Tomoko and I watched this together, because it's an anime phenomenon. It's one of the top-selling manga series of all time. This anime series was a hit, while its sequel movie toppled Ghibli and Miyazaki to be the all-time best-selling Japanese film. It was helped by COVID-19 lockdown, mind you, having been released at a time when people hadn't been able to go to the cinema for ages.
Tomoko and I both hated this TV series. It's disgracefully ill-written and I'm shocked that people think it's even competent, let alone good.
It's lavishly animated and no expense has been spared on the voice cast, mind you. If you don't care about scripts, it's great. (Mind you, the art style makes everyone look about twelve, which is unfortunate when we meet mothers, etc.) I should also mention that this show's the latest big thing with the five-year-old daughter of one of our friends. (Not everyone would let their small child watch something so spectacularly gory, but never mind.) She loves the character of Nezuko and has even made props and costumes to dress up as her.
Anyway, the story. It's set during the Taisho era (1912-1926), in a version of Japan that's full of oni. These don't resemble the traditional ones, instead being more like vampires. They die if exposed to direct sunlight and they're unkillable unless beheaded with special weapons. In principle, they're immortal. The more humans they eat, the stronger they get.
Pitted against them are our two teenage heroes, Tanjirou and Nezuko Kamado. Their whole family was killed, except Tanjirou. Yes, including Nezuko. In another similarity to vampires, the oni's bite turned her into another oni and she'll wear a bamboo stick in her mouth to stop her from biting people. Now, they're travelling Japan with the twin goals of killing oni and looking for a way of making Nezuko human again. I like all this. Our heroes are lovely and I enjoyed the season's first half, which is strongly focused on them. When the show's about them, it's great. The plotting's a bit shounen formula and "fight of the week", admittedly, but there are worse crimes. The siblings are the show's big selling point, with Tanjirou being the nicest guy in the world and Nezuko being even more adorable.
Tomoko got slightly annoyed with them, mind you. Tanjirou is impossibly, superhumanly nice, with no character weaknesses or flaws. As for Nezuko, Tomoko found her a bit too "Look How Cute I Am". (That's judging the character design and the manga and anime creators, not the attitudes of the character herself.) Personally, though, I loved both siblings and always wanted to see more of them, especially Nezuko. She's criminally underused.
Unfortunately, the show explodes and dies when it introduces other demon hunters.
All this is subjective, obviously. Clearly I'm outnumbered. The world loves this show, including some of the characters I'm about to tear to bits... but sod that. They're ghastly. This show wants to introduce other demon hunters, but doesn't know how to write them. They have no dramatic purpose. They don't come across as characters with motivation and inner life. I look at these people and see empty noise to fill script pages. They're loud and comedic, but without being funny or indeed believable. Let's start with the very worst of them:
1. ZENITSU AGATSUMA
When introduced, he's a loud, pathetic, hysterically screaming coward. That I don't mind. Cowards can be funny. On entering an oni-ridden house in the woods in the middle of the night, though, Zenitsu keeps yelling at the top of his voice about how scared he is. Oni have super-hearing and this one is known to be extra-dangerous. Anyone who was actually frightened would shut the hell up.
Bang, the character's broken. Already, I didn't believe in him. He's a bad comedy schtick, not a person.
It then got ten times worse when the very loud Zenitsu told a quiet child to be quiet. In the same episode, he jumps to stupid conclusions and throws himself at girls like a four-year-old who's seen cake. Again, it's possible for skirt-chasing fictional characters to be entertaining. What I hated was the stupid, desperate manner in which Zenitsu does it. (I should, though, note that Tomoko loves his vocabulary. He speaks in old, correct Japanese and makes it sound natural. I'm not a native Japanese speaker, though, and my language level wasn't high enough for me to get pleasure from listening to him.)
2. INOSUKE HASHIBIRA
He's a muscle-bound idiot, with his dial jammed at "hot-headed and shouting". He has no other mode. That's all he does, all the time. (Well, except briefly at the end of the season, when he's in shock after having lost a fight.)
What's more, "muscle-bound idiot" is the default characterisation for this show's male demon hunters. (It was Tomoko who pointed out the show's narrow characterisation range. Compare with an otome reverse-harem show, which will try to have a man for every possible taste.) Look at the Hashira. They're not all muscle-brains, admittedly, but I hated the ones who are. They're so one-note that you're tired of them almost before they've first spoken.
I'd been enjoying it until they appeared, despite the shounen "string of fights" plotting. Zenitsu and Inosuke killed a good show. It stops even being watchable. I'd be praying for their deaths... but they're in the sodding title sequence. They won't die. Hate hate hate. And then, later, we meet the Hashira and realise that the show just doesn't know how to write demon hunters. (Hello, Mr "I Will Say My Catchphrase In Every Sentence.") Victims will be fine. Oni will be fine. They have a dramatic purpose... although, that said, the male half of the two oni doctors in ep.8 is also annoying. Hmmm.
The demon hunters, though, make no meaningful contribution to the show.
And then we have Nezuko.
I love Nezuko. She's great. She's got a unique character design, with that mouth bamboo. She's an oni, every bit as strong and dangerous as the demon hunters... but she's also a girl. The show doesn't care about her. I got mildly frustrated with how she's sidelined in the season's first half, which keeps giving all the real heroism to Tanjirou. She's cool in ep.10 and that's about it.
Zenitsu and Inosuke, though, reduce Nezuko to a plot coupon. She stops even appearing. It's boys all the way and they're mostly Jar Jar Binkses. The boys fight! The boys can sod off! It makes no sense. Oni can't kill other oni, allegedly, since they're so hard to kill permanently, but this clearly isn't true. Muzan kills other oni like crazy and he's not the only one. Nezuko could easily be a fighter on a par with anyone else, but the show wants to push her into a box. Why don't they include Nezuko in the end-of-season training with the Hashira, for instance?
This season ends with a lead-in to the movie (and/or to Season 2, which is mostly just a recompilation of it). I'm curious, given the film's outrageous box-office success, but I'd bet money that I'll hate it. There are things I like about this show, even in the second half. I like the tragic oni backstories. I like Tanjirou's compassion. Fundamentally, though, this story's writing is disgraceful even given its simplistic, fight-driven genre. It's like dripping acid in your eyes.