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Review: ‘Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba’ Vol. 1

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Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba, vol. 1
Writer/artist: Koyoharu Gotouge
Viz Media; $9.99
Rated T for Teen

Poor, kind, helpful, and hard-working Tanjiro Kamado seems like such a nice guy with such a charmed life that it becomes clear something bad is going to happen to him and his loving family within the first few pages of his introduction in Demon Slayer, a new supernatural shonen set at the dawn of the twentieth century in rural Japan. And something bad does indeed happen. On a cold and snowy winter day, Tanjiro descends from his mountain home to the village, where he sells charcoal to support his mother and siblings. The lateness of the day, the badness of the weather, and the villagers’ superstitious fear prevail on him to spend the night in town, and when he returns home he finds his entire family dead…or at least, dead-ish.

Demon SlayerThe only survivor of the bloody attack is his beloved little sister Nezuko, but the nature of her survival points to the culprit of the killing: She suddenly has sharp fangs, bulging veins in her forehead, cat-like eyes, inhuman strength, and the desire to kill and eat her brother. Apparently, she has been half-transformed into a demon during the attack.

Just as Tanjiro is pleading with her not to transform into a demon, the pair are attacked by a mysterious demon-slayer, not much older looking than Tanjiro himself. During the course of their fight, the demon-slayer is impressed with Tanjiro’s sincerity, and he spares both brother and sister, instructing Tanjiro to go to a certain place and ask for a certain man in order to fulfill the vow he has made, a vow to find a way to cure his sister and slay the demon who killed his family.

And with that, Tanjiro’s induction into the world of the ancient Demon Slayer Corps and his quest to save his sister have begun. The rest of this first volume follows Tanjiro on his journey—his mute sister spends most of the book either in a basket, hidden from the deadly-to-her rays of the sun, or asleep in a fitful coma—and his training under the tutelage of an old man in a tengu mask. After a year’s worth of training, he is sent off to compete in a particularly brutal sort of graduation ceremony: All of the young candidates for the corps are sent to a mountain top stocked with all of the demons that slayers had previously taken captive, and to pass the final test they must survive on the mountain for seven days.

Gotouge’s story is quite straightforward, and there is relatively little within that stands out as particularly unique, save perhaps how acute our hero’s sense of smell is—so acute that he can even “smell” openings when engaged in battle—and the dilemma regarding his sister. At this early point though, after a few early scenes, she’s essentially rendered without agency, becoming a sort of demonic sleeping beauty awaiting her brother to save her.

That said, even though Demon Slayer isn’t the most ambitious manga in the world or devoted to reinventing the wheel, it is still incredibly well-made, and Gotouge certainly seems to accomplish the relatively modest goals. It’s a compelling, fast-moving action comic with cool-looking demons, inventive and crystal-clear fight choreography, and just enough of a hook to to leave me looking forward to volume 2.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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