Thoughts on the popularity of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba in Japan

In 2020, people in Japan who should have been welcoming the much-anticipated Olympic games experienced severe difficulty and the disappointment of the Covid-19 pandemic, much like the rest of the world. Amid all of this, what ended up replacing the Olympics as the central topic of conversation, and captivated the nation’s hearts, was the manga and anime, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. Popularly referred to as Kimetsu, it first appeared as manga, and was then serialised for TV as anime. But it was when it hit the cinemas in October 2020 as an animated feature film that it became a surprise hit. Soon after the film opened, the media in Japan started reporting on the number of viewing figures and its unprecedented upward trajectory every day. By the end of the year, it had become the highest grossing film ever in Japan.  

Kimetsu follows a boy whose family is slaughtered by demons and who becomes a demon slayer in order to turn his sister back into a human, with familial and sibling love as its central theme. However, its conspicuous depiction of extremely brutal battle scenes against demons is seen as problematic with regards to its negative influence on children. As parents spent more time with their children at home during of the pandemic, in an attempt to make staying at home more fun and cosier they actively tuned into Kimetsu on demand and on DVD. And so they were faced with the dilemma of having to deal with its violent scenes. At first, I hadn’t allowed my four-year-old daughter to watch it, but after hearing that it had become so popular among her friends at her kindergarten, I capitulated. I tried managing violent scenes by covering her eyes. 

In any case, Kimetsu is seen everywhere in our everyday life. There are now all sorts of Kimetsu-related merchandise on sale, and I have witnessed many temporary Kimetsu shops pop up in shopping centres. With so many varying types of industries collaborating with the Kimetsu brand, it has become hard to ignore the force of Kimetsu. For instance, a major conveyor belt sushi chain Kurazushi developed a menu inspired by the characters of the anime called ‘Kimetsu no Yaiba Three Nigiri Assortments’ and gave away Kimetsu gifts to customers who ordered it. It became a way for businesses to bring back customers that were lost due to the pandemic and to even help them grow.  

A temporary display of Kimetsu products in a shopping complex. Photo by Kitaura Hiroyuki.

Businesses looking for a way out of the Covid recession sought relief in Kimetsu and explored any possible collaborations with the brand and made them prosper. Media hailed Kimetsu as a saviour of the Japanese economy. It reached a point where it was no longer just a manga or anime. In other words, it was a light that shone through people’s darkened lives, denied the Olympics by Covid-19: a ray of hope for the Japanese economy.

As a work of manga and anime (including the motion picture version), Kimetsu is fun enough in its own way. Yet, when I asked the students at the university where I teach what they thought of it, many were uncertain as to why it gained such popularity. I tend to agree with them. As far as the quality of the work itself, there are many other manga or anime that are of equal quality or far superior to Kimetsu and it is difficult to ascertain its popularity on its own merits. There is no doubt that Kimetsu rose to prominence as a reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, however opinions differ when it comes to the strength of the work itself.

The film distributor Toho publicly commented that they are hoping for a sequel. It is plausible that Kimetsu will continue to be offered to the public in some form or another, be it a TV anime or a theatre release. Will there be a Kimetsu Boom Part II? I cannot wait to find out.

Dr Kitaura Hiroyuki
Lecturer, Kaichi International University
Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow 2018-19

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