The franchise with the highest-grossing film in Japan’s history earned that acclaim.
It’s the Taishō Era of Japan’s history (1912-1926). Tanjiro Kamado (Natsuki Hanae/Zach Aguilar) is the eldest son of his family and, following his father’s death, a charcoal seller in the mountains. One day, after coming home from a trip to the nearest town, he finds out that his entire family was massacred. The only “survivor” is his sister, Nezuko (Akari Kitō/Abby Trott), who has been transformed into a demon that craves human flesh. However, when a demon slayer named Tomioka (Takahiro Sakurai/Johnny Yong Bosch) tries to kill her, Tanjiro tries to defend her and, surprisingly, she defends him, revealing that she has retained some of her humanity. Tanjiro is sent to train to be a demon slayer, soon joining forces with fellow demon slayers Zenitsu Agatsuma (Hiro Shimono/Aleks Le), a coward who becomes a master swordsman while asleep, and Inosuke Hashibara (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka/Bryce Papenbrook), a wildman with tremendous strength. Together, they work to help rid Japan of demons and hopefully cure Nezuko.
I had heard of this when it was a manga, but I had never actually read it. Then I saw it get put on Netflix a while ago, but I hadn’t watched it, since it seemed a little generic from the ads. What finally led me to try and watch it was actually reading an article about how the film that apparently follows the first season of this show, Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, broke a slew of box-office records despite, or because of, opening in 2020. It’s now the highest-grossing Japanese movie, taking down Spirited Away after almost 20 years. So, if a film can unseat a true Ghibli masterpiece, I had to check out the source material, and that was definitely the right decision.
Almost everything in this show is well-done, but the main thing this anime does better than most is pacing. The story progresses at a pace that, while not overly fast, is also much faster than almost any anime longer than 13 episodes. I realize that’s partially because the manga was complete before the anime started, but the show largely avoids the traditional anime issue of having to drag out fight scenes for multiple episodes or to have recap episodes. Instead, most of the fights are action-packed and extremely creative, particularly since they often showcase a handful of swordsmen having to overcome unbelievably powerful demons using little more than their wits and some training.
The other strength is the characters. The protagonist, Tanjiro, is one of the best anime protagonists out there, because he really is only fighting in order to save his sister. At all times, it’s the bond he feels with her and through her the rest of his family, that keeps him going and helps him maintain his extreme empathy and kind personality no matter what he goes through. It’s not that he’s naive, far from it, he just knows that there is evil in the world and chooses to be kind anyway. Moreover, he shows kindness in a believable and human way, something that’s hard to do without seeming sappy. The rest of the cast is similarly deeper and more relatable than you would expect from a show called “Demon Slayer,” particularly many of the demons who live tortured existences that they’re suppressing through their rage.
Overall, just a great series and I cannot wait for more.
The overworked, underpaid, death metal singing Red Panda returns.
If you’re not familiar with the show, I’ve reviewed seasons 1 and 2 here and here. Watch it. Love it.
Retsuko (Kaolip/Rarecho/Erica Mendez/Jamison Boaz) is trying to get over ending her relationship with Tadano (Chiharu Sasa/Griffin Burns) and gets addicted to VR games, with the microtransactions eating away at her savings. She then gets into a car accident which results in her owing a man named Hyodo (Sota Arai/SungWon Cho) ¥200,000 (~$1900). She takes a job working for him as the financial manager of his Idol Group O.T.M. However, she soon finds herself recruited into the band and followed by an angry stalker.
Meanwhile, Haida (Shingo Kato/Ben Diskin) finds the new girl, Inui (Rina Inoue/Abby Trott), is interested in him. Fenneko (Inoue/Katelyn Gault), Gori (Maki Tsuruta/G.K. Bowes), Washimi (Komegumi Koiwasaki/Tara Platt), and even Tadano encourage him to ask out Inui and abandon his unreciprocated crush on Retsuko.
So, I knew this season was going to be pretty good when one of the first lines in it is Retsuko looking at a VR boyfriend who asks her for money and she screams “Take it all, you sexy unicorn!” There is no work of art anywhere that includes those lines and is not good. If they had included that phrase somewhere in Gigli, it would have won three Oscars.
The key to this show has always been how well it meshes the cute Sanryo characters with the crushing reality of their lives. In this season, Retsuko gets caught up indulging herself in a new hobby, in this case a VR Boyfriend game, which puts her in financial jeopardy. She manages to cut back enough to keep afloat, but one accident later, she’s completely screwed. If you’ve ever had a sudden medical expense or a car problem that wasn’t covered by insurance, you understand this problem. When the full extent of her circumstances become apparent, she even busts out a song entitled “Screw you capitalism,” which I’m sure will be reblogged repeatedly by certain groups on the internet. I would draw attention, though, to the fact that, although Retsuko is a relatively low-wage worker by Japan’s standards, she is never really in danger of losing her apartment and she actually had several thousand dollars in savings before she spent it all on her game. I just find it interesting.
This is the first season where Retsuko’s singing has really become a plot point. She is forced to perform in front of an audience in order to help pay back her debt, but actually starts to become moderately successful. While it is fun to see her achieve a dream, the show quickly reminds people of the price of celebrity. She is pursued by a stalker in one of the creepiest depictions since the film Perfect Blue (which I’m reviewing next month, if you haven’t seen it). Despite the fact that she had nothing to do with what the stalker dislikes about the band, the experience is deeply traumatic.
I also like the way they handled Haida this season, because he is still portrayed as flawed and the show points out repeatedly that, despite his long standing crush, he actually doesn’t know that much about her. He just admires her from afar rather than talking to her. Inui actually makes an effort to talk to Haida, which finally gets him to recognize his failings.
