BAXTER — Chances are American audiences have never heard of the No. 1 grossing film of all time in Japan playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter.
“Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train” as it’s known in the Asian country — or “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” as it’s also known — became the highest-grossing R-rated animated film of all time and the highest-grossing anime film of all time.
Released last month stateside, the action-adventure movie also made U.S. box office history with its No. 1 foreign-language film debut and $21 million haul at the box office, according to its official Twitter account.
So what’s the big deal about the feature film, a direct sequel to the first season of the Japanese TV series? Well, it’s a shōnen manga series, which means its intended audience is male teens between the ages of 12 and 18, and manga are comics or graphic novels Japanese in origin.
In other words, it’s not anything as family-friendly as, say, the syndicated comic strips “The Family Circus” or “Peanuts,” the latter of which was created by Minnesotan Charles M. Schulz.
“Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” features enough bloodletting and blood-spurting to rival the famed Fountains of Bellagio casino in Las Vegas and graphic (albeit animated) decapitations of horrifying demons to make the French Revolution seem tame by comparison.
Yet the animated movie holds an impressive 96% approval rating among critics and a nearly unheard of 99% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.
The consensus from the critics at RottenTomatoes.com is the movie’s “visually stunning animation and masterful action set pieces serve a heartfelt plot that is sure to satisfy fans.”
The movie’s plot involves a trio of boys who are part of the Demon Slayer Corps, and the film begins with them hitching a ride aboard the Mugen Train, where they join forces with one of the most powerful swordsmen within the Demon Slayer Corps, Flame Hashira Kyojuro Rengoku.
All aboard the train are soon enchanted and fall into a deep slumber, making them vulnerable to attack from a powerful Sandman-like demon and his minions who attempt to destroy the warriors’ spiritual cores so the swordsmen will not ever wake again and be among the living.
The allure of eternally sleeping almost proves to be too great, especially for Demon Slayer Corps protagonist Tanjiro Kamado, who is reunited with his family in a blissful dream.
Flashbacks in the film inform the audience that Tanjiro came home one day to discover his mother, three younger brothers and a younger sister murdered, except for another younger sister, Nezuko, who has been transformed into a demon, so Tanjiro seeks vengeance.
Those familiar only with traditional Disney animation or American comics will be in for a surprise because manga such as the motion picture “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” involve conventions of the Japanese genre that may come across as odd or unfamiliar watching the dark fantasy.
For example, the characters feature incredibly large and biologically impossible eyes that allow them to be more expressive. There are also tonal shifts in the narrative, such as elements of slapstick violence to heartfelt soliloquies with corresponding changes in the animation.
It was not my first foray into the surreal yet oddly satisfying world of manga, having seen the seminal Japanese animated movie “Akira,” a 1988 dystopian movie about a biker gang and telekinetic abilities that became a cult favorite and a milestone in the cyberpunk genre.
“Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train” was released April 23 in North America in a subtitled and an English-dubbed version. The Lakes 12 Theatre features the subtitled version, allowing the expressiveness of the Japanese voice actors to be heard.
While based on the Japanese television series of the same name, the motion picture does not require the moviegoer to be intimately familiar with the series although it would definitely help.
But the feelings of love and loss, finding one’s purpose in life and the courage to fulfill it, using one’s strength or power to help the powerless, and discovering the humanity that unites us rather than divides us — even in a fantastical battle against demons — requires no translation.