[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be going back to the Demon Slayer well and look at its most recent arc, the Entertainment District Arc. Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are truly the classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: is the Entertainment District Arc worth your time or not?]
It feels both refreshing and tiring to be going back to the Demon Slayer well. As the inaugural Weeb Analysis topic, it feels right to continuously revisit it, especially as each arc wraps up and concludes, something that I’m going to do here until the entire series finishes. I consider whenever this column focuses on Demon Slayer to serve as a journal of sorts, not just on the series as it progresses, but the state of the anime industry at large and my own personal tastes within it.
But man am I dreading talking about this recent arc of Demon Slayer. The series is just inescapable in the anime industry to the point that it’s become oversaturated. I’d rather talk about other shows that interest me (except March’s topic to be on My Dress-Up Darling), but because Demon Slayer is as popular as it is, you almost have to talk about it. Ultimately, I’m resistant to bringing up the series again because, if I’m being perfectly honest, there’s not a lot to talk about with Demon Slayer outside of my original claims.
Back in 2020, I said that the series was mostly defined by its gorgeous action and melodramatic moments. When the series wants to be epic, it goes all in at the cost of character development and overall narrative structure. Believe me, those problems will only be enhanced the further the series goes on. In between this piece on the series and the prior one, I’ve reread the series multiple times and know that its finale, while overall solid, has A LOT of pacing issues. We’ll get to those factors when we get to them. Yet I was excited about Ufotable covering this particular arc since it’s my favorite arc in the series. For the most part, the company did it justice.
Before we dive into the Entertainment District Arc, we need to have a healthy recap of the series so far, as well as the god-forsaken Mugen Train Arc that’s been beaten over my head over the course of 2021. Tanjiro is a demon slayer who is trying to hunt demon Michael Jackson for turning his sister into a demon and he’s aided by a crybaby weakling (who is the most relatable character in the show) and a pigheaded angry boy who shouts every line of dialogue. Ask any fan of the series and they’ll tell you that synopsis is factually correct.
Anyway, the production of this season was announced almost immediately after Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train premiered in Japan. What wasn’t revealed then was the fact that before the new arc debuted, the production staff would re-air the Mugen Train Arc with new footage and scenes, padding it out to a seven-episode story. Why did they do this when the movie was as financially successful as it was, becoming the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time? Well, to make more money of course! Remember, the manga has ended, so no new Demon Slayer material is going to be produced, so it makes some sense to re-air that film in a spliced up format in an attempt to drive up viewership, as well as profits, and serve to hype up the next arc given that it would air immediately following the Mugen Train’s conclusion.
In theory, I get it, though I would argue that Demon Slayer is already one of the most financially profitable anime of all time so worrying about a dip in profits seems a bit excessive. No, my main issue is that I had to watch the goddamn Mugen Train Arc no less than four times in 2021 and I’m sick of it. I moaned about it in my Anime of the Year awards (link down below) and the statement still stands. I did not need to see the same, kind of alright story four times in less than nine months. More if you count rereading it!
Once that was all taken care of, we finally got new material to adapt. In the Entertainment District Arc, Tanjiro, Zenitsu, and Inosuke team up with one of the best Demon Slayers out there, a ninja by the name of Tengen Uzui, to take out the sixth strongest demon in Japan, located in Yoshiwara’s Red-Light District. The problem is that the demon, known as Upper Six, hides amongst the brothels, and given how the district is most active at night, it makes finding them very challenging. Tengen sent his three wives in earlier to hunt them down in one of three brothels, but their communications ceased, forcing him to recruit three dudes and dress up as girls to infiltrate the district, find his wives, and defeat Upper Six.
I love the premise of this arc. The series has established up until this point that demons are entirely active at night, yet that distinction hinders their abilities to hunt humans. They can’t go out in daylight when humans are most active, so putting a demon in an area that’s most active at night is a stroke of genius. The series also points out that back in a red-light district, such as the one in Yoshiwara, women, and patrons disappearing happens all the time due to organized crime and runaways trying to escape that lifestyle. What’s the difference between them escaping and being eaten by a demon if the end results will be lumped together as “they left”?
So the first third of the season is a mystery, trying to figure out who Upper Six is and where Tengen’s wives disappeared to. But, because this is a Shonen action series, that underlying mystery is thrown out the window after only a few episodes in favor of getting the fighting started. Depending on who you ask, that’s the Entertainment District Arc’s biggest weakness: it abandons the uniqueness of its setting in favor of getting straight to the action. Is it disappointing? Yes, but the rest of the season is just one gigantic action scene, so it’s hard to really complain.
The fight against Upper Six, who was revealed to be an oiran at one of the houses named Daki, is a brutal one that stretches out for the remainder of the season. The fight takes a lot of twists and turns not from characters pulling new abilities out of their asses in an attempt to ratchet false drama, but from new characters appearing to join the fight and the series really hammering home just how out of their league our heroes are. Daki is one of the strongest foes in the series up until this point at it takes the crew more than half a dozen episodes just to survive. Even Nezuko joins the fight!
Oh yeah, we should talk about Nezuko since I didn’t do so last time…
So Nezuko is a problematic character. Her demonification is the springboard for Tanjiro’s journey, but unlike everyone else in his family, Nezuko is alive. She is present and always accompanies Tanjiro but she’s kept locked away in a box. Despite her importance to his character arc, Nezuko isn’t a character. She’s a plot device meant to get Tanjiro and the rest of the group out of trouble when needed. She doesn’t say anything and her interactions with the rest of the cast are kept to a minimum. She’s a get out of jail free card for our heroes when they face certain death and it’s actively frustrating knowing just how wasted her character is.
