What to Know Before Watching ‘Demon Slayer: Mugen Train’

While Americans hunkered down at home for the last year, theatergoers in other countries were buzzing on social media about an anime movie, “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train.”

The film, which follows a teenage boy seeking revenge against demons that killed his family, has been one of the most successful movies to ever come out of Japan. After shattering box office records when it debuted there last October, “Demon Slayer” has earned more than $400 million in ticket sales, surpassing Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece “Spirited Away” to become Japan’s highest grossing anime film of all time. On Twitter, fans gushed about it, and, remarkably in a pandemic, many said they would return to the theaters for repeat viewings.

After much delay, “Demon Slayer” will finally make a splashy debut in the United States on Friday in 1,500 theaters, including some Imax screens. But unlike “Spirited Away” and typical box office hits, this film doesn’t stand on its own. If you walk into it blind — without viewing, say, the “Demon Slayer” TV show — you may find yourself confused.

“If you just want to see why the film has gotten so big, that’s fine,” said Varun Gupta, host of a “Demon Slayer” podcast. “But you should probably go in with a little bit of context.”

So from streaming shows to reading manga, here’s what you can do to prepare before partaking in this global phenomenon.

At minimum, you have to watch the anime series.

The movie, directed by Haruo Sotozaki, picks up from the Season 1 finale of the TV show. The series lays a great deal of groundwork, introducing the franchise’s plethora of characters and story arcs that lead up to the movie, where our protagonist, Tanjiro, and his teammates are on a mission to defeat a demon that has been eating people on a train.

The 26 episodes of Season 1 are available dubbed or subtitled on streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll and Funimation.

If you don’t have time to binge-watch the show, there are more options. You could read the manga, which is the source material for the anime, published on the subscription service Shonen Jump. Read through Chapter 53 and you’ll be caught up.

There’s also a three-episode recap of Season 1 available on Funimation. (Be warned: Each episode is more than 90 minutes long.) And if you are starving for time, plenty of YouTubers have posted videos recapping Season 1 in a few minutes.

The movie is for adults (sort of).

In Japan, the “Demon Slayer” franchise is part of the “shonen” genre, which literally translates into “few years” because teenagers are the target audience. Though the movie has many gruesome moments, the overall tone is silly, like a typical cartoon. Nonetheless, the movie is rated R in the United States in large part because of graphic violence, including a lot of bloodshed.

“Demon Slayer” is a love letter to pop culture.

For many, part of the allure of “Demon Slayer” will be its familiarity: it bears the influence of a host of movies and anime from the last few decades.

The movie’s main villain, Enmu, whose superpower involves putting people to sleep and infiltrating their dreams, may remind movie fans of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”

Muzan, the most powerful demon and the only one capable of transforming other humans into demons, is reminiscent of many famous baddies with brainwashing powers, like Darth Vader and Magneto.

The franchise also has a video-game-like quality that creates a hierarchy of power. There are the low-ranked demon slayers who can swing a sword but have yet to level up to their true potential, but there are also godlike ones (known as “pillars”) with exceptional strength and speed. Anime and manga fans may see parallels to the power structure in classics like “Dragon Ball,” whose characters were ranked by more than a dozen levels of “super saiyans.”

Tatsuhiko Katayama, an editor of the “Demon Slayer” manga, has said in interviews that the red-haired, scar-faced Tanjiro was inspired by “Rurouni Kenshin,” the 1990s manga about a similarly drawn swordsman trying to escape from his past life as an assassin.

You can also stream it.

If you have trouble finding a theater showing “Demon Slayer” or simply don’t feel comfortable going to the movies just yet, the movie will be available on June 22 on major digital platforms.

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