Demon Slayer Vol 4: Robust Blade MANGA RETRO. Just when you thought puppets couldn't be creepier!
Demon Slayer Volume 4: Robust Blade. Collecting Chapters #26-34.
Story and art by Koyoharu Gotouge.
Last time, Tanjiro stumbled from one battle into another, barely beating Arrow Demon and Ball Fiend, before discovering a haunted house and meeting its terrifying resident, The Little Drummer Demon. Things were looking pretty rough for an already injured Tanjiro, but he overcame his struggles and saved the day! We also met two fellow Demon Slayers: the cowardly but secretly awesome Zenitsu, who is the master of Lightning Breathing (but only when he's asleep), and a rampaging boar-headed monster who just LOVES to fight. This time around, our NOPE metre is off the scale, as Tanjiro ventures into a forest of horrors and... just freakin no. If you're arachnophobic, you might want to skip this volume.
Chapter 26: Barehanded Fight. Boar Boy wants to smash Tanjiro's box, but Zenitsu won't let him! A rare moment of bravery, when you consider what a monster he's up against. Thankfully, Tanjiro returns before the two can come to blows. He's going to calm everyone down, right? Right?
Chapter 27: Inosuke Hashibira. Boar Boy has a name! And a surprisingly kind face... he also has serious injuries, much like his fellow Slayers! So, a little break is required, as the Demon Slayer Trio head for some much needed R&R at a local estate. Although, is it really relaxation when Inosuke is constantly trying to start fights?
Chapter 28: Urgent Summons. sort of rested, and pretty much healed, the Trio are summoned once more, for a new mission! They've been summoned to Mount Natagumo, but quickly realise they might be out of their depth!
Chapter 29: Mount Natagumo. As Tanjiro and Inosuke fight for their lives against their former comrades, Zenitsu questions his allies, before realising some things are worth braving nightmares for.
Chapter 30: Marionettes. in a fierce battle with the creepy Mother and her spider-puppets, Tanjiro and Inosuke must fight smarter, not harder, in order to rescue any Corps members that might still be saved... but Mother still has one card left to play!
Chapter 31: Letting Someone Else Go First. Tanjiro and Inosuke must try and work together, if they're going to overcome Mother's most powerful Doll yet! But can Inosuke actually co-operate, or have they lost this fight, before it's even begun?
Chapter 32: Pungent Odor. Tanjiro and Inosuke take stock of their situation. Meanwhile, in his attempt to "rescue" Nezuko, Zenitsu stumbles onto a truly horrific lair.
Chapter 33: Suffering And Floundering As You Move Forward. Zenitsu's time is running out! The creepy human-headed Spider-Nope has poisoned him, and soon he'll be another freaky human-headed spider monster. Needless to say, Zenitsu has some issues with this plan.
Chapter 34: Robust Blade. Zenitsu's battle with Spider-Nope continues, as the poison slowly creeps through his system, he attempts to take down his foe before he's incapacitated. Meanwhile, Tanjiro and Inosuke stumbled out of the frying pan and into the fire, as they finally come face to gross spider face with the terrifying Father!
Well, that was just horrific. Don't get me wrong, I loved every panel, but WOW. They've really gone all out with the body horror stuff, haven't they? I mean, it's been a fairly regular thing in this series, but WOW, this volume really dialed it up to 11. As soon as the trio reach Mount Natagumo, it's like writer/artist Gotouge is going out of their way to one up themselves every chapter. Making the designs for the new Spider Family members more and more terrifying, each time. I love it!
The whole concept of having a villain that can control your friends and turn them against you isn't exactly new, in fact I think it's right up there with "Beach Visit" on the list of things that every long-running manga series HAS to have. So, it's always fun to see how each new Mangaka puts their twist on the classic scenario.
Gotouge decided that their twist was going to be a horror-inspired mishmash of various previous ideas, that managed to be greater than the sum of their parts, mostly due to the fantastically dark and twisted artwork.
Using a literal spider, and having their threads take over people and control them like puppets is such a wonderfully invasive idea, touching on concepts like bodily autonomy and consent, in addition to the more pressing surface level issues. Like the fact that she's murdering everyone.
