Kyojuro Rengoku, the flame hashira, is first introduced during the latter episodes of the Demon Slayer TV series. With wide eyes and a resolute style of talking, he comes across as simple-minded, and so is an unexpected selection to be at the center of the first movie in the franchise. More unexpected, still, is that as Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train demonstrates, there’s much depth to Kyojuro, and his strength is surpassed by only his heart, making him, in fact, the perfect character to headline a film that provides plenty of andrenaline-pumping scenes, but an even weightier sense of spirit and love, as Kyojuro’s convictions and action help redefine and refocus our ideas of what victory looks like and what it can be (spoilers ahead).
Those unfamiliar with the manga may be startled by the scenes late in the film. By this point, the primary action seems complete; Kyojuro has, aided by Tanjirou, Inosuke, Zenitsu, and Nezuko, defeated the lower kizuki, Enmu, while also accomplishing his goal of saving all 200 passengers and crew aboard the train. However, the sudden appearance of an upper kizuki—the number three one in fact, Akaza—puts the heroes and survivors again in a perilous place. Although Kyojuro’s skills match and maybe surpass Akaza’s, he doesn’t have the demon’s distinct advantage of healing from wounds in an instant. After taking a more serious approach, Akaza wounds Kyojuro mortally. However, even with failing strength, Kyojuro traps Akaza by the kizuki’s very own fist lodged inside the hashira’s body while he attempts to slice off the demon’s head. Akaza, for his part, is less fearful of the slow cutting than of the rapidly rising sun, which could quickly disintegrate him. He is eventually able to extricate himself from the situation and run for cover in the nearby forest.
An angry Tanjirou, who’d been laying to the side hobbled from injuries, throws his blade at Akaza, which lodges into his body, and yells after him:
The Demon Slayer Corps are flesh-and-blood humans! Our wounds don’t close quickly! Lost limbs don’t grow back! And yet you’ll only fight us in the dark of night when you have the advantage….coward! You’re afraid to admit you haven’t won today! Rengoku hasn’t lost! Rengoku is stronger—much stronger than you! He didn’t let anyone die! He saw the fight through to the end! He protected the rest of us! This is your defeat! And the victory belongs to Rengoku!
Through tears and rage, Tanjirou declares Kyojuro the victor. But it seems a shallow sentiment, for after all, Azaka runs away to live another day while he wounds Kyojuro in such a way that the flame hashira will die. There are no cheers or celebration at the end of this fight—only tears and frustration. Even Inosuke, who holds such pride in being tough, sobs uncontrollably. He, along with Tanjirou and Zenitsu, had become intimately connected to Kyojuro in their short time together. In fact, near the beginning of their trip after Kyojuro quickly and emphatically dispatches with two minor demons, all three ask to become his disciples, and he welcomes them as such.
Now, the discipleship is over as soon as it started, before Kyojuro even learned his disciple’s names. He gives a few final pieces of advice, makes his last requests, and passes away.
Tanjirou seems to have made an assessment that clearly isn’t right, the blind call of a soul too pure to see reality. The movie even seems to indicate this idea that Tanjirou is too wholesome and possibly too good for us to really relate to: When Enmu puts the heroes to sleep and uses young people to drift into their dreams with a mission is to destroy the demon slayers’ cores, ultimately killing them, the one who goes into Tanjirou’s dreams is profoundly affected by how beautiful his subconscious is, and is transformed by the clarity of Tanjirou’s soul. The inspiring and optimistic Tanjirou would of course be the one to put such a noble spin on Kyojuro’s death.
If anything, it’s the strangest character, the boar-masked Inosuke, that’s maybe most relatable among the three disciples. He’s full of flaws and prone to emotional outbursts. When one of the Mugen employees stabs Tanjirou, resulting in a wound that very nearly causes his death, Inosuke desires vengeance, wanting to let the man die when the train derails and traps him, though the kind-hearted Tanjirou begs Inosuke to help him instead. The demon slayer is incredulous, and more than once says that they should let the perpetrator die. How very like us—or at least like me, in how I speaks words of anger and hate against those that wound me, whether directly, indirectly, of even in some imagined way.
