#1 Overly-formulaic plot
It is the Taisho era and Japan has started to Westernize. Seeing sword-wielding warriors in the streets is a rarity now and stories of demons who feast on human flesh have been condemned to folklore. However, these myths become all too real for the young Tanjiro Kamado, whose family is one day butchered while he is away. An event that sets him on the path to becoming a Demon Slayer.
Tanjiro is a fairly standard protagonist. A young dude with incredible skills, who is completely selfless and sympathetic to a fault. A guy who will do whatever it takes to help anybody he meets and who only loses his temper when others are treated unjustly. That his perfectly happy family is then killed—his call to adventure—is a plot twist so basic that even the official descriptions freely spoil it.
What follows is a predictable plot that keeps looping through the same formula. Each arc has Tanjiro face off against another demon, enduring struggles that inspire him to adopt new skills, meet people that help him, and eventually complete his goal. This gets to be so standard that entire plot beats are blatantly repeated. In particular, Demon Slayer loves to throw in overlong flashbacks to give characters tragic backstories… usually after that character has just died. That doesn’t sound bad, but when it happens for every demon, in every arc, and it’s always the same, retroactive sob story, it really begins to get tiring.
Tanjiro’s unrelenting goodness does also cause its share of frustrations. There’s this incredibly cringeworthy bit where he “heals” a traumatized character he’s never spoken with before, basically by turning her coping mechanism against her.
#2 Prolonged character absences
Tanjiro’s job as a demon slayer is complicated by the fact that he himself has a demonic problem. Besides himself, the only other survivor from his family is his sister Nezuko, who was herself turned into a demon. However, she is an oddity. She refuses to eat people and continues to cling to her memories of being human; making her unnaturally friendly for demonkind.
The idea of a demon slayer and a demon teaming up to kick ass seemed fun to me. Various screenshots and fanart hyped up the bond between Nezuko and Tanjiro, so I was interested in these two. However, Nezuko is barely in this anime. She’s literally in a box that Tanjiro carries around, which is frequently left behind or entirely forgotten about.
For example, the first time when Tanjiro meets a mentor and enters into a training arc, Nezuko is just gone. We literally just started this journey and Nezuko is already side-lined while Tanjiro trains for 2 years, participates in demon slayer exams, and gets his first sword. All of which put together takes up several episodes. This repeats again in the Tsuzumi Mansion arc, where Nezuko isn’t even in the same location, and even the final arc of the first season. Little effort is made to integrate Nezuko into the story, outside of combat and a few isolated challenges.
Similar problems apply to fellow main characters Inosuke and Zenitsu. They are withheld from the anime for the first dozen episodes and then only sporadically partake in the story, mainly to support Tanjiro. They are often gone for entire episodes or disappear to fulfill some background role while Tanjiro steals the show. And, again, Tanjiro isn’t that captivating of a protagonist.
#3 Forced wackiness
Another issue with Inosuke and Zenitsu is that they mark the point where Demon Slayer gets aggressively wacky. While they have interesting backstories and occasional character development, they are mainly around for comedy. And their comedy revolves entirely around being loud.
Zenitsu is a cowardly sex pest who is afraid of everything and desperate for female attention. Meanwhile Inosuke is a reckless ball of energy and violence, who grew up in the wilderness and only cares about people who he sees as strong. The synergy between these two does lead to some fun moments, but too often Demon Slayer falls back on bouts of frantic screaming. Zenitsu’s panic attacks, Inosuke’s angry rants, and arguments between the two, it’s all screaming all the time. Even with a tolerance for loud comedy, these bits just went on for far too long and became much too frequent.
More wacky bits are added in as the show proceeds. At one point an entire cast of demon slayer elites is introduced, all of whom have crazy designs and wacky personalities. When Tanjiro teams up with one during the movie, he’s sitting in a crowded train, screaming after every bite of food in the same exact tone. It paints this character as exceptionally bizarre, which is then not reflected at all in his personality throughout the rest of the film.
#4 CGI gimmickry
That Ufotable is the studio producing Demon Slayer has been repeatedly cited as an argument for why it’s good. Even detractors of the anime often argue that it’s only popular because of Ufotable. While I do feel that the series has its visual splendor, it also has its downfalls.
CGI has been used to great effect in some anime, but Demon Slayer tends to use it in unwiedly ways. It experiments a lot with making 3D, CGI environments, which vary heavily in quality. Some of these end up looking cool, others look like janky callbacks to early 3D movie experiences. In particular, I got tired of the anime’s fascination for having first-person POV scenes of Tanjiro running through dark forests. It was fun once, but after a while it started reminding me of on-rails shooters.
CGI is also often used to create background characters. This is already unpopular in many other series, but Ufotable somehow manages to make these even worse in Demon Slayer. You got CGI background characters that are just frozen in place and don’t even look halfway decent. This even worms its way into the movie, where you’d expect far more effort.
I am beginning to worry that Land of the Lustrous may have been the result of divine intervention and CGI is just cursed after all.
#5 Rocky pacing
Not only is the story of Demon Slayer formulaic, it also has a lot of bizarre moments where the order of the episodes comes of as nonsensical.
The first time we noticed this was when a demon’s sad backstory was stuffed into the episode after its defeat, which was odd, but not an issue since we binge-watched the series anyway. Even stranger was the conclusion of season 1. Instead of ending on an exciting climax to hype people up for the sequel, the season ends on a prolonged interlude that’s low on excitement and mostly emphasizes the series’ biggest flaws.
This then transitions into the movie, which was astoundingly underwhelming considering that it’s the most financially successful anime film of all time. It’s not bad, but the movie is very blatantly just a bunch of TV episodes stitched together. This becomes obvious when the actual conflict of the film is resolved fairly early in its runtime. They just throw in an unrelated, secondary problem with a new villain, who gets crowbarred into the plot with no introduction.
But to further prove that the movie just a bunch of episodes stitched together, look no further than season 2. A season that flat-out adapts the same story arc again with mild alterations. The madlads made the biggest anime movie of the past 2 decades and then just immediately turned it redundant. I admire their gall, but would’ve preferred it if at least some fucks were given during production.