Demon Slayer Volume 1: Cruelty. Collecting Chapters #1-7.
Story and art by Koyoharu Gotouge.
Here we go, folks! Time to start off a whole new Retrospective series! This time around, I thought I'd try another manga, so I'm going to read through a little title you've probably not heard of: Kimetsu no Yaiba, AKA Demon Slayer (2016-2020), AKA one of the most popular manga in the world right now! And honestly... one volume in, and I can kind of see why! So, come along with me as we follow the journey of young Tanjiro Kamado, as he attempts to become a Demon Slayer, and save his super creepy sister!
Chapter 1: Cruelty. Our grand saga begins! Tanjiro Kamado is a good kid. He lives on a mountain with his mother and siblings, and makes a living selling coal. It's not much, but it's honest work, and his family are safe and happy. Oh, no. They're all dead... or are they? If Tanjiro is going to save what remains of his family, he must seek out the mysterious Sakonji Urokodaki.
Chapter 2: The Stranger. Tanjiro's life is in ruins. His family is dead, his sister is a demon, and the only way he can save her is to become a Demon Slayer swordsman. But, to do so, he needs training! But it seems like just REACHING his new teacher may be trickier than he'd expected...
Chapter 3: Return By Dawn. The mysterious figure who saved Tanjiro is revealed to be none other than Sakonji Urokodaki! Returning to his hut, Urokodaki puts Tanjiro to the test. Does he have the speed, the strength, and the heart to be a winner? And more important, does he have the will?
Chapter 4: Tanjiro's Journal Part One. We learn a little more about Demon Slayers, and the demons they hunt! Time flies by, as Tanjiro begins his training. But, when Urokodaki feels like he's taught Tanjiro enough, he sets him one final task... one final, seemingly impossible task. Can Tanjiro get by, with a little help from some new friends?
Chapter 5: Tanjiro's Journal Part Two. Aided by two creepy kids in fox masks, and somehow not seeing anything wrong with that situation, Tanjiro focuses everything he's learned over the last year, to harness the signature Demon Slayer technique: Total Concentration Breathing.
Chapter 6: A Mountain Of Hands. Tanjiro teaches us how to sniff our way to victory, as he heads off to the Final Selection! After a brief interlude of yet more creepy little kids, the task is set! Survive for seven days... on a mountaintop filled with starving demons. So, yeah, pretty simple task. No possible way this could go horribly wrong.
Chapter 7: Spirits Of The Deceased. Yeah, it went wrong. A giant demon attacks Tanjiro. Drawn to him by the mask that Master Urokodaki gave him... it's time to settle an old score! With a little help from Tanjiro's new technique: Total Concentration: Water Breathing!
And on that razor sharp cliffhanger, volume one of Demon Slayer comes to its conclusion! Not a bad start, right? Universe, characters, power set, and some interesting lore all dropping in 7 chapters, and it doesn't drag at all. I can see why people like this series so much. Can't wait to see where it goes from here!
I've got to say, that was definitely one of the strongest first volumes I've read of a manga in quite some time. I like it, because it did NOT mess around. There was no waiting, it just dropped you in from chapter one, it's like:
Chapter 1: This is Tanjiro, he lives a happy life with his family, they're poor, but they have each other. Oh wait, they're all dead. My Bad.
Chapter 2: To save his sister, Tanjiro must train to become a Demon Slayer!
Chapter 3: Tanjiro begins training!
There's no hand-wringing, no monologuing. Tanjiro's world is blown up, he finds out how to salvage what little he has left... and then he freaking does it. I can't tell you how many times I've started a hyped up manga and been told "Yeah, it's a great series, I mean, you've got to get through the first two or three arcs, but once it gets started, it's great!"
There's none of that here. Within the first volume, we've had the big plot-starting disaster, he's trained in *insert standard Shonen Power-up name*, and has even made his first kill. Many series I've read take three or four volumes, before you get all of that done!
Another thing that pleases me about this series: From what I can tell so far, there's no real power, to the powers. Tanjiro isn't gifted with exceptionally high Reiatsu, he doesn't have the ultra rare Conqueror's Haki, and he wasn't chosen by an all-powerful Grimoire. In fact, from what we've seen so far, the only exceptional thing about him is an exceptional sense of smell...
Because in Demon Slayer, it seems anyone with sufficient will is able to learn to be a Demon Slayer. Their power comes from "Total Concentration Breathing"... which is literally just a breathing exercise. Hell, ten minutes on the internet shows me a handful of videos, essays, and Reddit threads on people perfecting their own TCB techniques. There is actual SCIENCE, behind the powers of this universe, and the science nerd in me is just as pleased by that as the anime nerd is! Also, the way it's drawn is HELLA pretty, which pleases the aesthetic nerd in me. But more on that later.