There’s a trope coined by comic book writer Gail Simone called “Women in Refrigerators.” If you don’t know what that means, it’s a plot device wherein a female character dies or is horribly injured, and instead of using that to fuel her development, it fuels a male character’s story. A female character suffers and the male character faces very little, if any, harm from it. The trope was named from an event in a Green Lantern comic wherein Alexandria DeWitt, the then-girlfriend of then Green Lantern Kyle Raynor, was killed by a villain in an attempt to get back at Green Lantern. The villain, Major Force, stuffed her corpse into a refrigerator, and there’s your title! See also Barabara Gordon being shot by the Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, where her paralyzation fuels Commissioner Gordon’s development in the story instead of hers.
I haven’t really seen much discussion and debate regarding whether or not Nezuko is classified as being “fridged” because it’s a bit hard to pin down. Her demonification is the trigger for Tanjiro’s journey, one fielded by grief and tragedy, but Nezuko isn’t active within the plot. She’s a passive character. She’ll make cameo appearances during tense action scenes, but her use as a character almost exclusively serves to wait to be cured, like Snow White waiting for Prince Charming to save her. You know, with demons and stuff.
I give points to the Entertainment District Arc because it was one of the few moments in the series where Nezuko was allowed to do something! She was able to let loose and fight against Daki and severely wound her. The action was brutal and we saw Nezuko begin to lose control of her faculties and attempt to kill other humans, which highlighted just how dangerous she still is. Sure, she’s on the side of good for now, but this arc shows that she can lose her composure and become a terrifying force of nature that gives the sixth strongest demon in the world a run for their money. It’s the only time the series even addresses this issue since, spoilers for the future adaptations, we never again see Nezuko reach this ultra-violent and demonic state. She goes back to being docile and kept inside of her box, only to spring out whenever the writer, Koyoharu Gotouge, needs to solve a problem. Sadly, her role in the series will only continue to diminish from here.
That’s a problem that the entire series has to deal with. At least the Entertainment District Arc touches on the topic and gives its most underutilized character something to do. In fact, all of the main characters have something to do when the fighting breaks out because, my God, the action is truly a sight to behold. I remember gushing about the action in an earlier episode of the first season, but the action in episode 10 of this arc just blows everything out of the water. It is, without hyperbole, one of the best action-focused episodes in any anime.
I don’t want to say it’s one of the best episodes of any anime period, but if you want to watch a single episode filled to the brim with immaculate action and non-stop energy that makes you feel like taking a smoke and a drink afterward, episode 10 will do it for you. It’s that good. It left me giddy like a child and I took to social media to spread its gospel and hopefully convince more people to watch it.
Demon Slayer is, after all, an action series. Fighting is the nature of the beast and there is no better game in town. As far as entertainment goes, you just can’t beat the Entertainment District Arc. I was floored week after week simply watching the characters beat the ever-loving tar out of each other with the animators pouring their hearts and souls into it. The staff at Ufotable deserve an entire year off thanks to the effort they poured into animating this season, but especially episode 10.
Plot-wise, it’s fine. Middle of the road. Not great, but not terrible. Demon Slayer still struggles with its characters and making them feel developed. Our three main protagonists don’t go through any development whatsoever during the arc, with Tanjiro, in particular, coming across as especially stagnant, repeating the same tired worries about him not being able to protect the people he cares about with everyone else telling him to stop thinking about it and focus on the bloodthirsty monster actively trying to kill them.
The main hero of the Entertainment District Arc, though, is the Sound Hashira himself, Tengen Uzui. This is his arc and the character doesn’t really appear for the rest of the series, but it doesn’t matter since his story here feels complete. We learn a lot about his personality, his upbringing, what drove him to become a Demon Slayer, as well as the relationship he has with his wives. One of the best scenes in the arc is when he’s telling his three wives, who were trained to be kunoichi and that their number one priority should be completing their mission over their lives, that their number one priority should instead be to protect themselves. He loves all three of them and he couldn’t bear to know one of them died for some meaningless task that won’t impact their lives in any meaningful way. The ultimate resolution of the arc even allows Tengen and his wives to gracefully exit the series, giving them the happy ending that they deserve.
Daki works as an antagonist, switching from haughty and egotistical to childish and bratty well. She’s a threatening villain for our heroes to face, and her secret trump card was one of the biggest surprises the series ever gave us. The fight against Upper Six is, at least in my opinion, the best fight in the series due to the wide nature of the powers on display, the number of participants within it, and how the hard-fought victory feels deserved. Seeing our heroes hug each other once the day is saved feels like a sweet release, one underscored by the fact that there are five more even stronger monsters for our heroes to fight.
I was going to be biased in favor of the Entertainment District Arc going into this piece, but everything I’ve witnessed over the 11-episode run just showed how this is the best arc of the series. It delivers wonderful action, has a unique setting, introduces likable and interesting protagonists and antagonists, and even gives Nezuko something to do! We already received confirmation that Demon Slayer will be receiving a third season to be aired at some undisclosed time, so consider this an “until next time.” We will talk more about Demon Slayer in the future, and we’ll see just how the series and industry change in the intervening time.