Tanjiro as the embodiment of kindness even in battle, is a very unique and refreshing take on the shounen hero trope, that is worth looking at in detail. By the way, this blog has no spoilers for season 2. I’ve really been looking forward to talking about Tanjiro for a while now. Even though I criticised the character writing overall in my blog on why you should watch demon slayer, Tanjiro is not only an exception to this but also easily one of the most interesting ones in the show.
In a weird way he is your very stereotypical shounen hero on the one side and yet something entirely new and different on the other. And I find his personality and philosophy extremely fascinating. Hi my name is Manu, the only demons I’ve ever slain are the ridiculously huge mosquitos here in Japan, like I absolutely hate killing any living thing, but for mosquitos I can go full berserk mode, those are true demons, where was I? Oh yeah, I’ve been absolutely obsessed with the beauty of the Kimetsu no Yaiba Anime.
And so I just had no other choice but analyse its main character and found some surprisingly deep writing behind it. What do I mean by that? Well, on the surface, Tanjiro Kamado fits the typical Shounen hero mold pretty nicely. He’s a young boy, check, who goes on an adventure fighting bad guys, check, trying to get stronger to reach his goal, check and has a hidden power he didn’t know about all along, check.
Tanjiro’s desire, his big goal is super clearly defined and tells us a lot about his character: After his entire family is murdered, except for his sister, who is turned into a demon, Tanjrio doeasn’t seek revenge, but simply wants to save the last remaining member of his family and turn Nezuko back into a human.
This perfectly sets up his most important character trait overall his empathy. And I found that really interesting, because Tanjiro even is kind or at least empathetic to the demons he encounters. He is the only one that is willing to see them as people, but at the same time he still wants to turn Nezuko back. At first I found that a little bit paradoxical, but when you actually think about it, it speaks of a certain maturity.
He is able to see the people who were turned into demons, but he still dislikes the condition of being a demon, for obvious reasons, I mean they eat people and shit. Now usually, for most heroes, beneath that superficial desire that they have, there is actually a subconscious need that a character has. A lie they believe about the world, that needs to be challenged.
Now at the beginning of the series, it would be easy to say Tanjiro’s need is to lose his naivety. You can’t empathise with everyone, especially if they are trying to kill you. It seems like his kindness and hate for violence might be a hindrance in his fight against the most evil and strongest beings in this world. However that is proven wrong relatively quickly. Tanjiro proves to us very early on that he can do both, be kind and caring AND do what is necessary at the same time.
He has a sort of kind ruthlessness in him, that results in scenes like this [gently cutting the girls head of]. The point, that I found really astonishing to be honest, is that Tanjiro doesn’t really have a need to change. He is an incredibly kind and caring person with a strong will to fight and get stronger to protect his sister and those who need protection, and he stays that person. As a result, Tanjiro has close to no character development in the story.
Now, you probably know a few people, who proclaim that if a character has no character development, it’s a bad character. Which is not true. A character is bad if he is inconsistent or simply boring. The reason Tanjiro stands out as a Shounen hero however, is that most shounen protagonists have a positive character arc.
They start with a fault to their character, that they resolve at the end of the story. They have positive character arcs, becoming better people as the story goes on. Even a character like Saitama in One Punch Man needs to learn that true happiness doesn’t come from fighting stronger and stronger opponents, but from the relationship he has built.
A rare variation on this is a negative character arc, where the hero becomes disillusioned with the world and becomes a worse person, like Gon in Hunter x Hunter. Tanjiro on the other hand has a flat character arc, yup that’s a real thing. He already has accepted the world as it is and has chosen his path of how to approach it.
In his case kindness. Flat arcs are very rare in Shounen, because the audience expects the hero to grow and change as they face harder and harder obstacles. And flat character arcs thus can be confusing or frustrating. A good example I think is Ichigo from bleach. He also barely changes throughout the story, and only gets stronger physically.
The problem is, is that bleach is way too long for such a hero. It becomes dull at some point, which was ultimately its downfall. Demon slayer on the other hand is relatively short. The manga is already over, and there might be even less than 100 anime episodes at the end, which lets us focus on the world and people around Tanjiro without it getting too boring.