The disciple Inosuke reminds me of the disciple Peter, the hot-headed apostle who was a Zealot and revolutionary, capable of profound faith and also one who would dare to chide his master—an action which happened because, as Jesus stated, Peter didn’t have the Father’s thoughts in mind, but rather the world’s. Likewise, Inosuke wasn’t thinking of his master’s will; Kyojuro wanted to save everyone aboard, even those who aided Enmu.
And as Peter didn’t realize that Christ would eventually need to be crucified, to allow himself to be executed by a people that were filled by the devil’s spirit, sometimes literally, Inosuke doesn’t see the truth that Tanjirou does and expresses in his call to Azaka: There’s something more here than what can be immediately seen. There is a plan, and the evil that occurs in the meantime does not alter it. Kyojuro desires that all 200 people on board the Mugen be saved. That is his mission, as it was Christ’s mission to offer salvation to a people who had no other way to attain it, even if it meant that he would have to bear an unjust and tortuous death to provide it to us. Jesus went to the cross because his destruction would be followed by life, for him and for any who believe. There was more to the plan than Peter and the other disciples could see in that moment.
There was more, too, than Inosuke could see. In fact, Tanjirou could not see the future either, all that would come out of that awful day (spoilers ahead for the rest of the series). The movie hints at a brighter future by the short scenes that depict the other hashira as they mourn or otherwise consider Kyojuro’s death, and with Ubuyashiki, who at the beginning of the film is downcast as he walks through a cemetery of fallen demon slayers but at the finale, after hearing of the flame hashira’s death, says he is not sad.
How could the “father” to the hashira and all demon slayers not be crushed by Kyojuro’s death?
In a most unexpected way—one that I believe Ubuyashiki could see—Kyojuro’s death provides hope. The entire scenario showed Ubuyashiki something, namely that Muzan is scared. He sends Akaza, having become aggressive and possibly incautious, particularly in light of recently interacting with Tanjirou. Meanwhile, the hashira are further inflamed at their colleague’s demise—a respect for and in some cases, intimacy with Kyojuro gives them even more drive not only to continue their work, but to destroy the kizuki and Muzan once and for all. They will give their lives as necessary—many, in fact, will—and without hesitation if it helps them accomplish that ultimate goal. And in doing so, they will follow a model. They will follow Kyojuro.
Peter, who foolishly talked down to Christ and then later ran away after making bold proclamations that he would stand by him, would one day lead the church and be executed for his faith. So, too, would many of the other disciples. They would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit and seeing Christ himself after the resurrection, a 180 degree turn from hiding in a room in the days following the crucifixion.
I wonder, too, about the other side. I wonder how the devil felt that day in Jerusalem. Was he full of pride and joy at Christ’s death? Or did he feel desperate, like Muzan? Did he begin to run like Akaza, knowing that his end could be near? Regardless, the truth for both Akaza and Satan is the same—victory was secured on that day of death, but not for the demons, not for those that survived the day’s assult.
The one who died was the victor, and the ending was already sealed.
This is your defeat! And the victory belongs to Rengoku!
For you see, victory was not determined that day—in either anime or in life—by the results of a physical altercation, but by another way altogether. After all, Kyojuro could have killed Akaza. He is powerful, a better and much smarter fighter than Akaza, and had he been willing to do whatever was needed to defeat his opponent, including sacrificing Tanjirou and others, it would have given him the edge he needed. He was, after all, mere seconds away from killing the demon, this despite his injuries, this despite saving everybody.
But his wish, as is Christ’s, is that everyone be saved. Kyojuro chose love. Christ chose love.
Death may seem like the end, it may seem like defeat, but it is not—for love conquers all, even death.
This is comfort to the believer. In a world so full evil, in such disarray—unrest at home, massacres abroad, and death and hatred everywhere—there is victory, if we have eyes to see it. Even in “defeat,” there is hope. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is that hope for us, that which we can remember and depend on. Victory is neither out of our grasps nor something to only look forward to. It has happened. It is here.
And like Tanjirou, we can yell at the enemy, encourage our comrades, and uphold our own hearts, as we scream into the night and the demon that dwells there: “This is your defeat! And the victory belongs to Christ!“