KIMITSU NO YAIBA – A LESSON IN SHONEN STORY TELLING
It’s no secret that Demon Slayer has smashed Tankōbon sales, has held top rankings in Shonen Jump’s weekly reader survey, and we can’t forget that merch, oooh, how can we forget that sweet-sweet merch.
However, what most readers don’t really see is the underlying layers of this delicious superstar onion and why everything works so well for it. I’ll be examining a few of these little things which had really stood out for me. Let’s peel the first layer, shall we?
Ah yes, “┴ɹOԀƎS” up the WAHZOOOO.. In my mouth, up my nose, and out my ears; TROPES! I’ll list a few here, both manga genre related and story writing.
“A MAN ON FIRE”
The start of the story kicks off, an editorial dream hook, it skips the lore building, doesn’t waste the readers time, straight to the meat of things; our main character is handed his life mission. To SLAY demons, and find MUZEN, the sole err and bane of his happiness. Other successful examples of this include, “Attack on Titan,” “Full Metal Alchemist.”
Initially, ‘slow burns’ relate to stories where ‘slow build ups’ rise in tempo toward a story’s catalyst, or its big event (Pick your story act structure). This usually demands a lot of reader investment, and most of us are already impatient little dunderheads.
Sure, more mature works like sci-fi and fantasy can pull this execution off, it’s their niche. However, remember, this is a shonen story, and its already battling with the likes of television and video games for its reader’s attention.
An alternative would be introducing a character who is already settled in their world, an already powerhouse of sorts which only uses the world as a demonstration of their feats and may include a recurring theme over it. Examples include, “Rurouni Kenshin,” “Trigun,” “Goblin Slayer,” “Berserk,” and “Cowboy Bebop.” (Chef Kiss!)
The initial kick start of Tanjiro’s journey is a master class execution of great storytelling, why is that so? It’s simple, it’s short, and gets straight to the point, and isn’t executed in a boring way. Thus, the world afterwards can only get as big and imaginative as the author dreams it to be, because the hard part writers usually beat themselves over the head with is good and done.
This takes us over to our next trope.
“HE SWINGS THE BIG SWORD”
Okay, so maybe Tanjiro doesn’t have a big sword, but he sure swings it a lot, and where ever he swings, he cuts [Cut what you will.] There’s enough great sword action in this series to knock Rurouni Kenshin off its pedestal and right back into a Remake.
“THERE’S AN AKATSUKI”
Alright-Alright, they might not be as cool as Akatsuki, [baddies from Naruto.] Perhaps more like your dollar store grab bag, but also not bottom of the barrel kind. Put them up there with Kingdom Hearts’ Organization XIII at most. They have the cool factor down at least. Yes, I’m talking about the Lower and Upper Moon villains. Indeed, they vary between both groups, but nonetheless, big group of bad guys is executed here with excellent finesse, and it didn’t need a whole Ninja War Arc to showcase them all.
“WAIFU OR DAUGHTERFU”
There’s a big cast of female characters, they’re all unique, they serve their roles, but who breaks out of them? Besides your “Ara-Ara” character done beautifully by fan favorite Shinobu, or your ‘stand-out’ beauty Mitsuri Kanroji.
The biggest winner here is Nezuko; a little firecracker always filled with surprises. She leads the role as the main character’s secondary goal, ‘restoration’ to normality, their crutch, and the biggest “Wild Card” in the series.
More often enough she has saved Tanjiro and friends, and has had instances of great character development filled with strong emotions and tears. Nezuko is the bonafide daughterfu, a prime textbook example, if not the apotheosis of it.
The lesson here is the simpleness of it all, there’s a big female cast, but a choice few deliver what the overall series needs to be successful. Beauty in simple character creation while reinventing other things at the same time as well.
All it takes is one idea to transform a role, and explode it straight into new horizons, stratosphere-breaking, cosmic heights. Enter the.. Muzen.
Yeah, we hate him, what an asshole. Why ya gotta be making more demons, now we have a lot of work to do. What!? Slaying them isn’t enough, we gotta cut their heads off too? This asshole. But that Drip doe.
Muzen’s whole character works via one ingredient, and it’s his “Michael Jackson,” Smooth Criminal aesthetic design. If it was any other design this character wouldn’t be as interesting as they come off. One of the great manga tropes is demonstrated here, and that’s having a villain who’s just as or more attractive than your main character. Whether Koyoharu Gotouge did this with intention out of sheer hindsight, or an editor suggested it, we don’t know, but definitely it’s lightning in a bottle.
“STRAIGHT TO THE END”
The series is short, but it’s a bittersweet ride toward the end. The cast of characters come and go, some with their lives, unapologetically carrying themselves forward and head first into insurmountable battles laced with heavy stakes; almost reminiscent of those same beats executed perfectly during One Piece’s Arlong Arc or Arabasta.
After I had finished the first reading of the series it dawned on me. This series could have gone on for a lot longer, but while doing some great fundamentals it also ignored some of them. [Timeskips, new cast, new villains, ass pull villain from outer space.] The usual padding that accompanies a widely successful manga series, always resulting in drawn out stories that needn’t to ever exist in the first place. However, Kimitsu no Yaiba dove straight into the end zone with a finish, which only added more to the quality of the work itself.
If you’ve read Bakuman, you’ll recount how ending on a high note on one’s own terms as a creator was one of the best coup de grâce’s demonstrated in that series. From mere amateurs to utilizing everything at their disposal that they had learned, and laying it all out on the table for the whole world to eat up with their eyes. I feel Kimitsu No Yaiba (Demon Slayer) did this feat gracefully well.
“HOLD UP, ISN’T THERE MORE?”
Oh, indeed there is a lot more that isn’t listed here, but I only included the things I felt contributed to the overall success of Kimitsu no Yaiba’s success, being a manga creator and writer myself. These are the little things that stood out from the work’s sublime bone dust as a whole as I turned the last page. The inquisitiveness and talent, some of it is as mundane as simple archetypes, or tropes molded with suave inventiveness.
And if you’re still not a fan of onions, then you should eat a lot more of them. [Chop it up, mince it fast, dice it really well, maybe caramelize it a bit.] In other words, if you’re a creator it is obligatory to seek new examples. Everyone aspiring to be creators themselves should dive in and learn from them, especially very successful ones, whichever way you do it, via anime or manga, or light novels, it’s up to you.
Who knows, you may enjoy it.
So what do you think contributed to Demon Slayer’s success?