Yesterday, my fully vaccinated partner and I (also fully vaccinated) decided to inaugurate our newly vaccinated life with one of the most bacchanalian things you can do in this mid-pandemic world—we went to the movies. The new Demon Slayer movie Mugen Train (its full title is so unwieldy that I refuse to name it here) is smashing box-office records in Japan and North America, and I am not ashamed to say my dollars have contributed to that.
Mugen Train is the first full-length feature film for the Demon Slayer anime series. It features Tanjiro Kamado, a refreshingly compassionate teenager who, after his family is killed by a demon, leaving his sister irreparably transformed into a demon herself, decides to join the illustrious Demon Slayer corps to find a cure that will return his sister back to normal. As part of his duties as a Demon Slayer recruit, Tanjiro and his fellow recruits board a train that they suspect a demon has been using to find and eat human victims.
The movie was really entertaining. While watching the Demon Slayer anime series will provide a lot of context, I don’t think that’s strictly necessary to appreciate and understand Mugen Train. I enjoyed the movie a lot but not for the reasons I think it wanted me to. This is a shonen action anime movie. It focuses on big flashy fights and grand speeches about getting stronger and never giving up. But the most arresting moment of the film doesn’t involve any action at all and comes midway through when Tanjiro, trapped within a fatal dream world that shows him his heart’s desire, falls upon his miraculously revived brother and sister and wails his precious little heart out.
Someone somewhere at Ufotable (the anime production company responsible for Demon Slayer) must have some kind of investment in making Tanjiro cry as much as possible. That boy can sob! He cries all the time, and while I thought such a habit would have annoyed me, it’s the most heartfelt and heartwarming thing to see. He’s so earnest in his relief upon seeing his dead family members again that I teared up with him. His naked emotion and willingness to break with the traditional stoic hero archetype to just cry all the time touched me.
Anime’s always been good about letting its heroes show true emotion in ways Western entertainment fails to even try to portray. Western heroes don’t cry. They’re emotionless rocks of toxic masculinity. But I’m pretty sure every one of my favorite shonen anime heroes—from Yu Yu Hakusho’s Kazuma Kuwabara to Demon Slayer’s Tanjiro Kamado—has cried on screen.
I can’t claim that our reason to see Mugen Train was born out of a newly-vaccinated desire to get out of the house or even a deep love of the Demon Slayer series. In truth, it was the popcorn.
My partner and I actually had grander “first activity post-vaccination” plans. We weren’t going to do anything crazy, like get on an international flight. Instead, our “return to (somewhat) normal” plan featured more mundane activities like walking to the local townie bar and having a couple of beers before walking home in a warm spring sunset. I also had the grand ambition to hit up one of our favorite pre-lockdown tacos and tequila restaurants for brunch before resuming our strict “no dine-in” policy.
But all my careful planning and starry-eyed fantasizing withered away in the face of one man and his quest for one of the most unobtainable of pre-pandemic foods—movie theater popcorn.
My partner loves popcorn. He makes it “from scratch” with kernels and a saucepan on the stovetop. It’s really good, definitely better than what you can get in a bag. He started experimenting with coconut oil instead of regular vegetable oil, and it’s the best popcorn I’ve ever had in my life. But for all his skill with creating wonderfully seasoned and savory popcorn at home, it still paled in comparison to what you can get at a movie theater. There’s just something so un-recreatably sublime about movie theater popcorn. So, mere days after getting his second shot (for which he suffered no ill side-effects, the perfect bastard), he, out of the blue, proposed we go see Mugen Train. He didn’t much care for the Demon Slayer series, so I was surprised to hear him say he wanted to see the movie. My suspicions were confirmed when he let slip that the only reason he proposed the idea in the first place was popcorn. He just wanted movie theater popcorn, and now that we were both fully vaccinated, his desire couldn’t be held back any longer.
Unfortunately, the popcorn wasn’t as great as we thought it would be. It wasn’t seasoned enough, and our theater’s condiment kiosks that let you pour salt or more oily butter on your popcorn were taped off in light of the theater’s new covid-19 sanitation protocols. Bummer.
Despite our entire reason for even going to the theater being a complete letdown, the experience was nice. We bought our tickets online, the theater was mostly empty (avoiding people was why we chose to go on a Monday night), and the pre-movie credits were refreshingly short. Incidentally, does anyone remember the Chris Rock Saw movie the pandemic pushed back? Yeah, me neither.