how the ultra-violent anime conquered the globe

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, adapted from the hit manga comic book series about an orphaned teenage boy who (surprise) slays demons, is probably Japan’s most popular anime. The first three seasons were watched by millions. Its quirky characters are slapped on everything from hoodies to lunchboxes. And when a movie, Mugen Train, came out in the middle of the pandemic – it somehow became Japan’s highest-grossing film of all time. Not even COVID (and the Japanese government’s strict social distancing rules) could stop fans from coming out.

Now, in slightly less apocalyptic times, Demon Slayer has returned to the multiplex. A mash-up of two already-aired episodes and a sneak peek at season four, To The Hashira Training is currently showing in 39 countries with more opening soon. In it, earnest protagonist Tanjiro Kamado continues to slash his way through an army of supernaturally-augmented monsters, often stopping mid-duel to trade imaginative insults or explain why the other is about to die horribly. As usual Tanjiro’s joined by sister Nezuko, herself a powerful demon (though a nice one), and his fellow junior demon slayer pals: blonde scaredy cat Zenitsu and shouty half-boar half-man Inosuke. The new episode sets up their next adventure together – a season-long training session with the top-brass hashira (who are like sort-of samurai navy seals).

Notable for its strong, bloody violence and arresting animation style, Demon Slayer is actually watched by all ages in Japan, says star voice actor Natsuki Hanae. Yes, even kids. We meet him at the new movie’s London gala screening to hear more about the show’s breakout international moment.

Hey Natsuki, why is Demon Slayer so popular globally?

“Its themes are universal: family, the bonds between siblings… People everywhere can relate. I think that must be what’s vibrating through the whole world.”

Who watches the show in Japan?

“When I first started, I thought ‘Oh I bet it’s going to be [people in their] early twenties.’ But as it got more and more popular, I realised it’s from nursery all the way up to grandparents.”

Really, even with the violence?

“My friend told me that at nursery, the kids play make believe Demon Slayer.”

Does the show’s audience differ outside of Japan?

“I’m not sure, but when I come to these events and see the people, they’re really a broad range.”

Demon Slayer
Natsuki Hanae plays Tanjiro Kamado in ‘Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’. CREDIT: Crunchyroll

How did you get the role of Tanjiro?

“I was meant to audition for a different role first, Zenitsu. Originally they wanted a woman to play the role of Tanjiro, so a few female performers from my agency went up for the role. Then they decided to try it out with male performers and suddenly I was up for Zenitsu and Tanjiro. It’s common for female actors to play male characters in anime. I auditioned and I got the role.”

Were you surprised?

“I was very happy. I was shocked. It’s the dream of any voice actor to be the lead of a Shonen Jump Manga series. Everybody’s up for those so it really was a dream come true for me.”

Can you set up Tanjiro’s journey in the new season without giving too much away?

“I really want the audience to feel for the characters in this season because there’s a lot of training. The training scenes are really important – and they’re all working towards defeating the ultimate demon. So I really want the audience to be behind them in their efforts.”

Demon Slayer
Tanjiro Kamado in ‘Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’. CREDIT: Crunchyroll/Sony

What’s been your favourite moment in Demon Slayer so far?

“I had a favourite moment in the manga when I read it, which was in season one in the Tsuzumi Mansion episode [episode 11]. That moment was something I was really looking forward to performing. So when it came along I was overwhelmed.”

If you could teach a new Demon Slayer fan one word in Japanese – what would it be?

“Kizuna – it means bond.”

Do you have any travel tips for Demon Slayer fans visiting Japan?

“Go to a Ufotable cafe in Tokyo. Or visit Universal Studios Japan theme park [in Osaka]. They have a Demon Slayer ride – you can put the VR set on and get the Mugen Train experience.

‘Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – To The Hashira Training’ is in UK cinemas now

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