Voice behind ‘Demon Slayer’ hero chats about the series’ appeal

©Koyoharu Gotoge / SHUEISHA, Aniplex, ufotable
Tanjiro Kamdo, the protagonist of “Kimetsu no Yaiba: Demon Slayer”

Empowering scenes of swordsmen risking their lives in a crusade against demonkind abound in the newest season of the TV anime series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,” which kicked off in December on the Fuji TV network and streaming services.

The new season is subtitled “Yukaku-hen,” the Entertainment District Arc. An arc refers to the storyline or setting that prevails throughout the season.

Natsuki Hanae, the voice actor for protagonist Tanjiro Kamado, recently spoke with The Yomiuri Shimbun about the animated series and its appeal.

Set in Japan’s Taisho era (1912-1926), “Demon Slayer” is a chronicle of Tanjiro’s journey to restore the humanity of his sister Nezuko, who was turned into a demon during an attack on their family. To fulfill his goal, Tanjiro enlists in the Kisatsutai, or Demon Slayer Corps, which includes the nation’s most elite and powerful class of sword-wielders known as Hashira. Together, they battle against a bevy of demons with the goal of killing the father of all demons, Muzan Kibutsuji.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Natsuki Hanae

The anime, based on the megahit manga of the same name created by Koyoharu Gotoge and published in Shueisha Inc.’s Shukan Shonen Jump weekly manga magazine, has further boosted the franchise’s popularity. The animated film “Demon Slayer – Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train” broke domestic box office records with over ¥40 billion in revenue and took in the equivalent of ¥50 billion in global ticket sales.

The fact that the series is so loved by such a wide range of people makes Hanae “genuinely happy.”

When asked why “Demon Slayer” has captivated so many hearts, he said: “I think it’s because [the series] successfully conveys the importance of caring for others and the intensity of [the characters’] feelings. Because family is one of the main themes, there are parts that everyone can relate to, I guess.”

Another of the series’ charms is the dialogue. According to Hanae, Tanjiro’s most impressive lines so far come in Mugen Train. Shown a nightmare involving his family by the demon Enmu, a furious Tanjiro rails: “There’s no way they’d ever say that! Not ever! Not my family! Don’t you dare insult my family!”

©Koyoharu Gotoge / SHUEISHA, Aniplex, ufotable
From left: Zenitsu Agatsuma, Tanjiro Kamado and Inosuke Hashibira in a scene from “Yukaku-hen” (Entertainment District Arc) of TV anime “Kimetsu no Yaiba: Demon Slayer”

“Just how important Tanjiro’s family is to him is abundantly clear here. He gives his all to demon slaying and puts his family before himself, putting painstaking and grueling efforts into everything he does. It’s like every word he utters gives me an encouraging pat on the back,” Hanae said.

In that same arc, Tanjiro’s comrade, Kyojuro Rengoku (the Flame Hashira), is killed in battle and leaves these dying words: “Set your heart ablaze.” Although devastated and regretting his own powerlessness, Tanjiro is inspired by these words and undertakes a new task, together with comrades, who include Zenitsu Agatsuma and Inosuke Hashibira. This becomes the backbone of the latest arc.

“I think you will see more of Tanjiro’s determination to become stronger as he takes Rengoku’s final words to heart,” Hanae said.

Flashy new character

In the new season, while Tanjiro and company infiltrate an entertainment district inhabited by demons, they encounter their newest comrade Tengen Uzui, the Sound Hashira. Although previously a ninja, Uzui strives to embody everything that is flamboyant. Dubbing himself a god of festivals, Uzui is a maverick and has three wives. He makes an impactful entry into the series by seemingly abducting two young women from Choyashiki (Butterfly mansion), the corps’ infirmary, although it might be more accurate to say he was recruiting them for a mission.

©Koyoharu Gotoge / SHUEISHA, Aniplex, ufotable
Nezuko Kamado

Hanae said Uzui is one of his favorite characters and that he was looking forward to his anime debut.

“[Uzui] is reliable and interesting in ways that are different from Rengoku or [Water Hashira] Giyu,” Hanae said. “On the surface, he claims to be all about flash and pizzazz, but he acts in a cool-headed fashion based on his own clear standards. I like when he ponders what he can accomplish with his current skills.”

