Demon Slayer season three's Swordsmith Village Arc had some big shoes to fill after that explosive season premiere.
The show was back on screens in a big way after nearly 18 months away and kicked off its third season with a feature-length first episode that included one of its coolest scenes to date.
Unfortunately, it's starting to feel like Demon Slayer peaked a little early. The show has certainly struggled to match the energy of key moments like the Infinity Castle sequence and the Sun Halo Dragon moment in the episodes that followed.
This is surprising given how little time the show spent setting up its season three premise. It basically rushed the setup of the Swordsmith Village in its second episode in order to quickly bring together its key players for what seemed like a number of killer showdowns.
Unfortunately, five episodes later and it still feels like we're only just scratching the surface of the season's pivotal Kizuki fights.
These battles with the strongest demons are making up the core of Demon Slayer's plot, so we'd expect them to play out over multiple episodes – but the way the show is slowly setting them up before cutting away to other elements is proving frustrating.
Fans have particularly begun to notice the pacing issues in the last two episodes. The action has been ostensibly split across Genya and Tanjiro's fight with Hantengu's alter-egos, and Tokito confronting a rampaging Gyokko.
Unfortunately, both encounters have moved incredibly slowly, even for a show known for its long fight sequences, and nowhere is this more noticeable than in the Tokito scenes.
The Mist Hashira spent the majority of episodes six and seven trapped in a big goldfish bowl, contemplating Tanjiro's wisdom about trusting and relying on other people.
On paper, this is totally fine. One of Demon Slayer's biggest criticisms has always been its thin characterisation (until they inevitably reveal their tragic family trauma), but even fans that want more interiority have a limit.
When we weren't watching Tokito bob around in a vase during episode seven, we watched Tanjiro's monologue with a newly personified side of Hantengu's personality: Zohakuten.
This element of the episode started really strong, with Tanjiro facing off against a giant wooden hydra, but ground to a halt fairly quickly.
This has tended to be the rhythm of all Demon Slayer season three episodes so far, with the first phase of the Hantengu fight taking four episodes to play out.
This slow pacing wouldn't be so much of an issue if Demon Slayer season three wasn't over halfway done. We're expecting the Swordsmith Village Arc to run for 11 episodes, in line with the Entertainment District, which means the team at Ufotable has just four 20-minute slots to deliver a satisfying story.
As such it feels like Demon Slayer season three might have been better served by being compiled into a feature-length project, like the Mugen Train movie, which ran for seven episodes when it was rereleased as part of season two.
The season-to-season differences in release schedules and episode orders might be partially to blame for the show's inconsistent pacing. Without those things, the team behind Demon Slayer doesn't necessarily have a repeatable rhythm, in terms of the production process, to march to.
On the other hand, the Entertainment District Arc justified its eleven-episode length by featuring a secondary investigation plot, something that it seemed season three was setting with Kanroji – but she's been MIA for three episodes (surely she can't still be sprinting around).
Looking forward, Demon Slayer has three more arcs to adapt once the Swordsmith Village story has wrapped: the Hashira Training arc, and the two halves of the Final Battle arc.
The two halves of Demon Slayer's last story, the Infinity Castle and Sunrise Countdown arcs, are both dense and feature a lot of fights and interactions fans will be desperate to see.
We just hope that the varying adaptation styles of Demon Slayer so far can lead Ufotable to make the right call when it comes to bringing the story to life.
It's also worth remembering that the Mugen Train movie went on to be the highest-grossing movie of 2020 of at the box office, and we'd be very surprised if we didn't see one more Demon Slayer arc on the big screen.
Demon Slayer is available to watch on Crunchyroll and Netflix.
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