*SPOILERS FOR THE END OF DEMON SLAYER AHEAD*
Demon Slayer is one of modern shonen anime’s most popular titles, thanks in part to the stellar animation. Demon Slayer’s studio, Ufotable, has been flexing on everybody with the animation, delivering movie-quality scenes in a weekly series. However, this isn’t a knock on the story. While simple, the story and characters of Demon Slayer have captured the hearts of fans right alongside that brilliant animation.
B, like all good things, Demon Slayer will come to an end. The upcoming third season of Demon Slayer will focus on the Swordsmiths Village Arc, one of the final three arcs in the manga, which concluded in 2020. The other two arcs, the Pillar Training Arc and the Infinity Castle Arc bring the story to a resounding close. While there are plenty of brilliant moments throughout all three of the manga’s final arcs, one standout plot point comes when Tanjiro becomes a demon in the final battle against Muzan during the Infinity Castle Arc.
The Demon Slayer Corps has a plan to defeat Muzan: Extract the first demon from his Infinity Castle and stall the battle until the sun rises, burning him away. Many members of the Corps were slaughtered, but the Demon Slayers held out until morning. In his final moments, Muzan makes a desperate attempt to continue his legacy: He injects Tanjiro with his blood, turning our protagonist into a demon himself. Tanjiro proves to be a ferocious demon, quickly overcoming the weakness of the sun thanks to his relation to Nezuko and displaying greater power than Muzan.
The remnants of the Demon Slayers gather their strength to kill Tanjiro and end Muzan’s legacy of bloodshed, but the truly interesting moment doesn’t happen on the battlefield. It happens within Tanjiro’s own mind. Tanjiro’s subconscious struggles against Muzan’s control with artwork that quite literally portrays Tanjiro’s mind – or perhaps soul – strung between two options. Above him, the friends he’s made among the Demon Slayers hold their hands out to him. Below, a warped mass of flesh represents Muzan’s twisted hatred as he tries to get Tanjiro to give in to the demon infection.
This internal struggle and the question it poses – will Tanjiro give in and become a demon? – was a surprising turn but also deepens one of Demon Slayer’s core themes: What will you do with the pain that accumulates over your natural life as a human being?
What it means to be human is a thought that comes up frequently throughout Demon Slayer as our protagonists face the inhuman monsters created by Muzan. The cruelty of the demons is often on full display as battles against even indistinct demons revolve around Tanjiro and his friends following up on disappearances suspected to be the work of demons feasting on a defenseless population, such as when Tanjiro fought the Swamp Demon in the first season.
When some of the more powerful and significant demons, such as Rui or the Upper Moons, appear, we also begin to learn more about who the demons were when they were human. These backstories all share a common trait: They’re horrifically tragic. As humans, the demons never found peace. They never found acceptance or love and if they were so lucky, it would swiftly be taken from them. Much like Muzan, the demons he creates are bundles of sheer hatred, frothing at the mouth to “correct” the wrongs done to them when they were but powerless people. Muzan seduces these souls with the promise of power, the promise that they can enact bloody revenge and live above those fools who looked down on his children in turn.
Of course, the demons aren’t alone in having tragic backstories. Yes, Daki and Gytaro had a horrific childhood. But Tanjiro’s entire family was ripped away from him and Nezuko became a demon as Tanjiro slumbered at the mountain’s base. Sanemi Shinazugawa, the Wind Hasira was forced to kill his own mother after she became a demon and devoured all his siblings but Genya. Many members of the Demon Slayer Corps have backstories like these, tragedies that connect them to demons.
Thematically, the show asks what you do with your pain and trauma. How do you use the tragedy that’s accumulated over the course of your life? The demons answer this question with blood. They used it as an excuse to lash out and harm innocent people around them, trying to get even with the world. They thought they were owed something that would be paid in suffering and bloodshed. When faced with a cruel world, the demons were cruel in turn.
But the Demon Slayers took the opposite path. They chose to fight against the cruel world that tormented them. Tanjiro never succumbed to the despair he felt after losing his family. He used his pain to strengthen his resolve, to find a way to fight for a better world that was free of demons and monsters like Muzan. Not just Tanjiro, either. Since Muzan’s birth hundreds, if not thousands, of Demon Slayers, laid down their lives in service of this goal: To end the suffering brought by demons.
Presenting Tanjiro with that choice in the final moments, the choice to let the anger and hatred he’d felt since the loss of his family overwhelm him, rounds out the narrative. It allows him to make a choice and gives him an intimate, personal moment in the midst of a finale that was really a team effort. It also solidified who Tanjiro is: A genuinely kind person, one who will help rather than harm. Tanjiro only becomes a demon for a few brief chapters but they add a lovely depth to those final moments as the Demon Salyer Corps give their all for a final victory.