There are quite a few comical scenes early on in this arc, such as one in which Tanjiro, Zenitsu and Inosuke cross-dress and wear thick makeup.

“Many of the key scenes have a bit of humor in them, so I think everyone can have fun watching,” Hanae said. “Everyone in the cast has a loud voice, so giving our best and trying to be louder than each other [during recording sessions] was a lot of fun.

The “Demon Slayer” anime is renowned for the fluid motions and distinct composition seen in its dynamic battle scenes. Everything, from props to background scenery, is beautifully presented.

©Koyoharu Gotoge / SHUEISHA, Aniplex, ufotable
Tengen Uzui

As the newest arc is set in a vibrant lust-filled entertainment district, the way the lights glitter across the darkness in the background is a visual treat in and of itself.

“It isn’t just the battle scenes. Scenes depicting everyday life are also beautiful. So picturesque, in fact, that if they were to become still images, they could pass as paintings. Even small items are intricately designed to allow full immersion into the story,” Hanae said.

True, even a room’s fusuma-e [pictures painted on fusuma sliding doors] are painted in great detail.

Enjoying character growth

Tanjiro is best known for his all-encompassing kindness, even empathizing with demons he has slain.

“He is very earnest and kindhearted. He is also very fair-minded, judging someone only by whether they are good or bad, be they demons or humans. I do my best not to tamper with his sense of fairness and pure heart,” Hanae said.

Just how does Hanae go about portraying such a character?

“I don’t think too hard, and I stick to the script. Tanjiro has a simple view of the world, so I always try to convey feelings as they come through in his lines,” Hanae said.

Hanae, who dove into the world of voice acting after graduating from high school, has portrayed various characters to date. Whenever he’s portraying Tanjiro, however, he “always feels the need to work harder.” He went on to say that his ideal was to become a person reminiscent of the “Water Breathing” technique mastered by his character.

“I hope to become someone who, like water, can fluidly adapt to any position and find the right balance for any situation,” he said.

Hanae thinks “Demon Slayer” has a message that touches people’s hearts.

“The emotions [Tanjiro] experiences as he slays demons come through loud and clear,” he said. “I guess everyone appreciates it differently, but after I became a father, I started seeing it from a father’s perspective. Please look forward to seeing how Tanjiro and company grow as they train and change both psychologically and physically.”

Main characters in ‘Demon Slayer’

— Tanjiro Kamado

Born the eldest son of a charcoal maker. Although he originally had never even held a sword, he joins the demon slayer corps Kisatsutai to hunt down Muzan and turn his sister Nezuko back into a human. He has senses so keen that he can accurately detect how people around him feel. Although he is basically a candid and kindhearted person, he can lose control when it comes to comrades or family.

— Nezuko Kamado

Tanjiro’s younger sister. During an attack on their family, she was turned into a demon when demon blood entered her wound. During the day, she hides in a box her brother carries on his shoulders. She is docile and behaves as someone to be protected. She regains her physical strength through sleep and can freely alter her size. She can also maneuver Bakketsu (“Exploding Blood”), one of the demon skills collectively called Kekkijutsu (Blood Demon Art).

— Zenitsu Agatsuma

One of Tanjiro’s demon-slaying companions. He may come off as a bit of a coward, but Zenitsu can bravely put up a fight when it counts. A user of the “Thunder Breathing” technique, his true strength emerges when he loses consciousness. He utilizes high-speed fighting techniques and has such a good sense of hearing that he can even sense what others are thinking. Thanks to his hearing, he can also play any musical instrument he has heard at least once. Although his overly flirtatious nature at one point exasperated his comrades, he’s currently head over heels for none other than Nezuko.

— Inosuke Hashibira

A fellow Kisatsutai member alongside Tanjiro and Zenitsu, Inosuke almost always wears a boar mask. He grew up in mountains and behaves and talks in a rough manner despite his typically handsome features under the mask. He wields two saw-like swords and uses the “Beast Breathing” technique. His extremely keen sense of touch allows him to sense movement in a wide area around him. He is completely self-trained, having no master of his own.