The fact that Mother shows such blithe disregard for her puppets just adds to the horror of the situation. In many of these cases, especially when it's a named character that gets controlled, the horror is in the things that they're made to do, rather than the things done TO them. Honestly, though, I tend to find that a little bit bland, because you KNOW that they're never going to do anything too bad, because they have to be able to recover, once the control is removed.
So, by having it be mostly throwaway characters being controlled, Gotouge is able to just go ALL OUT, snapping bones and twisting necks, while fighting our heroes. It adds a further layer of pain to the fights, because not only to our heroes need to fight to defend themselves, and not only are they distracted trying to find a non-lethal way to take down their allies, but they have to contend with the extra issue of bringing the fight to a close fast enough that there's anything left of their friends TO save, once Mother is done with them. It's a genuinely anxiety-inducing mix, and gives a further opportunity for Tanjiro to demonstrate not just his skills, but also his ingenuity in combat, as he works out fast, non-lethal ways to take down his foe.
But, of course, this is Demon Slayer! So when Tanjiro eventually wins, we get some flashes of backstory for Mother, to show that she's not really all THAT bad, and actually she's quite glad to be dead, because it means she's free of Father. So, of course, Tanjiro uses his secret, special, "pain free death" technique, to give her the rest she so deserves.
Here's the thing: I like that they're giving the villains a bit of depth, I do enjoy that it's not just "Rar! Me Villain! Me kill things because me wants to!" but it's starting to feel like at LEAST half of the enemies Tanjiro fights have some kind of tragic backstory that shows they're not really that bad, and actually it's just their circumstance that led them to be evil... Which can feel a little forced, when it happens this often. Especially when the demon in question was gleefully snapping people's necks and shattering bones a couple of pages beforehand.
Then, once Mother was down, we had another episode of "Zenitsu is a punk, until he falls asleep". Although I must say, I may have judged him a LITTLE too harshly, before. He's still very, very annoying, but we're starting to see some glimpses of what lies underneath all that crying and running away, and it's starting to feel like he might just grow into someone less... aggravating. This whole volume starts with Inosuke trying to destroy Nezuko's crate and Zenitsu stopping him, so we know he CAN stand up, when it's really needed. And this was before he found out that Nezuko was adorable, so he was doing it for purely altruistic reasons. Between that, him getting another fairly cool fight, and the brief history lessons we get, I'm hoping that one day he'll eventually learn to fight while he's awake, and become a bit less... Zenitsu.
With the arrival of two new Demon Slayers, come two new, exceptional senses!
Yup, if you thought Tanjiro was alone with his super-human schnozz, you'd be mistaken! This volume, we've found out that Zenitsu can "hear" what people are thinking, and Inosuke is capable of "feeling" things from a great distance.
It's cool to add a little taste of the supernatural to a group that up to now have remained relatively grounded. It allows them to keep the power levels of the various "Breathing" techniques at a fairly realistic level, while giving the characters just enough of the extraordinary that you can make them stand a little above others, and explain away how they're so good, so fast.
Makes me wonder, though: we now have hearing, smell, and touch... will we meet characters that are exceptionally gifted with the other two senses? And which poor soul got stuck with the really great sense of taste? Please don't lick things during combat...
Overall, Volume 4 was solid. I have the feeling that this fight is only just beginning, and next time we're going to get to see what a real, experienced Demon Slayer is capable of... and that is going to be a lot of fun! It will probably also bury my whole "Breathing techniques aren't that flashy" theory. But hopefully it'll be worth it!
Also, given how Gotouge has really doubled down on the amazing but disgusting art in this arc, I'm very excited to see what they can do with "Father" the patriarch of this disgusting spider family. I'm looking forward to the horrors he's going to unleash on our eyes!
If you are too, come back next time for Demon Slayer Volume 5: To Hell collecting chapters 35-43. At Mt. Natagumo, Tanjiro, Zenitsu, and Inosuke battle a terrible family of spider demons. Taking on such powerful enemies demands all the skill and luck Tanjiro has, as he and his companions fight to rescue Nezuko from the spiders’ web. The battle is drawing in other Demon Slayers, but not all of them will leave Mt. Natagumo alive...or in one piece!
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.