Demon Slayer: Mugen Train (Almost) Works as a Standalone Movie

Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train's massive success and limited international release has provided fans a rare window of opportunity to get their fix of anime in cinemas. As such, those unfamiliar with the Demon Slayer franchise might be wondering if they can still enjoy this animated spectacular on the big screen without any prior knowledge of the series. The answer to this is mostly yes, but with a few important caveats.

Mugen Train is a canonical film that takes place right where Season 1 left off and ends at a crucial turning point that paves the way for Season 2. Despite this web of connections, the film does a decent job of explaining what's happening and can be appreciated with only a limited knowledge of the series' premise.

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Adapting the Mugen Train arc from the manga, the film follows Tanjiro Kamado, Nezuko Kamado, Zenitsu Agatsuma and Inosuke Hashibira on their next mission, assigned to them by the Demon Slayer Corps. Preceding a string of mysterious disappearances occurring aboard the Mugen train, the main cast is sent to aid the Flame Hashira, Kyojuro Rengoku, in stopping further casualties. The demon responsible is Enmu, a Lower Rank One among the 12 kizuki.

The structure and basic gist of the movie are easy to follow for any newcomer, with the good guys being easily distinguishable from the bad guys. Those who know anime archetypes and tropes can also get on board with the depth in characterization and amazing action scenes. Paired with a great soundtrack, studio Ufotable's style is a wonderful blend of 2D animation and CGI, allowing any viewer to marvel at its cinematic beauty.

Even newbies can get a few laughs from the witty banter between the main trio because their chemistry is just that great; each having both stupid and courageous moments that make them intriguing to watch and easy to root for. Rengoku is a much-loved and standout character and while he was initially introduced in the first season, not much is known about him before the events aboard the train. This film is where his character becomes fully fleshed out and memorable.

That being said, for non-Demon Slayer fans, a few things will be lost in translation. Without any prior knowledge of Season 1, the demon ranking distinctions will mean next to nothing. As such, the stakes don't feel as high. Who the kizuki are -- as well as their relation to Muzan Kibutsuji, the Demon King -- will go mostly over the uninitiated's heads, and won't appear to be as important as they are to existing fans.

Additionally, many of the emotional beats won't hit quite as hard. Tanjiro's goal to save his sister, Nezuko, is made clear but her circumstances as a demon are left unexplained. In addition, so is the other massive hurdle for Tanjiro, which is to overcome the deaths of the rest of his family -- a tragic event that kicks off the series. After struggling with it in the Demon Slayer TV series, he's finally able to conquer this barrier in Mugen Train. This emotional resolve is heartbreaking yet cathartic, but to new viewers, that impact will be lessened.

However, the biggest emotional loss might come from the ending, which is both riveting and heartwrenching for characters and viewers alike. It sets Tanjiro and the others on a new path and changes them for the remainder of the franchise.

While Demon Slayer: Mugen Train is best viewed by those with pre-existing love and knowledge of the franchise's lore, it is still very much enjoyable for those who just want to see an epic anime movie on the big screen. Some nuances may fall flat or get lost for newcomers, but the film still does a decent job at explaining the important bits. Though a canonical movie placed in the midst of a franchise's overall story, it does as much as it can to tell its own story and to solidify itself as a great film in its own right. Whether you are a Demon Slayer fan or not, Mugen Train offers a fun and exhilarating experience in a format that is a luxury for western anime fans.

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