From the classics to contemporary, anime is full of series and films featuring “demon slaying” as a primary focus of the plot. When I first started watching anime, selection was limited—if I wanted to consume it, I had to watch this type of series as well, though I rarely enjoyed the offering. I often found them too graphic, too brutish for my tastes. As Crunchyroll and other platforms have made so many more series available, though, I’ve been able to avoid demon shows; I haven’t watched one in many years. That’s why I was surprised at myself for even trying Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba—as much as I was intrigued by Ufotable’s involvement, it just didn’t seem to be a good fit for me.
But from episode one, Kimetsu no Yaiba has proven to me that it has heart—LOTS of heart. And that warm emotion is centered on its main character, Tanjiro, whose entirely family is slayed by a demon with the exception of his sister Nezuko, who is left in an quasi-demon state, and for whom Tanjiro goes on a quest in order to revert her back to her full humanity.
In episode five of the series, Tanjiro visits a mountain where he (and other candidates) must survive for seven days in order to pass their final examination and become full-fledged demon slayers. Most of the demons on the mountain are weak, but one is exceptionally strong, and the reason for its might is surprisingly personal to Tanjiro: It has eaten more a dozen students who were trained under the same sensei as Tanjiro, including, it’s revealed, Sabito and Makomo, two children who trained and prepared our hero for this very examination. The pair died terrible deaths at the hands of this particular demon; the typically calm Tanjiro is filled with anger—perhaps only the demon who killed his family could bring him more rage and bitterness than this monster.
But the hatred is short-lived. Tanjiro is able to defeat the demon, and then does something perhaps not unexpected for the gracious lad. Sensing the sadness within this terrible monster, for it was once a young boy who had become a demon and eaten its beloved older brother, Tanjiro reaches out and holds his monstrous hand as the demon disappears. This terrible creature who had eaten some fifty children is shown mercy at the end of its long, hateful life.
The choice that Tanjiro makes is right of course. There’s mercy to be had here for the dying creature, especially knowing that when it was human, it was just like any other boy. But I doubt I personally would have made that choice. In the moment, filled with rage, could I have held my enemy’s hand? There are times that I can’t even hold my loved one’s hand when I’m angry, much less a demon’s. And when I’m confronted by truly horrible people in life, how can I be keep my integrity and be loving when, frankly, I am facing people that seem as awful as real demons?
Yet, that’s the life I want to live. I want to be filled with grace, able to love others even when they’re terrible, when they’re demonic even. But how do I get there? How do I love in the moment, rather than acting on emotion and then later thinking back on my actions and wishing I had been more like Tanjiro, wishing that I had just shown love?
Tanjiro is indeed exceptional, but I think the way he lives his life shows me a way. Death is always close by, his sister and lifestyle constantly reminding him of what he’s lost and what others are frequently losing as well. And so Tanjiro trains constantly, pushing himself harder and harder, past the point of exhaustion, past the point of even being able to stand. The fight is real. The stakes are real. And he’s always aware of it.
I sometimes lose purpose. I often meander, and yes, become lazy in my singular pursuit to be more gracious, to be a better man. I’ll forgive myself this, but I refuse to dwell in that lost place, becoming a villager just waiting to be consumed, if not by demons, then by my own sense of pride, justice, and vengeance.
As I walk the narrow road, I must remember the fight is real. And in doing so, I have hopes that I can accomplish the impossible, even when that impossible means loving those who are bitter, vile, and hateful—even when it means loving and holding hands with a demon.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba can be steamed on Crunchyroll.