Demon Slayer Volume 20: The Path Of Opening A Steadfast Heart.
Collecting Chapters #170-178
Story and art by Koyoharu Gotouge.
Last time around, I was right about everything and it was pretty damn awesome. Then, things got real scary, real fast, as the Upper 1 Kizuki entered the battle. After quickly demolishing Muichiro and Genya, before taking a couple of seconds longer to give Sanemi a few new scars. Thankfully, when it's all starting to look a little grim, Gyomei Himejima the Stone Hashira shows up, to see if he can't give the Upper 1 a real challenge! So read on, my friends, and see how long he can last.
Chapter 170: The Immovable Hashira. Muichiro and Genya attempt to pull themselves together (sorry, I couldn't resist), while Himejima receives a little lesson in the fate of The Marked Ones.
Chapter 171: Transformation. Genya eats some hair, and we all try not to be too grossed out. Meanwhile, The Upper 1 continues to utterly manhandle two Hashira.
Chapter 172: A Weakling's Potential. As Himejima, Shinazugawa, and Muichiro hold off the Upper 1, Genya wonders how a weakling like himself can have any effect in a battle of such titans.
Chapter 173: The Path Of Opening A Steadfast Heart. As the Upper 1 fires off a seemingly unending catalogue of Breathing Techniques, Himejima begins to awaken some powers of his own.
Chapter 174: Nightmare On The Night Of A Red Moon. As the slayers finally begin to put some pressure on the Upper 1, he is overwhelmed by memories of a night 400 years in the past.
Chapter 175: Respect For Future Generations. The Upper 1 utterly loses the plot, unleashing even more bizarre and disturbing powers. But the Corps is ready for him, and the Slayers fight back, harder than ever!
Chapter 176: Samurai. The fatal blow has been struck! But, sadly, the Upper 1 doesn't seem to care. So, he continues to thrash the Slayers... but does he really have the will to continue?
Chapter 177: Younger Brother. Yup, it's backstory time again! As we learn more of Kokushibo and his twin brother Yoriichi and their surprisingly not-that-tragic past.
Chapter 178: Even If You Reach Out Your Hand. Our history lesson continues, as Kokushibo and Yoriichi reach adulthood, but take very different paths, to a shared tragic end.
That was... an oddly affecting Volume. Starts out how we would expect. The Upper 1 Kizuki is an absolute monster, and becomes more and more monstrous as the fight continues. The Slayers try their best to stand up to him, but in many ways he's the perfect mix of Slayer and Demon, so it's a tough fight. And then we get some tragic backstory, yay. Except, it's actually not THAT tragic. And yet, somehow, that made it all the more emotional.
That was quite a volume, wasn't it? Despite the fact it was 90% utterly insane over the top shonen nonsense, the little smattering of lore and backstory was enough to really make it stand out. Just shows, really, what this series is capable of, when writer/artist Gotouge feels like really twisting the knife.
SO! It seems that I might actually still be right. It seems that Kokushibo (AKA 3x3 eyes, AKA the Upper 1 Kizuki) might not be related to Tanjiro... He's also NOT the Sun Breathing master that we've seen crop up at a few points in the past.
That guy is, in fact, his twin freakin brother Yoriichi. So, while Muichiro is a descendant of Kokushibo, there's still a very good chance that Tanjiro and his family are descendants of the OTHER branch of that particular family tree, being descendants of the twin brother Yoriichi. This is some Jeremy Kyle-grade stuff here and I'm totally here for it.
This is especially possible, when you consider that Kokushibo was unable to master Sun Breathing, and had to instead learn the first variant, namely Moon Breathing.
First off: I do love that we now have two brothers, one brother that set into place everything that makes the Slayers who they are, to this day, and created Sun Breathing, and the other brother that became the most powerful Kizuki and uses Moon Breathing. The symbolism is almost too perfect. No matter how hard he tried, Kokushibo could never be more than a pale reflection of his brother.
It's like The Lion King, where you had two brothers: One named Mufasa (which roughly translates as 'King') and the other named Taka (which translates a few ways, most commonly to 'Trash' or 'Garbage'). I would feel kinda bad for Kokushibo, but he's a tool, so sod him.
