Mugen Train Works Better as TV Episodes Than a Movie

In recent years, the rising popularity of anime and manga has been noticeable in many ways, but there is no greater example of this than in Studio Ufotable's Demon Slayer. After premiering in 2019, Demon Slayer has been breaking records in both the comics and anime scenes, but until recently had only released one season and a movie. Naturally, excitement was high for Season 2, which finally started gracing our screens in October 2021, but it came with a caveat: the first part of the show would not be new content, but instead a recut version of the previously released Mugen Train feature film with some new footage.

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That initially seemed unnecessary. After all, Mugen Train was a successful film. It would be safe to assume that most people who are interested in Demon Slayer have seen it one way or another - even if you missed its run in theaters, it has since been released on home video, has rerun on TV in Japan, and is even streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation, the same services you would use to watch Season 2 anyway. There might be some initial confusion, as anime film entries in big franchises tend to be 'filler' stories that aren't in the original manga and aren't likely to greatly affect things in the main storyline. Mugen Train bucks that tradition by picking up right where Season 1 ends, but that's nothing some good messaging (and the movie's absurd popularity) wouldn't sort out.

However, there's an argument to be made that not only was re-editing Mugen Train into episodes to start Season 2 was the right decision, but the TV cut of Mugen Train might just be better than the movie. The movie, as good as it is, struggles in some ways to feel cohesive. After all, it's an adaptation of one part of a serialized comic, originally intended to be read in weekly 20-page chunks.

The tone of the movie is inconsistent. The first part of the story concerns the characters having journies in dreams given to them by an enemy who plans to capture them in those dreams so he can eliminate them. Some of the dreams are serious and contemplative - the Flame Hashira Rengoku faces his past, reconsidering his complicated family history and how that inspired him to become who he is today, and protagonist Tanjiro is shown an ideal world where his slain family is still alive and well. These sequences are shown alongside the dreams of Tanjiro's companions Inosuke and Zenitsu, which are significantly more silly in nature. This makes sense in its original context, where comedic relief can break up the dour tone of Tanjiro and Rendoku's visions that would otherwise go on for weeks. However, it doesn't work as well in a movie, where you're sitting down for one ongoing experience. Putting these scenes back into the serialized format of TV essentially restores the original pacing of the arc.

Similarly, the movie as a whole has three clear and distinct acts that make it already feel like multiple episodes of a TV show stitched together, so separating it out to actually be a TV show makes sense. The first act is the aforementioned part with the dream worlds; the second is a battle against the dream demon Enmu on top of the train; and the third is a duel between Rengoku and the powerful demon Akaza. The first two acts, while very different in tone and pacing, are at least clearly connected - the dreams are Enmu's scheme, and taking him down is the natural next step after escaping the dreams.

However, Akaza and Rengoku's fight, as amazing as it is, feels like it comes out of nowhere in the movie. It certainly needs to be there, as it is the both the conclusion to their time on the train and the thematic conclusion of the ideas planted during the dream sequences. But without a break, Akaza just kind of appears as a last-minute enemy once Enmu is defeated. Putting this back into its original context makes it all feel much more natural. The break between episodes helps these sections of the story feel more separate, and things like episode previews and even some additional scenes to foreshadow Akaza's appearance help set up audience expectations. Spread across a few episodes of television, the Akaza fight is given room to breathe as a sort of mini-arc within the larger scope of Mugen Train.

All of this isn't to say that it was a mistake for Mugen Train to be made as a movie in the first place. Unlike most of Demon Slayer - which is about Tanjiro's journey - Mugen Train is first and foremost Rengoku's story, structured entirely around helping us understand his history and perspective. In additon to just being a fun and interesting character, Rengoku's contribution to the whole of Demon Slayer is pivotal. He's the most down-to-earth Hashira we've met thus far, and he provides a glimpse into Tanjiro's potential future, and the different choices he could make after meeting Rengoku and learning from his experiences. It's also fairly self-contained, taking place in a transitional part of Tanjiro's journey in a literal and figurative sense, so structurally it stands by itself in many ways. Finally, while Ufotable's standard of animation has always been gorgeous, they're at their best when given the time and production values of a feature film - if Mugen Train doesn't convince you, just take a look at their Garden of Sinners series or the Fate/stay night: Heaven's Feel trilogy.

But really, that all just serves to make Mugen Train's TV cut feel more like the superior version. The higher-quality animation looks great on TV, and the movie was already paced similarly to the original season of the show, so the transition to 20-minute episodes is hardly felt. For future fans going through the series, there will be no awkward point where they're unsure of what they need to watch next after the first season - they can just go straight into Season 2, because the whole story will still be there. And, of course, if you still prefer the movie, you can simply skip the Mugen Train episodes of the show. Overall, despite the initial weirdness and slight disappointment in the decision to re-air it this way, Mugen Train is actually much better off in its new TV version, with the best of both worlds combined into one glorious package.

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About The Author
David Lynn (23 Articles Published)

David Lynn is a freelance writer and lifelong anime fan who, for better or worse, has been watching every seasonal anime to come out for over a decade now. When he isn't busy catching up on and writing about the newest cartoons, he can be found playing Fate/Grand Order and complaining about having no free time.

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