Overall, solid season, but a bit intense at times compared to the previous ones.
One of the greatest fictional thieves is given a new origin in a new series, but it aims way too low.
Carmen Sandiego (Gina Rodriguez) is a white-hat thief… in a red fedora and matching badass longcoat. Together with her hacker associate Player (Finn Wolfhard) and sidekick siblings Zack and Ivy (Michael Hawley and Abby Trott), Carmen travels all around the world to steal back treasures stolen by the evil organization V.I.L.E. (Villain’s International League of Evil) and return them to their rightful places.
So, if you read this regularly, you might think that I’m not a big fan of reboots, but that’s really not true. Lots of reboots manage to take characters and put them in new and interesting situations that provide something new and important for the series. The 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series provided a darker and more serious take than the 1987 version, but they both were still true to the core of the characters. The Ducktales reboot took what was great about the original series (The interplay of the main characters and the “anything is possible” world) while fixing what wasn’t so good about it (weak female main characters, repetitive plots, not having Don Cheadle). The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina took beloved characters and put them in a world where they are inherently doing more morally questionable things, but didn’t change what was fun and interesting about them. The key is that you don’t change what was awesome about the character, because otherwise why wouldn’t you just make a new one?
The creators of this show clearly disagree with me.
Throughout her history, many things have changed about Carmen Sandiego, largely due to the fact that she was originally an educational video game character who became a game show character and an animated series character. She was originally listed as a former spy, but later was depicted as a former detective who found catching criminals too easy and decided it would be more fun to commit impossibly huge crimes. Regardless of her origin, the central, and awesome, trait of the character was that she was a criminal for the thrill of it. She didn’t want riches or world domination or to spread chaos, she just liked planning the perfect heist and beating the authorities in the chase. She’d even leave clues to make it more sporting for the detectives, and allow them to battle wits with her V.I.L.E. henchmen first, not to prove their worthiness, but to build up their skills. She rarely, if ever, resorted to violence and never allowed any of her henchmen to kill anyone. In short, she was the ultimate gentlewoman thief, but she was still, always, a villain. Just check out the intro to the last series:
In this show, Carmen is still a thief, but she exclusively steals from V.I.L.E. and returns the goods to their rightful owners. The show compares her to a white-hat hacker, someone who commits a crime but for the purpose of helping people. This is probably the main reason why I don’t like this reboot, because you changed the one thing that was most awesome about the character: THAT SHE WAS THE BAD GUY. Look, I’m fully prepared to watch a show where she’s the protagonist, but I still want her to be a criminal. In this, she’s not doing it for the thrill, but because she “rejects evil.” She’s only pursued by authorities because of a series of misunderstandings and the fact that some of the officers are idiots. At one point, the detectives of ACME believe that Carmen actually is the head of V.I.L.E. as she usually is, but, again, it’s only because the detective just plain isn’t smart. Making her a pure hero removes any of the wonderful moral ambiguity of her character. She’s supposed to be a noble thief, but not a Robin Hood. In this, she’s just a hero who happens to use thievery. She might as well be Leslie Charteris’ The Saint. Why not just come up with another character (or use a character that already does that) instead of trying to capitalize solely on nostalgic naming?
I also don’t like the particular way they try to make the show “educational.” Rather than being worked organically into the plot of the episode, most of the information is just given in one single infodump that includes a bunch of awkward facts about the location that the episode is set in. Look, I want kids to be learning during the show the way that I used to learn while playing the games, but that’s not going to happen if your main education is a 30 second exchange of rapid-fire facts in a 22 minute episode. In the original, it was a number of infodumps presented as fun, short, vignettes which made sense because they were being told to the Player, a real person playing the game that made the show, in order to help him win.
For an even more personal gripe: She doesn’t steal the unstealable, for one. In almost every incarnation of Carmen Sandiego, one of her most famous traits is that she intentionally steals things that cannot realistically be stolen, like the Mona Lisa’s smile or the Orient Express. Admittedly, this was tied into her desire to just commit crimes for the challenge, something this version doesn’t share, but that was one of the more consistent elements of the series. In this, she just takes things that would actually be the targets of theft, like coins or paintings, and that just pisses me off. THIS IS THE WOMAN WHO STOLE THE BEANS FROM LIMA, DAMMIT!!!
But, let’s get into some of the things that this show did pretty well on. First, to its credit, while they missed the big picture of what made Carmen Sandiego amazing, they did at least do enough of their homework to include a lot of references from the other media. It does bother me a little that most of their new characters aren’t the same level of punny as the old ones, with the new ones even mocking that idea, but they do still have quite a few of them. Also, they got Rita f*cking Moreno, the voice actress from Where On Earth is Carmen Sandiego to voice Cookie Booker, the evil accountant, who provides this version of Carmen with her signature hat and coat, acting as a covert passing of the torch. The art style is pretty solid and, honestly, though I’m mixed on Carmen so frequently being out of her signature outfit, I think it was a good choice to show that she isn’t always “on the job.” I think it was also clever to make Player, who usually in the media represented a human playing the game that the show took place in, into a hacker who only communicates with Carmen through his computer. It keeps some aspect of their dynamic alive. Carmen is much more of an action girl in this, too, as opposed to her mastermind characterization, but that didn’t bother me much, since it fit the more “Kim Possible” version of the character in the series.
Overall, I didn’t like the fact that this reboot didn’t try to take the core of the character and put it in a different setting as much as it just changed the core of the character to something completely different but called it the same thing. If the writing had been better, maybe I could have gotten into it, but I wouldn’t recommend this show to fans of the original or to their kids.