Last year, not even a pandemic could stop Demon Slayer from killing off its rivals. The tale of a boy who joins an organisation of demon hunters to avenge the deaths of his family was already popular as a manga series, only to skyrocket to global fame thanks to 2019’s anime adaptation and then its 2020 movie Mugen Train, which topped Japan’s all-time box office in just two months. In November, a special seven-episode recut premiered to tide us all over ’til season two. But if you’ve already seen Mugen Train, is there any point in watching it?
The short answer is yes and no. The biggest difference lies in episode one, which is all-new material that takes as its protagonist the character Kyojuro Rengoku instead of our usual hero Tanjiro Kamado. In this episode, Rengoku the Flame ‘Hashira’, or top-ranking Demon Slayer, investigates murders on the titular locomotive and eventually confronts the demon that is responsible. Though it’s a cut above your bog-standard anime filler episode, it doesn’t add much to the main Mugen Train narrative.
What the episode does do is play to stans who’ve been eager for more Rengoku action since getting to know him in the Mugen Train film. That means it emphasises his much-loved nobility, generosity and compassion, with little in the way of shocking revelations or clever character development. Hints are dropped about his complex backstory (Rengoku’s father was also a Flame Hashira, but turned his back on the Demon Slayer Corps; while his mother died of an illness when Rengoku and his brother were young), but that’s about it.
Elsewhere, the Mugen Train Arc is virtually identical to the film. There are new theme songs – both by Japanese singer LiSA, who sang season one’s ‘Gurenge’ – and some new scenes, including post-credits stings that are both cutesy and comedic (though there is a touching one at the end of episode three, where Tanjiro talks with his late father). The casual viewer could very well skip these fresh additions, which are not often used to deepen the narrative. There is one breathtaking scene in episode four, however, where the intruder in Tanjiro’s demon-induced nightmare is plunged into a yawning sinkhole – only to be saved by one of the luminous essences of our hero’s soul.
For this reviewer, the most heart-wrenching moments of Mugen Train belong to Tanjiro. Watching the arc means experiencing his pain afresh, whether it’s his despair at having to tear himself away from his family once again or his grief-stricken cries at the end of the climactic battle. Then there’s the ending, which sees both Tanjiro and the audience swallow the bitterest of pills. None of this potency is lost in Mugen Train Arc but it’s not amplified, either. So, a worthy watch for fans – but don’t rush to check it out.
‘Demon Slayer: Mugen Train Arc’ is streaming on Funimation now