Don't get me wrong, it seems like the power is about far more than just breath control, and I'm 1000% sure that from probably Volume 2 onwards, the effects TCB is able to produce will become more and more outlandish, to the point that they're eventually setting themselves on fire, or controlling rocks with their breath... but still, there's part of me that can't help but see that and think "If I learned that technique, I could do something like that". It's like, no matter how much I train at Martial Arts, I'll never be able to go Super Saiyan, BUT, it's simple science that getting more oxygen into your system makes you better at physical activities, so having your power system based around the idea of "If you breathe better, you fight better" seems like a very solid, practical place to start. I look forward to coming back after the final volume, and seeing how incoherent that sentence has become!
As I mentioned earlier, the art in this book is also excellent. I'm a real sucker for character designs, and general aesthetics. If the main cast of a series look drab, or too similar to each other, I'll rapidly lose interest. Thankfully, even from this first volume, it's clear that Writer/Artist Gotouge isn't messing around when it comes to character design. We've barely met the principle cast at this point, but already we're starting to see a little of the Mangaka's style, and I'm a big fan. Tanjiro's design strikes a solid balance between simple enough to draw it a hundred times a chapter, without ruining your hands, while being detailed enough that you're always spotting new things, as the volume progresses. Even characters that aren't around for long, like the super creepy kids Makomo and Sabito, who helped Tanjiro learn how to master TSB, will stick in your memory, long after they've left the page.
And speaking of strong designs, let's take a moment to consider the second lead of the series: Nezuko. Tanjiro's sister, turned into a demon in the first chapter, she spends most of the volume asleep. Because, let's be real here, if any of us were given the opportunity to do nothing but sleep all the time, we'd take it.
We don't see a huge amount of Nezuko, probably because Gotouge wanted to establish Tanjiro and get the story rolling first, but she seems like a very interesting character. Putting aside the fact that she can go from adorable to terrifying in one panel, which is quite a feat, it's interesting to note that she has been turned into a demon for about two years by the end of this volume, has kicked a dude's head CLEAR off, regenerated a number of wounds... and still hasn't eaten anything. They make a point to state numerous times that a demon needs to feed on human flesh, to gain strength and fuel their abilities, so you have to imagine after all this time without a bite to eat, Nezuko must be freaking starving. Yet she's not even had a nibble, while everyone was asleep. That's some real will, right there.
Why do I get the feeling that is going to be vitally important, in the chapters to come...
Overall, Demon Slayer Volume 1 was a VERY strong start, to what promises to be a very fun series. When I read a Battle Manga like this, there are three things I look out for, and if you're paying attention, you've probably already guessed them:
Aesthetics and character design: Demon Slayer is killing it, on that scale. The series looks GREAT; I love how Tanjiro's Water Breathing looks, and even the few characters we've met have all had very distinct styles. And from what little we've seen of the demons so far, they're body-horror-tastic!
Power Systems: Let's not lie to ourselves. It doesn't matter if it's Ki, Haki, Nen, or Reiatsu, if your manga's power system sucks, you're out of luck. From what we've seen in Volume 1, Demon Slayers Total Concentration Breathing seems to have a solid scientific foundation, with plenty of room for nonsense to come!
Lore: It doesn't matter how crazy you get, if you've got good lore to back it up, you can make anything sound possible. While the lore here isn't that well established yet, they've teased enough to whet the appetite, and leave me wanting to dive back in and find out some more.
And really, what more can you ask for? If the purpose of a first volume is to entertain and entice the reader enough to make them want to come back for the second volume, then you can call Demon Slayer a great success! Because this week is going to feel REAL long, waiting to dig into the next part...
If you're ready to dig in too, come back next week for Demon Slayer Volume Two: It Was You, collecting chapters 8-16. During final selection for the Demon Slayer Corps, Tanjiro faces a disfigured demon and uses the techniques taught by his master, Urokodaki! As Tanjiro begins to walk the path of the Demon Slayer, his search for the demon who murdered his family leads him to investigate the disappearances of young girls in a nearby town.
And if you want to read along, you can find this volume at your Local Comic Shop, or on the Weekly Shonen Jump App, Enjoy!
Taheg Gloder is a Freelance Copywriter from England. Obsessed with comics and Manga since his teens, he now splits his time between writing comic reviews and retrospectives for POP, and doing reactions on his YouTube Channel, The Dragon & The Hound. He lives alone, because he’s a hermit.