Demon Slayer, Japan's biggest hit movie, lands a U.S. premiere: Here's what you should know
Last year, while movie theaters around the world faced mass closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, something remarkable happened in Japan. Spirited Away, director Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning masterpiece from Studio Ghibli, beloved around the globe, was unseated from its post as the country's highest-grossing film of all time. It's a distinction Spirited Away maintained since it first debuted in 2001 and garnered 31.7 billion yen (about $290.4 million) in the 10-and-a-half years since.
The film that swooped in was Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train, based on the popular manga comics by Koyoharu Gotouge. And now, it's finally coming to North America. Aniplex of America and Funimation announced Tuesday that Demon Slayer will officially be released in U.S. and Canadian theaters on April 23, available in both English dub and subtitled. Tickets will go on sale April 9 from Funimation.
The theatrical release will be followed by a VOD release on June 22 through Apple TV, Microsoft Store, Vudu, Google Play, PlayStation Store, and Amazon.
"Demon Slayer's record-breaking box office sales in Japan have elevated the series — and anime itself — to a new level," Colin Decker, CEO of Funimation Global Group, said in a statement. "It is a truly global-scale franchise, and we're honored to be the home and distributor of the film in many territories worldwide."
If this is the first time you're hearing of a demon slayer that is not in the context of Buffy or Charmed, here's a quick crash course into the phenomenon that has become Demon Slayer.
What is Demon Slayer?
Koyoharu Gotouge, whose identity has not been publicly disclosed, wrote and illustrated manga series Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. It was first published in 2016 in the pages of manga magazine Weekly Shonen Jump, which is also known for running popular series like Dragon Ball and Yu-Gi-Oh!
Set in a 20th century Taishō-era Japan plagued by man-eating demons, the story follows Tanjiro in his pursuit to cure his sister, Nezuko, who was turned into a demon after their family was slaughtered by these monstrosities. He becomes involved with the illustrious Demon Slayer Corps., a secret society that has been waging a hidden war against demons for centuries. Their demonic adversaries were once humans who bartered their souls for supernatural powers and now feed on humanity. To combat them, the Demon Slayers wield specially forged weapons and tap into different Breathing Styles that grant them superhuman abilities. Tanjiro pursues this path with Zenitsu, who channels Thunder Breathing, and the outrageous Inosuke, whose hallowed out boar head he wears for a helmet points to his focus on Beast Breathing.
How did Demon Slayer get so popular?
The manga, now part of 22 volumes, ranks among the best-selling manga series of all time with more than 150 million copies in circulation as of February. The popularity seems to have been boosted by the anime TV series adaptation, as soaring sales coincide with the show's April 2019 premiere. The series captivated viewers with its dazzling displays of sword-fighting action and distinct animation. The following year, 2020, proved even more beneficial for Demon Slayer.
It seems that, while everyone was in lockdown to avoid the spread of COVID-19, people in Japan were reading more and more of the manga. According to the Oricon charts, which track manga sales, Demon Slayer became the best-selling manga of 2020 with an estimated 82 million copies sold. The Research Institute for Publications in Tokyo, as cited by the Japan Times, credits Demon Slayer for the smallest decline in year-to-year print book and magazine sales from 2019 to 2020.
It was at the height of Demon Slayer popularity that the movie dropped into theaters.
What's the movie about?
Directed by Harue Sotozaki, based on an original story by Gotouge, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train is a continuation of the TV series and may prove somewhat difficult to follow for those who are coming into this fantasy world without prior knowledge. Tanjiro, Nezuko, Zenitsu, and Inosuke are on a mission to board the Mugen Train and get to the bottom of why 40 passengers have mysteriously vanished in a very short period of time. Spoiler alert: demons are involved. Well, one in particular. To stop this threat, the group joins forces with legendary demon-slaying swordsman, Kyojuro Rengoku, one of the Demon Slayer Corps.' elite Flame Hashira warriors.
Demon Slayer debuted on 403 screens (including 38 IMAX screens) in Japanese theaters on Oct. 16 and earned a historic opening weekend box-office total of nearly $44 million (4.8 billion yen). In just 10 days, the film's revenue rose to $100 million, making it the fastest film to do so in Japan. By Dec. 27, the number shot up to $315 million.
To date, Japan has recorded 441,000 cases of coronavirus and 8,400 deaths, according to Reuters. The country experienced a lesser rate of infections compared to most parts of the world in 2020, particularly in the months around Demon Slayer's release. The New York Times reported new cases remained below 800 between the end of August and the end of October. And when Demon Slayer opened in theaters, moviegoers flocked from quarantine to go see it.
The film also received an Oscar-qualifying run in Miami for a week in February and made it on the short list for Best Animated Feature Film for the 93rd Academy Awards, though it did not get a formal nomination to the category. Speaking to the franchise's international popularity, seats for the Miami screenings sold out in 24 hours after the location had leaked online.
To catch up with all things Demon Slayer, Funimation currently streams the anime series on its platform, as does Netflix.