Tokyo, Japan – The unprecedented success of the film Demon Slayer has helped highlight the potential of its anime industry and focus on mass entertainment, and boost the morale of the Japanese as the country battles an upsurge in cases coronavirus.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train now owns the Japanese record books.
After a dozen consecutive weeks at the end of last year, the highest grossing film in Japan – it’s still going strong – in December, it topped Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away as the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time.
Now, it tops the box office in the United States, just two weeks after it was released there.
The main spokesperson for the Japanese government, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, this week celebrated Demon Slayer as “good news that Japanese manga culture has been highly regarded around the world.”
In the 29 weeks since its release, the film has sold nearly 29 million tickets and generated around $ 365 million in sales in the Japanese market alone.
Roland Kelts, author of the book Japamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Invaded the United States, attributes Demon Slayer’s phenomenal success to the coming together of a “Perfect Storm.”
A key element was its “strategic deployment,” he said.
It began as a serialized manga – Japanese comics or graphic novels – in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine in February 2015, before evolving into a 26-part animated television series that was staged from April 2019 and later aired on various platforms, only then did it become the feature film released in October of last year.
The extended process allowed the buzz to build up gradually.
Another element was the timing of the movie release. It came during a lull in Japan’s COVID-19 pandemic – between its second and third waves – when theaters were open, but there were few films to choose from.
Kelts says that when he walked into his neighborhood big movie theater in Tokyo when it released in October 2020, “there was virtually no option… it was Demon Slayer all day.
Of course, even then, the film couldn’t have achieved its all-time high without having a wider appeal.
“He has an attractive young hero who is very empathetic,” said Carol Hayes, associate professor of Japanese studies at Australian National University. “The dilemmas that preoccupy him are very human.”
Good versus evil
The series’ central character, Tanjiro Kamado, embarks on an adventure that feels familiar and timeless.
He is the brave young man of the country who sets out to fight menacing villains and both avenge and save his family. In that sense, it could be a tale from any culture from any period in human history.
We hear the hero’s internal monologue as he grapples with “the moral dilemma of what is right and what is wrong”.
Hayes also suggests that it takes inspiration from the contemporary popularity of zombie and vampire movies, and that because the anime is so beautifully drawn, it can be very appealing to a larger audience.
At the same time, Demon Slayer isn’t entirely gloomy, as there are plenty of characters and situations designed to make audiences laugh and to preserve a lighter, more whimsical mood.
“They made an effort to make it fun, and that’s a good way to deal with the violence,” Hayes observed.
Plus, by taking the “demons” as antagonists, the murder that takes place in almost every episode becomes less of a moral issue.
Emerald King, Lecturer in Japanese at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, adds that beyond Tanjiro, there is “a very large cast of supporting characters and supporting characters, and there are some. ‘one for everyone … They all serve a purpose.
Making a point that other analysts also cite, King observes that despite the typical structure of manga for young men, the female characters also have depth.
“There are some really good female characters… they have the right to have as many flaws and strengths as boys,” she said.
On the other hand, those who study manga and Japanese anime also tend to agree that, despite its success, there is no unique element in the Demon Slayer series that can be considered truly revolutionary.
“It’s nothing new,” King admitted, “he took the best bits of everything and brought them together.” The series uses “what has worked in other genres and [is] by using it to their advantage. “
In this context, Kelts goes so far as to suggest that his reputation may fade over time.
“I don’t think it will be revered as an anime classic five years from now,” he said.
The genius of Demon Slayer may not lie in his innovation or artistic depth, but rather in his ability to deliver exactly what he set out to do.
Kelts notes that a lot of investment money has flowed from the United States into the Japanese anime world over the past five years or so, which means that studios are “forced to sharpen” their action by a. business point of view.
“The industry realizes that its job is to deliver a product that now has a global audience,” Kelts said. Demon Slayer’s mature craftsmanship reflects this more tightly written and well-executed style.
The film’s domestic and international success virtually guarantees that other studios and industry players will study Demon Slayer, hoping to ride the wave he created. He will serve as a model for a lot of things to follow, including, no doubt, uninspired cash-in scams.
But even many of the best anime products of the future are likely to feel the impact of Demon Slayer’s commercial success, and some of the effects may be lamented by some groups of anime fans.
The perfect storm could leave a weathered landscape behind.
As a studio insider told Kelts, “Our generation has realized that anime is entertainment; it is not art.