Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ended 2019 as one of the most popular action series of that year thanks to the debut of its anime's first season, and continues to dominate sales even with Koyoharu Gotouge's original manga series coming to an end in 2020. This was followed up by the debut of its very first feature film, which has gone on to become the world's highest-grossing anime film since it hit Japan last fall. With this hype and popularity, the movie itself has quite a lot of expectations to meet.
It might be inherently unfair to judge the film based on its reach into the greater anime culture overall, but it's hard to ignore when comparing it to the final project. The ultimate mystery then becomes one of figuring out why Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train was so compelling to such a massive audience. In that regard, the film absolutely delivers for fans of the anime. It may not have the wide reach of a general anime film, and might not even pull in new eyes, but it's a must-see experience for those waiting for Season 2.
Mugen Train picks up immediately after the events of the first season, and there's no time spent recapping previous events before jumping into the new story. Adapting the titular "Mugen Train" arc of Koyoharu Gotouge's original manga series, the film assumes that you have completely caught up with the anime before checking out this feature. That's not completely a bad idea as it gets right into action, but it also means the film provides a more esoteric experience that limits its potential. There's a ceiling placed on how high it can reach before it begins.
For example, fans of the manga will note the film's hard and fast cut-off comes directly from the original story. It's such a strict adaptation that you can even mark the chapter counts for the film's events. On the other hand, studio ufotable's adaptation is a far more enriching experience. It streamlines many of the fights and events by using the benefits of the anime medium to show rather than tell.
Many of the fights in the manga for this arc necessitate inner monologues explaining how certain abilities or tactics work, but the film version allows the viewer to figure this stuff out on their own through the action. As for that action, it looks as spectacular as one would expect from the studio behind the Fate/stay night feature films. While it's not as cinematic in scope as those franchise films, Mugen Train makes up for it with a far bolder and intricate attention to detail in its character design.
Unfortunately, the pervasive issue is that lack of cinematic scope. Because it serves as a bridge between the first and second seasons, and is firmly set within the arc as it's told in the manga, it's like the film has to hold itself back. It streamlines that original story, but also carries its problems over, such as its two main antagonists being entirely disparate from one another's motives and actions. It's even to the point where the final climactic fight in the film features an antagonist that literally comes out of nowhere in the third act.
Rather than cinematic, it feels episodic. Mugen Train features an important part of the overall story, so it's quite literally a film that fans of the series can't miss. It's the definition of a crowd-pleaser that will fulfill those just looking for the next step in the overarching narrative. In that same breath, it does not do enough to elevate the original anime project to those outside of that bubble to properly showcase why this franchise is such a worldwide phenomenon.
It can be a high-octane experience with lots of fun and cool action scenes (especially for those unaware of the original material), but never quite feels anything more than just the next few episodes of the anime. Even with the higher quality of its entire production, and a fun new character (whose impact will vary), I just couldn't shake the feeling that Mugen Train could, and should, have reached for more.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train is now screening in limited theaters in both English subtitled and dubbed releases. The film's English subtitled release was viewed for the purposes of this review: