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The Brilliance of Tanjiro’s Final Form


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.

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What ‘Knives Out’ Teaches Us About Genre

Genre is integral to stories and a huge factor when picking one out to read or watch or listen to. Thus, it’s something that writers need to understand.

Knives Out is a prime example of utilizing genre to its fullest potential. Not only does it hold true to the tropes of its genre, but it also expands upon them and weaponizes the genre’s tropes to create one of the most original films in recent years. So let’s examine Knives Out.

What Is Genre?

Listing genres is easy. Fantasy, science-fiction, romance, mystery, thriller…the list winds on and on before you even broach the idea of subgenres. But what is genre?

According to Brandon Sanderson, acclaimed fantasy author of the Mistborn Trilogy and The Stormlight Archives, genre is simply a marketing tool that the publisher uses to sell the story to consumers who enjoyed similar books. This is absolutely correct; in my personal experience, I tend to gravitate towards similar veins of science-fiction and fantasy.

Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak allows us to see this in action. The movie opened to less than ideal numbers. While many factors can be responsible for this movie’s lackluster response, one of the most glaring is a confusing advertising campaign. While the film is a Gothic romance with a smattering of ghosts, the movie was primarily marketed as a supernatural horror — to the point that del Toro himself contradicted the film’s marketing. This example shows genre as marketing in action. The trailers drew in horror fans hoping for a scary flick but failed to deliver, creating a sense of dissatisfaction.

This disappointment demonstrates the other side of genre. It’s not just a marketing tool but a promise between creator and audience. The people coming to see Crimson Peak had been promised a horror movie, with all the tropes and stories that brings with it. With the promise (created by misguided marketing) broken, audiences didn’t get the story they were expecting. Knives Out delivers on its promised genre but it does so in a wholly unique manner by playing with the tropes of the murder-mystery genre.

Tropes Vs Cliches

There’s a difference between a trope and a cliché. Not a wide one, but a noticeable one. While cliches lend themselves to poor writing, tropes are not inherently bad and are in fact quite useful.

A trope is a recurring idea or plot device. For example, The Chosen One, the knight in shining armor, the absolute genius at X who is incapable of social interaction (though the latter arguably leans towards a cliché). These tropes become cliches after repeated overuse. It’s not just story archetypes either; lines such as “now it’s personal,” or when the villain says, “we’re not so different you and I” fall into cliché. These tropes have been used, recycled, and reduced to an eye-rolling bit of dialogue.

Genre tropes help keep a story centered. For example, the detective or whodunit genre populated by authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie has several tropes that are expected, if not required, by the genre: The story will begin with a murder or other crime, there will be a group of suspects, and there will be a detective, often quite the gifted one ala Hercule Poirot. The main conflict of the story is the detective chasing clues to determine which suspect is responsible, and the story concludes with the detective laying out exactly how the elaborate crime was conducted, often in a dramatic manner.

Knives Out uses these tropes, but they aren’t simply there to hold the genre in place. They are inverted and twisted in a manner that keeps them fresh, yet recognizable. Subverting the tropes is what gives Knives Out such an engaging story. Johnson crafted a script that was both recognizable and amazingly fresh.

The Flip of A Coin

Knives Out opens as you would expect a whodunit to begin. Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc investigates the suicide of famed crime novelist Harlen Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) as a possible murder, interviewing an eclectic group of suspects composed of Harlan’s own family (which manages to make it personal without the cursed line). But when Blanc gets to Harlen’s in-home nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), we learn the truth of the “suicide.” Marta mistakenly gave Harlen an overdose of morphine and he orchestrated an elaborate plot to protect her and her immigrant family from the mistake.

Blanc’s interview with Marta comes at the end of Act I and transforms the story. In a standard whodunit, the “who” is concealed until the very end, as is the “how.” Knives Out ignores this trope in favor of giving us everything here, right at the beginning of Act II, and changes the story dramatically, primarily by giving the audience a new perspective. In a typical whodunit, the audience is rooting for the detective. In Knives Out, we actively don’t want Benoit Blanc to succeed. We understand that Marta is, if not innocent, undeserving of the consequences that would come from exposing the truth.

But another trope of the genre is that the detective always cracks the case. No matter how elaborate the plot is, no matter how carefully the perpetrator conceals their tracks and hides their guilt beneath a web of lies or red herrings, they are always caught. This trope is Johnson’s greatest weapon in creating a growing sense of dread throughout the second act as Blanc slowly but steadily closes in on the truth.

Knives Out embraces the tropes of its genre but isn’t afraid to twist them around its own unique story and characters to deliver a story that delivers on its promise of a murder mystery, but also makes it so much more. The story of Knives Out is centered around deep, honest characters and a deeper understanding of what makes the whodunit genre tick.

Perhaps the greatest part of this story is the final twist that reveals Ransom Thrombey (Chris Evans) is the true criminal, framing Marta for Harlen’s death. It ultimately allows Knives Out to strike every single one of its genre tropes by giving Blanc space to reveal the truth in an appropriately dramatic fashion at the end of the story, preserving the ‘rule’ that the perpetrator’s identity is saved for the story’s final moments. It saves Marta from Blanc’s inevitability without marring the story before or making the ending feel contrived.

The lesson from Knives Out is to play around with your genre’s tropes. You’re making a promise with your genre, but this doesn’t mean your story needs to be predictable. Consider why you want to set this story in this genre. How do the genre’s tropes lend themselves to your characters and theme? How can you play around with these tropes and make them your own, while retaining their recognizable forms? If you’re uncertain, perhaps you should give Knives Out a viewing or five and see how Rian Johnson pulls it off.