With only a few episodes to go, I figured Demon Slayer would give us at least one more “calm before the storm” type of story before diving into whatever its final arc for the season will be, but thankfully, “Hashira Meeting” is the good kind of low-stakes Demon Slayer episode, exactly what last week's wasn't. The direction goes beyond an unending parade of shot-reverse-shot dialogues, and the conversation itself is more meaningful, giving the whole episode a greater sense of purpose compared to the unending ramblings of “Master of the Mansion”. Even the heavy emphasis on jokes works in the episode's favor – Demon Slayer can be funny, and it's lovely to see an anime balance its silly and serious tones with such panache. (Fire Force could learn a thing or two from this series.)
Then there's Nezuko, who's still being given such short shrift that it can't possibly be made up for in just a few episodes, but at least she gets one great scene this week. It's a brief flashback to her time as a human, which comes as Sanemi taunts her with his bloodied arm. The sequence is simple and doesn't necessarily tell us anything we don't know; Nezuko is tempted to tear the jerkwad limb from limb, but she's able to hold on to a shred of her will and resist. What makes this significant is the simple fact that it's the first instance of us seeing into Nezuko's perspective in who knows how long. (I know we got a glimpse with her big powerup moment in episode 19, but that sequence was still 95% about Tanjiro being a badass, so I'm not counting it.)
I'm still not entirely sure how much of Nezuko's ability to resist is from the hypnosis that Urokodaki performed on her, but that continues to be one of the dumbest things the show has done with her character, so I'm perfectly fine just ignoring it entirely and pretending that Nezuko's desire to protect people is just an extension of her affection for her brother. What ultimately matters is that for just a tiny moment, we get insight into Nezuko's thought process, and we see a moment of decision that forces her to demonstrate how she's growing as a person. This is otherwise known as “character development”, and most stories wouldn't completely forget about that for one of their main characters for a full 75% of their runtime. By my count, there are only about seven episodes in the past twenty-three where Nezuko has made a tangible contribution to the story. Most of what she's done is kick things or make silly faces for the sake of a gag, making her more like an animal companion than a character.
That's not to say I don't like silly faces. Some of the reactions she gives to Sanemi are among the funniest moments we've gotten from Nezuko so far, but these sight gags don't inform us as to who Nezuko is any more than if she were a cat making the same kinds of faces. For almost all of this first season, Nezuko has been treated like a prop, a pet, or a tool for kicking things that happens to be dressed in a cute kimono. When she resists her desire to kill Sanemi and uphold her vow not to kill humans, she becomes something approaching a real character. Maybe in future seasons, Demon Slayer will actually decide to make good on that potential and write a real arc for her. I certainly hope so.
After that, most of the episode is devoted to gags, but they're good ones. Tanjiro wanting to vengeance-headbutt Sanemi is a perfectly “Tanjiro” response to the whole situation, made even funnier by the exasperated reactions of the Demon Slayer Corps cleanup crew members, who are stuck literally carrying him to the Butterfly Manor. The Hashiras get less time to talk this week, but they come across much less forced too; their barely restrained laughter at Tanjiro's dramatic heroic speech was a thousand times more endearing that the entirety of last week's episode.
It may be a sign that I've truly been indoctrinated by Demon Slayer's style of goofiness, but I was honestly happy to hear Zenitsu's inhuman wailing when he showed back up with Inosuke. Say what you will about Zenitsu, but Hiro Shimono is clearly having the time of his life voicing the orange coward's preternaturally annoying screams and sobs. I can only assume that it's still Yoshitsugu Matsuoka playing Inosuke this week, though the poor boar apparently had his throat mangled by the fight in the forest, so he sounds as if he's been smoking twenty packs of cigarettes packed with gravel every day for the last ten years. Though each of our heroes is heavily battered and bruised, they're happy to be back together, and it's a testament to how much I've enjoyed Demon Slayer that I'm equally happy to see them reunited.
Funnily enough, the titular “Hashira Meeting” doesn't offer much to chew on, even though it hogs the last few minutes of the episode. The Master continues to be enigmatic and spooky – not only does he know about Tamayo, but he seems to have a personal grudge against Kibutsuji as well. I wonder if it has anything to do with the scarred face? Either way, I'm sure we'll get some kind of clue in the coming weeks, as Demon Slayer heads into its final episodes, which promise even more Zenitsu squealing than we ever could have hoped for.