I know what you're thinking: That's a little harsh, Taheg, cut the guy some slack! But I won't, and here's why. We've all got those friends, the ones that are great at everything, seemingly without trying. The thing is, when you meet someone like that, you have two options:
Do you use them as an example, or as an excuse?
Growing up, I had this friend. He was great at EVERYTHING. Which sucked, because I'm rubbish at most things. At that point, it's easy to just think "Sod it, some people get all the luck, and others get shafted. Nothing I can do." But I didn't. I worked hard, practiced, and gradually improved myself. I got a lot better, at a lot of things. Especially in the areas where he and I most commonly clashed. I went from getting utterly steamrolled all the freakin time, to holding my own. Sure, I was never QUITE as good at him; he was naturally gifted, how could I beat that? But, I was able to improve a HUGE amount, and that's what matters.
Because here's the lesson that I learned in that time: You're not competing against others. You're only ever competing against yourself. As long as the you of today has improved over the you of yesterday, it doesn't matter than someone else has improved more, or that they started way ahead of you. They're playing their own game, that's not on you. As long as you keep pushing, keep getting better, then you've won.
And that's where Kokushibo messed up. He worked hard to be a Samurai, practiced hard to be as good as he could be at sword fighting. . . but no matter how much he tried, he could never beat Yoriichi. And instead of accepting that, and being fine with the great progress he was making, he let that eat away at him, until that bellend Muzan showed up, and offered him a quick way to gain massive power. He let his jealousy take over, and in the end it cost him.
I think that's why I found this particular volume so affecting. Because, at least to me, it was far more relatable, than the other backstories. There was no real tragedy. Kokushibo wasn't in some horrific circumstance where his options were to take Muzan's deal or die. . . He was just a jealous guy who gave in during a moment of weakness. And we've all had those moments, haven't we?
Oddly relatable backstory aside, the fight against the Upper 1 was extremely intense. Probably my favourite fight yet, in the series. I loved seeing him slowly forsake more and more of his humanity, in a vain attempt to win. Then you compare that with his backstory, where we see young Yoriichi, a true blademaster, who spends more time looking after his mother than he does practicing, and you learn all you need to know about brother characters, from that one fact.
It's such simple, clean, character development. So much is learned about both characters, without the reader even realising that they're getting this huge info dump. We're shown just who both brothers are, via their actions and the way they interact with others. No lengthy monologues, no grand exposition. Just a few well laid out scenes that explain everything you need to know.
That said, I'm guessing this isn't the last we've seen of Yoriichi. While we do see his birth and death in this volume, there is a large portion of time that is skipped over. I'm guessing (or rather, hoping) that since this time involves him joining the Demon Slayer Corps, clashing with Muzan, and hopefully fathering Tanjiro's great, great, great grandfather, I feel like there's some information there we need to know about.
Fingers crossed we'll see more about that during the final battle against Muzan. Which, worryingly, probably isn't that far away now...
Overall, Volume 20 was a very strong volume. Some really great action, VERY strong character development, and a couple of scenes that punched me right in the heart. Honestly, I couldn't ask for more. We even got a little bit of that old Body Horror art that I've been missing so much, as the Upper 1 slowly turned more and more monstrous during his fight. My only worry now is that as this fight has shown what an absolute BEAST Himejima is, he's going to get utterly murdered in 5 seconds against Muzan, just to show off how much of a threat that guy really is.
If you want to see if Himejima survives, come back next time for Demon Slayer Volume 21: Ancient Memories, collecting chapters 179-187. The fight with Kokushibo, the highest-ranking demon among Muzan’s servants, is over. Although Himejima and Sanemi defeated Kokushibo and sent him to hell, the price the Demon Slayer Corps has paid is very high. Kiriya Ubuyashiki, the new leader of the Demon Slayers, struggles to recover from the losses. With the battle against Muzan far from over, the remaining fighters will need his help more than ever. Meanwhile, deep within Infinity Castle, Tanjiro and his friends come face-to-face with their nemesis at last . . .
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.