A stumble is, at the end of the day, a small misstep on the road to success. For a series like Kimetsu No Yaiba, which has proven itself to be one of the best Shonen in recent memory, it’s barely worth noting.
But timing is everything for a series, and Kimetsu has chosen a poor time to start making less sense then usual. The climax is upon us, as confirmed by editors in recent promotionals. Muzan is the last Demon standing, but by Shonen tradition he’s also the strongest. The last few chapters have see the Hashira decimated and our hero pushed to his limits, desperately trying to replicate the masterful swordplay of Yoriichi.
Every battle in Kimetsu is a puzzle, an attempt to understand the demonic power at work and either overpower or outmaneuver it. In this, the fight with Muzan is already a bit messier then most, his powers running the gambit from bladed-arms, tornado-creating maws, endless tentacles, and cell-destroying strikes. Worse then all of that is his sheer physical might; he’s so faster and strong that the Hashira can barely cut him, and when they do, his regeneration is so fast it’s like trying to slice a ghost.
The problem Kimetsu has run into is one that’s plagued Shonen since it’s inception; a villain too strong to be beat without a few cheats. Chapter 193 provided the first nerf with the reveal that the drug Tamayo injected Muzan with wasn’t designed JUST with turning him human in mind. It’s also rapidly raging him, to the point that one minute under its effect will cause 50 YEARS worth of wrinkles. And its been working on Muzan for 3 hours now. You do the math.
This plot device has been slowly sapping Muzan’s strength, his supposedly immortal body trying to stave it off long enough for the monster to kill Tanjiro. I can’t say it wasn’t foreshadowed (specifically by Muzan’s now silver hair), or that it doesn’t service the themes of the story (cooperation and planning winning out over brute force), but it’s still a clumsy way to explain how well our half-dead hero is doing so well mano-y-mano.
Tragically, 194 exacerbates the problem. Remember that poor cat that sacrificed itself to give the Hashira the antidote to that cell-destroying attack I mentioned earlier? Turns out it’s a Demon Cat! Yushiro demonized it before the battle even started.
What?! Aside from being utterly ridiculous, the idea that animals can become Demons too, while not impossible by the rules of the setting, is a serious problem for the thematic narrative of the story. Becoming a Demon isn’t just a transformation of the body, but a transformation of the mind. It’s a symbolic representation of moral failure. This ties back into the mythology of Oni, which the Demons of Kimetsu are based on. Muzan is the best example of this, his cruelty existing long before he became the literal monster he is today. in turn, his preying upon those in despair, such as Akaza, warps them into similarly monstrous people. The killing and eating upon another human is seen as unforgivable in Kimetsu, because it’s not just a rejection of humanity but moral responsibility. In Kimetsu, the message is clear; those that prey upon others are inhuman.
But a cat is an animal. It has no sense of responsibility. What then is the symbolic significant of demonification for it? There is none. It was a regular cat and now it’s a demon cat. That’s all there is too it. Rejecting one’s humanity for power and immortality is an inherently human action, and for it to be thrust upon something that wasn’t even human in the first place cheapens the significance of that.
Things only get stranger from there. Iguro manages to get back on his feet and provide Tanjiro with a timely assist, but his eyes have been shredded. But he doesn’t need them, since he’s got his snake to see for him. Again, what?! A snake being able to read a Demon’s attacks and inform help direct its master is actually pretty damn cool, but again, the timing is bad. By introducing this concept now, it feels more like an asspull then it would if it had been showcased much earlier.
But the strangest convenience of all happens near the chapter’s end, where Muzan’s body, inexplicably, becomes covered in scars. This is explained as Yoriichi’s techniques having been burned into his CELLS, from hundreds of years ago. This is pure nonsense. Not only do the scars cover his body and face in weird crisscrossing patterns, in places Yoriichi didn’t even HIT (reread chapter 187 to see where Yoriichi made his cuts), but Muzan blew his body to hell at the end of that fight, only recovering enough raw matter to rebuild his head. He shouldn’t have any scars all ALL. The only reason this is happening is to give Tanjiro another assist by revealing all of Muzan’s weak points. Except Muzan can freely rearrange his brains and hearts wherever he want them, so that doesn’t matter either.
Contrary to what you may believe after reading everything above, I adore Kimetsu No Yaiba. Not just because of the artwork (still spectacular, no complaints there), or the characters, or the fights. I also love how AIRTIGHT it is. There’s plenty of impossible swordplay, supernatural powers, and ghosts from the past providing help at just the right times, but it’s all compartmentalized into a strict set of rules and explanations that keep the series grounded. Demons are stronger then humans, and beating them requires training, planning, improvisation, and a lot of skill. A maybe just a little bit of luck. This final fight has felt like a departure from those aspects, because Muzan has become to strong for the mangaka to justify Tanjiro winning by those alone. And it’s a little sad to see Kimetsu suffer the same problems a lot of other Shonen do.
I haven’t lost faith in the series’ emotional strength, and I’m sure the conclusion will be satisfying. But these little stumbles are worrisome. I dearly hope Gotouge isn’t being rushed by Shueisha’s management.
Now, as for my predictions. I have a few. I think Tanjiro will start laying down the pain on Muzan next chapter, and his regeneration will start to give out. Panicking, Muzan attempts to perform the same move he did before with Yoriichi, but just before he can, Nezuko arrives. Beyond that, I really can’t say. I’m not as much of a theorycrafter. But I can’t wait to see what happens next, regardless of how strange these past couple chapters have been.