By Koyoharu Gotouge
Demon Slayer has been making a lot of progress in the past batch of chapters, and it’s been a sight to behold. Tanjiro has finally managed to cut off Akaza’s head thanks to some additional support from Giyu, but Akaza is seemingly still alive. As we’d seen previously with Muzan, it is possible for demons to overcome decapitation. On the verge of death, Akaza’s strength has reached new heights, easily overpowering the already weakened Giyu and Tanjiro. As Akaza is about to deliver a fatal blow to the two demon slayers, he is suddenly stopped by an outside force. Memories of his past.
We had seen glimpses of Akaza’s memories during his battle with Tanjiro, but as his memories resurface, Akaza’s motivations start to become evident. Gotouge has previously shown us that even the most vicious demons in the series were not inherently born that way. In Akaza’s case, he is very much a victim of circumstance. Akaza wanted to live a happy life with his loved ones, but continually faced hardships and tragedy that warped his ideology and lose faith in humanity. As Akaza returns to his senses in the present, he reflects upon his regained memories and realizes that the path he now stands on goes against what he stood for in his human life. Akaza mentioned before that he hated the weak, but in reality, what he hated was his own weakness. He hates that he could not support his father and that he couldn’t protect Keizo and Koyuki, but he averted his eyes to his own self-hatred and directed his anger towards others. Having come to this revelation and to atone for the countless that he has killed, Akaza unleashes an attack on his own body to kill himself. As he begins to lose consciousness, Akaza is comforted by Koyuki in his mind as he asks for forgiveness. Akaza had been built up as someone that we were meant to despise, but in the end, he was another person who had lost their way while struggling to survive the cruelty of the world. While Tanjiro has come out of the battle victorious, he can only watch as Akaza’s body fades away. From start to finish, this fight is an incredibly emotional read, delivering on the build up that series has given it since the conclusion of the Demon Train arc. Instead of Tamjiro simply getting revenge, Gotouge opted to craft a fight where we got to explore Akaza’s internal motivations and why they conflicted with those of the demon slayers. In this way, Demon Slayer presents a unique fight that truly highlights the series at its best.
Following Akaza’s defeat, the story shifted back to the battle between Doma and Kanao. As the tables begin to turn on Kanao, Inosuke appears to join the battle against Doma. While this turn of events could have easily given Inosuke the spotlight in the fight over Kanao, Gotouge handles it in a well balanced way. When Doma reveals that he killed Inosuke’s mother, it gives Inosuke a personal stake in the battle at hand and justifies his presence. As the battle continues, we see Inosuke and Kanao cooperate to match Doma’s overwhelming strength, which properly showcases their own strengths. That being said, Doma far outclasses the two demon slayers, and is able to use his slew of demon blood arts to keep them at bay. Of course, Doma had not realized that one enemy still was on the offensive: Shinobu. When Shinobu was suddenly killed by Doma chapters ago, it took many people by surprise. To see a Hashira die so quickly in battle was shocking, but the reasons behind it are now clear. In a flashback, we see Shinobu explain to Kanao that she has placed poison inside her own body to ensure that she can kill Doma. It was evident prior that Shinobu’s had a strong desire for revenge, but this further establishes the resolve that she had. Even if it meant that she’d lose her own life, Shinobu wanted to kill the man responsible for her sister’s death.
As the poison begins to activate in Doma’s body, we receive one more look into his life as a human. Unlike Akaza, Doma grew up in the unnatural environment of a cult, and his morality was warped as a result. Not once did he feel remorse in killing other people nor did he have any feelings for his own family. In the end, Doma is only dissatisfied that he lost a fight and nothing more. In the aftermath of this battle, neither Inosuke or Kanao truly feel the satisfaction of victory. Inosuke never had a human family, and after learning of his mother’s death from Doma, he has come to realize the pain of losing a loved one. Meanwhile, Kanao has avenged her original master Kanae’s death, but has also lost Shinobu in the process. Even in victory, the only thing Inosuke and Kanao can do is cry at the loss of their loved ones. The battle against Doma has been the longest fight within this arc, but it has also been the most satisfying. The emotional stakes for the demon slayers were at a peak, and Doma continued to be a formidable opponent until the very end. More importantly, each character played a considerable role in Doma’s defeat, making the outcome feel like a genuine team effort. Overall, this fight is easily a highlight of both the arc and the series as a whole.
With news of Doma’s defeat spreading to the other demon slayers, we get to see their current whereabouts. Kanroji and Obanai have found the Upper Rank 4 Kizuki Nakime. While Nakime does not seem to have many offensive capabilities, she still appears to be quite skilled, easily evading the attacks of the Hashira and disorienting them with her fortress manipulation techniques. Meanwhile, Muichiro is separated from Gyomei, and comes face to face with the Upper Rank 1 Kizuki Kokushibo. The top rank Kizuki has been an enigma since his initial introduction, but when confronting Muichiro, his true identity finally comes to light. Kokushibo’s human name was Michikatsu Tsugikuni, one of Muichiro’s ancestors and a swordsman of the First Breath technique. Kokushibo’s also lives up to his name, easily evading Muichiro’s attacks, and then cutting off Muichiro’s left hand with his Moon Breathing attacks. While the Kizuki until now have been shown to be incredibly powerful, Kokushibo is established to be of an entirely different class than his fellow demons. Genya arrives on the scene and attempts to hit Kokushibo with a sneak attack, but is quickly sliced up by his sword. With all hope lost for both Genya and Muichiro, the one to come to their rescue is surprisingly Sanemi. Since his first appearance, Sanemi has come off as particularly heartless. He was one of the strongest advocates of killing Nezuko when Tanjiro was being judged by Ubayashiki, and has appeared cruel to even his own brother Genya. While Sanemi’s hatred for demons still seems to run thick, his feelings towards his brother are quite different. Sanemi doesn’t hate Genya, but rather, he hates that he also chose the path of a demon slayer. In order to protect his younger brother, Sanemi wanted to take on the burden of protecting them both, and wished for Genya to simply live a normal life. Now seeing the brother he wished to protect barely clinging to life, Sanemi directs all his hatred towards Kokushibo and goes on the offensive. Chapter 166 ends with Kokushibo and Sanemi clashing swords, revealing the grotesque eyes embedded across Kokushibo’s blade.
As usual, Gotouge’s art has been fantastic in each of these fights. The present fight with Kokushibo in particular has been able to quickly ramp up the tension thanks to the sudden panels of Kokushibo countering his opponents with ease. The two-page spread in chapter 165 where Muichiro loses his arm is the best example of this, immediately establishing the power dynamic that fight we show expect from the fight to come. Scenes such as these serve to further support Demon Slayer’s fantastic story, and deliver an engaging final product to readers.
Akaza and Doma have fallen, but with Kokushibo entering the fight, the stakes are as high as ever. It appears that we will be spending some more time away from Tanjiro for the coming weeks, but it will allow the series to give more focus to the rest of Demon Slayer’s solid cast and their struggles against the remaining Kizuki. It’s chapters like this batch that make me love Demon Slayer with a burning passion, and I’m looking forward to seeing the direction that the story takes from here.