What the Demon Slayer Movie Says About Grief, Growth, and Surviving

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SPOILER WARNING: This article contains heavy spoilers for Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train

It’s been a bad year so far and it was a bad last year. Hit after hit, a lot of us have lost part of ourselves, people, and with a news cycle that showcases unending violence, our hope. To be honest, everything is dark right now. To wake up every morning and know that the news will wreck you is terrifying. And that’s just on a national scale. And in that darkness, a movie like Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train (Demon Slayer Movie) resonates.

Sure, the Demon Slayer Movie is packed with stunning action sequences, demon fights, and a lot of blood and body horror. But it’s also a story about coming to terms with your trauma, your grief, and your guilt in order to move forward. It’s about accepting those parts of yourself and moving forward with them, not in spite of them. This theme is set as soon as the film opens with Ubuyashiki speaking the following as he walks through a demon slayer graveyard: “No matter how often we’re beaten down, in the end we will rise up to fight again.”

If you’re familiar with Demon Slayer, then you know that Tanjiro’s past is traumatic. His family was slaughtered by a demon and his sister turned into one. While he still has his sister Nezuko, she isn’t who she was—something that Tanjiro mentions throughout the first season of the anime. He loves her because she is still his sister, but his entire quest is to ultimately turn her back into who she was. In the Demon Slayer Movie, Tanjiro and the others aboard the train are put to sleep and given dreams that bring them joy. They’re sweet, and in Tanjiro’s case, rewrites his trauma.

In his dream, Tanjiro doesn’t have his sword or his uniform but most importantly he has his family. He eats with them and laughs with them. He has them, correcting the guilt he’s felt since their murder. While Nezuko is missing for the bulk of it, when she finally appears there is a moment that pulls at the audience’s heart. She appears just as he realizes that he needs to wake up. Yes, as a shonen hero, Tanjiro has to wake up. But it’s how he wakes up that pushes the Demon Slayer Movie’s message and offers much more than gorgeous action sequences.

Tanjiro has to make the choice to abandon a world where his family is alive. He has to choose to push past his own selfishness, and in the end, he has to choose his continued grief. Most importantly, he has turned his back on the version of Nezuko he is trying so desperately to see again. He has to choose to live in his pain again. To lose his family again. Tanjiro chooses to shun who he was before, and with it, the happiness he had. He chooses his current life filled with grief and pain is important. Sure, it’s better that we don’t go through trauma in the first place, but when we do, facing it is the first step to living again, and more importantly, processing it.

Tanjiro, again and again, chooses to wake up, which involves taking his own life in the dream. He has to physically sever his connection to the memory of his family, and this is something that the demon, Enmu, the Lower Moon One, looks to exploit. While Tanjiro is running away from his perfect world in the beginning, in the end, Enmu turns the dream into a nightmare by putting words into Tanjiro’s family’s mouths and placing the blame for their deaths completely on him. It’s Tanjiro’s sharp and passionate rebuke of this moment that shows his growth as a character. While he lives in his grief, he has to let go of the guilt, and as such, he begins to process his trauma.

But that’s not all. The Demon Slayer Movie is expertly broken into two parts. The first is about Tanjiro as he fights Enmu to get out of his dream. Effectively, this section of the film highlights what you can do when you accept your trauma and the importance of that act. The second half of the film focuses on Rengoku, the Flame Hashira’s fight with an Akaza, the Upper Moon Three, and how his inevitable death at the end of it, is a statement on how to continue when new traumas continue to arise.

Our lives are hard. Sadly many of us, myself included, don’t just have a single moment of grief or trauma. We’re shaped and reshaped by many events that we carry with us and even still, a new event can always make us freeze. It can make us stop our lives as time moves around us and we stay stuck. The beauty of the Demon Slayer Movie is that it shows what happens when you’ve gotten back up only to find yourself knocked down again. How do you handle your world crumbling again?

In the final moments of the film, a gravely wounded Rengoku tells a tearful Tanjiro “If you are feeling disheartened, that you are somehow not enough, set your heart ablaze. Dry your eyes and look ahead. You may feel like digging your heels in, but the flow of time waits for no one. It won’t patiently stand by as you grieve. ”

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When Rengoku dies, Tanjiro shares his fear with Inosuke. He explains that as soon as he manages to break through one wall, it feels like he hits an even thicker one. He explains how he hears his heroes on the other side but he remains “fumbling around in the dark.” Grief can immobilize us. But we can’t stop moving through it. In fact, you have to keep moving forward to ever wind up on the other side.

At this point, Tanjiro hasn’t started moving. He’s stuck and he’s grieving but the hope is that with Rengoku’s words, he can understand that he has the strength to start moving forward. Tanjiro can carry his trauma, his pain, and his grief, but he has to carry it. He can’t let it hold him in one spot. But, he has to learn to move forward. And as a fan, that’s what I can’t wait to see in season two of the series.

Sometimes there isn’t an end to the pain we feel. We make it through one struggle to emerge on the other side and catapult into a new one. That’s reality. Trauma doesn’t just happen once. It can repeat itself. It can form new scars and the grief that radiates through our lives. And in the last two years we’ve had, the hits just keep coming. Every week there is a new tragedy; a new communal trauma for us to process. We’re all still stuck in a pandemic, still trying to get vaccinated, and many of us are still struggling to process the funerals we had to miss because of COVID. But that’s just this year.

For others, like me, our trauma just ripples, and even though the rings get bigger and farther apart, they still reappear and move our lives. While there will never be a perfect representation of survival and living through grief that fits everyone, the Demon Slayer Movie presents a strong one. We’re all Tanjiro, and now more than ever we have to learn how to keep breaking down walls, even if we keep hitting them.

So, set your heart ablaze and keep moving.

Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train is playing now in theaters and will be available On Demand June 22, 2021.