Season 3 of Demon Slayer is breaking the internet right now. With the Entertainment District Arc coming to an end, Demon Slayer has successfully kept its audience on their toes. Much has been said about the art style, animation and overall aesthetics of the show being the reason for its popularity. On the other hand, the storyline and characters of the show often get a lot of flak for being unoriginal and derivative. Is Demon Slayer all about cool fight scenes and aesthetically pleasing moments? Or is there more to the show than meets the eye?
In all fairness, the show’s storytelling isn't exactly groundbreaking. It follows a pretty standard boy loses family, swears revenge on the culprit plotline. Yet somehow Demon Slayer has managed to hold everyone’s attention ever since its airing with its ever-rising popularity. Amongst the things that hold the show together, a major factor that goes unnoticed is the protagonist himself, Kamado Tanjiro. In character centered stories, the protagonist becomes the backbone of the story that can make or break the whole thing. Let's dive deeper into how Tanjiro makes Demon Slayer special.
The Origin Story
Tanjiro Kamado was born on a mountain as the eldest son of charcoal vendors Kie and Tanjuro Kamado. He adopted the belief that as the oldest kid, he should be tough and face any trials for his five younger siblings after they were born. Despite the fact that the family did not live in luxury, they were happy and had a great deal of love and concern for one another. Once, Tanjiro leapt in to protect Takeo after he accidently knocked over a hot kettle, resulting in the burn scar on his forehead.
After the death of his father, Tanjiro became the father figure of the household as they continued their blissful life. One fateful day, Tanjiro couldn’t be with his family for the night. When he returned the day after, his life changed forever as he saw a deeply injured and bloodied Nezuko holding on to the dead body of their younger sibling. To his horror, he discovered the dead bodies of his remaining siblings and his mother.
Things took a turn for the worse when Nezuko turned into a demon herself. Desperate to turn her back into a normal human being and get revenge on the demon who was responsible for killing his family, Tanjiro becomes a Demon Slayer. The two siblings embark on a journey to find a cure for Nezuko and in the process kill Mujan Kibutsuji, the primary antagonist and the king of all demons.
The Hero’s Journey
From the get go, Tanjiro is shown to have immense patience and kindness for people. As we later see, this kindness extends to his enemies, the often cruel, sadistic and twisted demons. Tanjiro has very strong survival and protective instincts. As such he is always to lay his life on the line and even kill when in a fight. However, when Tanjiro came across the first demon of his life (apart from Nezuko), he was unable to kill him with a stone as it’s be painful for the demon. Both Urokodaki and Giyuu saw this as a weakness and called him indecisive.
As the story progressed and Tanjiro became more self assured, he was able to take hard decisions in a split second, however this never turned into ruthlessness. It would have been very easy to write a character who turns ruthless and hardens on a path of revenge. However, throughout the story Tanjiro stays just as kind as he starts out.
Despite having exceptional potential, Tanjiro has to keep working hard and his skills or body often fail him when he’s up against strong enemies. Tanjiro has to keep motivating himself, sometimes several times in a single fight, to keep breathing, to keep standing up. His “never give up” isn’t purely driven by emotions.
He has a very realistic and calculated hold over things and always pays attention to the tiniest of details. He keeps assessing his own capabilities and how he can improve upon them even during the most intense fights. Due to this, even though the fights in Demon Slayer follow similar beats to that of other contemporary action anime, the show still manages to stand out.
What Makes Tanjiro Special?
In the concluding episode of the Entertainment District Arc, the upper moon 6, the demon twins finally lose the battle against Tanjiro and the Sound Hashira. As the demon siblings lie decapitated and dying, they lash out at each other and start blaming each other for their defeat. Tanjiro interferes and shuts Gyutaro’s mouth up, lest he said something he couldn’t take back in his last moments.
"Not a single soul will take your side. So, you have to stick together"
-Tanjiro to Gyutaro and Daki (Ume)
This scene created a permanent soft spot in my heart for Tanjiro. He fully understood the scope and impact of the evil deeds committed by the demon siblings. He wasn’t ready to cut them any slack for it whatsoever even though they’d lived a tortured existence as humans previously. An yet, all the same, Tanjiro empathized with them and mourned for their loss and pain. Tanjiro never tries to lecture his enemies about how evil their actions are. he fully understands the desperation that often leads people down wrong paths while still never condoning single one of those actions.
This cements Tanjiro as a new age shonen protagonist for me. Gone are the days of aloof, emotionally stoic yet vaguely driven shonen protagonists. While shonen anime usually has kind protagonists, Tanjiro stands out for having actual emotional intelligence as one of his defining characteristics. This puts empathy at the heart of Demon Slayer and explains why the show has managed to connect with such a wide range of audience worldwide.