breathing techniques, even the protagonist has the meritocratic philosophy of never giving up and fills his friends with hope. That is part of what makes a shonen of said magazine. That and the fact that he has his friends who accompany him in his fight and his sister, who is also a demon. He was definitely helped a lot by the monstrosity of the adversaries, but especially the progenitor of the demons, Muzan Kibutsuji; in the end most of the demons they face are usually victims themselves, with the exceptions being the main antagonist. Something that reinforces this, and that will thrill fans when they get to the final battle, is how hopeless it is, at times. I’m not going to spoil it here, but I’ll just say that things get so bad that the author had to reincarnate the characters in our present in order to give them a happy ending. Which detracted a bit from the dramatic tension that had been built up.

Continue reading: How shonen anime validates and perpetuates the myth of meritocracy