Based on the manga by Koyoharu Gotouge, The Demon Slayer franchise saw its popularity elevated by the rise of manga sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train released in theaters in 2020, earning $350 million at Japan’s box office during its opening weekend and surpassing a record set by Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away as the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. The movie will be recut into seven anime episodes, with new footage, on Oct. 10.
The Demon Slayer series follows the good-natured Tanjiro, armed with a razor-sharp sense of smell, as he ventures into the demon-slaying vocation and vows to find a way to restore his demon sister’s humanity. As he acquires colorful allies, Tanjiro often bewilders other slayers with his compassion, expressing intense pity for demon souls.
Mugen Train sees Tanjiro and his team face the merciless demons Enmu and Akaza, dangerous dreamscapes, and the loss of the Hashira Kyojuro Rengoku. The anime is comprised of episodes recut from the movie, including an original episode set before the events of the movie. To keep the material fresh from the movie, there are new music tracks, a new opening, and 70 new cuts of scenes, including one where Rengoku engages in a pre-train mission.
Fans of the anime relived the fun and the sorrows aboard the Mugen Train — somewhat — at the 2021 New York Comic Con. Aleks Le (Zenitsu), Abby Trott (Nezuko), Landon McDonald (Enmu), and Lucien Dodge (Akaza and the movie’s ADR script writer) gathered at the spoiler-filled panel to talk about the recording experience on Mugen Train.
Trott had the most fun voicing the dream sequence where Nezuko is represented in her “chibi-esque side.” Funnily enough, she recorded for Inosuke’s comedic dream sequence before Nezuko’s serious scenes, so she was confused when Nezuko — in Inosuke’s eccentric headspace — was a bunny.
Le said of Zenitsu, the easily frightened slayer, “He doesn’t get to be happy a lot. For the more serious section of the movie, I was able to bring a heroic side. This is the first time he’s actually protecting Nezuko as a person.” He laughed. “A lot of people watching the trailer thought I got replaced because it showed the clip of Zenitsu [heroic] side and thought, oh no, Aleks got fired.”
Although Le was asked if he approached Zenitsu’s panicky characterization differently than he did in the first season of the anime, he portrayed him the same and just growing. “He always wanted to be a protector but he never had the opportunity to prove himself in front of his friends. When he does something cool, no one sees it,” he said. “It’s like when you crumble a piece of paper and throw it in the bin but nobody’s there.”
McDonald said that he thinks fondly of the sinister Enmu, “I don’t think he’s a villain. He’s just a guy who wants a promotion.” He pulled out a chibi plush doll of Enmu and showed it. “Just look at this guy and tell me he’s a villain!” Le reached out and playfully squeezed the doll.
As for the other villain, the script ADR ended up casting himself as Akaza. Dodge detailed, “When writing the English dub script, I was not Akaza yet. I perform the lines to figure if it’s flowing, does it emulate the character naturally? I surmise if it needs to be tweaked. When I got to the character, I couldn’t help [think] while writing the character that I could probably play this character well.”
Other cast members, Zach Aguilar (Tanjiro), Bryce Papenbrook (Inosuke), and Mark Whitten (Rengoku) sent their insights about performing their characters’ arcs through pre-recorded videos.
Aguilar empathized with Tanjiro. “The key to tapping into those moments was imagining my own family in Tanjiro’s family. He’s a kid who lost his entire family, except for Nezuko. Now in the moving train, he gets to see his family again in a dream and finds the resolve to realize it is a dream and move on,” he said. “When Tanjiro is shouting at Akaza, it’s a build-up of his frustrations throughout the series and movie.”
The prideful, boar-headed Inosuke is budding into a more aware and openly emotional person during Mugen Train. “I love playing those scenes when he’s really the one who’s making the right decision, taking the role of the leader,” said Papenbrook. “When Inosuke cries [in the movie] it’s the ugliest cry in the world.” An audience member shouted to add, “like a king!”
The seven-episode recut of the Mugen Train movie streams on Funimation starting Oct. 10. The second season will kick off on Dec. 5 with an hour-long premiere.