That being said, flat arcs depend on your taste, and if you prefer seeing someone grow as a person, then that’s fair, I totally get that. But it’s not bad writing in Tanjiro’s case. His only flaw is his physical weakness, that he has to continually fight and struggle against. He hates how useless he is, how he cannot help the people he wants to help.
Once criticism I personally have here, is that I feel like the characters around Tanjiro could use way stronger character arcs. I think Tanjiro as a pillar of goodness would have actually been some really great writing if the people around him changed a lot more in his presence than they do in the end.
Shinobu and Kanao are the closest we get, but it could have been more impactful I think. The people who change the most are the demons, and that only after they are defeated. Which I find a bit of a shame. So what IS Tanjiro all about then? Well as most heroes, he is the foil and exact opposite to the villain of the story, Muzan in every aspect. Everything from their motivations, to the ideals and values they represent.
While Muzan only cares about himself and sees everyone around him, demons and humans alike as tools to use for his desires, Tanjiro’s central defining trait is his altruism. His greatest priority will always be the lives of other people around him. Even though he’s fighting against literal demons, he sees every last of them as people.
While he does not forgive and still condemns them for their actions, in the end he acknowledges that all of them were humans at one point and tries his best to respect their feelings. Even though he has to take their lives in order to protect his own or that of his friends, he tries to give them the kindness that they were denied during their lifetime, giving them a bit of redemption and a final chance to reflect on their lives.
And so his arc is purely about finding strength without throwing away his kindness, or his humanity. Instead of changing and becoming a better person, Tanjiro is all about staying the great man he is. He embodies the ideal of existentialism, basically the idea that his life derives meaning and happiness from selflessly giving to the people around him.
To the point where he tries to give meaning to everyone he meets. [Tanjiro and the girl] Even though the first season of Demon Slayer was an absolute firework in terms of production for me, as I explained in my previous blog, the Mugen Train movie really took me by surprise with its story line, especially for Tanjiro.
The fact that we got to physically enter everyone’s deepest desire and even more interestingly, see everyone’s subconsciousness was an incredibly creative choice in my opinion. I doubt this was on purpose, but the visual nature of the anime makes up for a lot of the character writing in my opinion and so literally visualising everyone’s personality was a really awesome move.
I wonder what my subconscious would look like. Mostly coffee probably and you gently hitting the subscribe button. Anyways, in Tanjiro’s dream, instead of returning back to his family left dead after being massacred, he finds them alive instead, at least at first. Tanjiro’s desire is very simple — to just live a happy live with with his family.
After all, he’s just a simple charcoal-burner, and a simple elder brother who became the breadwinner at a young age after the death of his father. The dream brings to light all of his trauma, regrets, and guilt that he must carry with him at all times, as he huggs his “alive” siblings so tightly, apologizing over and over again, even though his dream self doesn’t know exactly why he was apologizing and crying.
Tanjiro understandably has a pretty severe case of survivor’s guilt, as he was the only one who got away unharmed, especially as the oldest brother. It is the first time since going on his journey, where he can pause and reflect on that fact, because he kept himself distracted with his mission to get stronger and at least save Nezuko.
At the same time it once again shows that Tanjiro is already mature and priorities those around him. Instead of allowing himself to be drawn in by the thing he desires most, he is able to let go of the past in order to save the people on board of the train. He even goes so far as to kill himself in order to get out of the dream, which is pretty radical, if I’m being honest.
And yet, despite all the pain and regret inside him, when we get to enter Tanjiro’s subconsciousness, it still is an endless oasis of love and warmth, with his core shining as bright as the sun, the thing demons fear the most. He still reminds unconditionally kind to the point where you could call him the personification of kindness itself.
The boy who entered this place was reduced to tears and is healed from his darkness, exactly the thing I would have liked to see for more characters around him. Tanjiro is the sun that frees people and demons alike from the darkness of their hearts and their eternal pain. And that’s what makes him such a unique character in the shounen genre.
Thanks for reading.
That’s me, Andreea Blaga, author of the blog anime-everything.com. I work as a content creator in the US. I am also passionate about Japanese Anime.