Demon Slayer and the Faithful Practice of Sacrifice
Look - if you get to know me through our streams or the #anime channel on our Discord, it won’t take long to learn that I’m not the biggest Shonen fan. I grew up on the likes of DBZ, Bleach, One Piece, and Naruto and I’ve just read and watched too many of them at this point. Demon Slayer is one that continues to put me on the fence. With perhaps the most boring first season I’ve ever experienced, Demon Slayer has considerably upped the pace for season 2 and the transitional arc of Mugen Train. The latter of which we’ll be tackling in this video.
Ace - I mean, Kyojuro Rengoku is a fascinating character and is definitely more than just a big brother character. The spoilers that happen during the Mugen Train film and series tell a familiar story to some of the concepts of sacrifice that Jesus presented during his ministry on earth. So for this one - let’s take a look at the flame hashira and see if he can teach us about more than tasty food. Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and Thomas the Tank Engine’s evil twin. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deepdives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
1 John 3:13-18 (NRSV)
Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
So what is the deal with Mugen Train? Or however you might pronounce it? Idk, the last time we did a nerdy sermon on Demon Slayer was actually before nerdy sermons were a thing with our Advent of the Nerd series that spawned this whole thing. I read the manga, didn’t watch the show, so I pronounced the MC’s Tan-jeero and people got spicy about it.
So, anyway Demon Slayer is a current anime where our MC Tanjiro is one of the titular demon slayers, but not by choice. He is out selling charcoal for his family one day when their humble abode gets got by a demon who kills his entire family - well, almost his entire family…
His little sister Nezuko survives, but is caught in a kind of stasis between human and demon herself. There’s a lot of rules for all of this that we won’t go over in this video, okay?
It’s unabashedly a shonen, so most of the rules are nonsense and exist to be broken later, anyway.
Regardless, Tanjiro wants to find a way to de-transform, un-transform, re-form…? Undo the demonification that has been done to Nezuko. So he decides to join up with the Demon Slayer Corps to try and learn more.
All the while, he is carrying his sister literally on his back in a chest to keep her out of the sun, because remember the weird demon rules? You know the drill.
Thus begins the huge epic adventure of friendship and telling the same story over and over again to milk this cash cow and have some dope action scenes sprinkled here and there with as much fanservice as the US censorship will allow.
That all leads us up to Mugen Train, which was first released as a film that actually did a very successful US tour, so YAY anime!
Mugen Train finds Tanjiro and his bestest buddies and fellow Slayer trainees Zentisu and Inosuke aboard the mysterious Mugen Train that has reportedly had missing passengers recently and is believed to be the source of some demon antics.
Along with our heroes, Kyojuro Rengoku is also aboard the train. Rengoku is a Hashira, which basically means he’s the best of the best and in the top 1% of the Demon Slayer Corps. He’s also a bit of a doof, like every shonen character. My bias is showing, isn’t it? Get back in there.
Rengoku and the boys bond quickly and decide to work together and solve the mystery of the Mugen Train.
With that, let’s get to some spoiler territory for the rest of the video. Mugen is a super short and easy watch, you should really check it out if you haven’t already.
As Tanjiro and Rengoku soon learn, the demon [Enmu] who has been using this train as a stomping ground brings in passengers and then lulls them into sleep. The demon then has them trapped and can enjoy eating them at their leisure. Actually, the goal is destroy the spiritual cores or something - whatever, my bet is that plot point never shows up again.
However, of course that’s not gonna work with our heroes being the latest bait. So they fight their way out of the hold of sleep and discover that the demon can’t be beat by cutting off it’s head - which goes against the rules that I mentioned earlier.
*smiles in hot take*
It turns out that the demon that Tanjiro fought and beheaded wasn’t the actual demon, the actual demon is the train DUN DUN DUNNN But wait I thought Demons couldn’t got out in the sun. I know. I know.
So the fight continues and, with help from his buddies and big brother figure in Rengoku, Tanjiro is able to behead the train and successfully end the Mugen Train demon.
OR SO WE THOUGHT. But like an M Night outta hell, the story twists again and another random super strong demon [Akaza] shows up to enter the fight. This one is drastically stronger and determined to take on our big bro Rengoku, knowing that he is a Hashira and it would make his boss extra proud should he take out one of the biggest in the Demon Slayer Corps
So Rengoku and this demon begin fighting faster than the speed of light to the point that Gohan and Krillin can’t even see what’s happening in the fight. Sorry - Tanjiro and Inosuke, my bad.
The fight is super epic but ends when Rengoku is just simply unable to keep up with the regenerative powers - demon rule - of his adversary and is dealt a fatal blow through the chest during their fight. Knowing his demise is imminent, Goku holds Raditz for long enough to Piccolo to take him down - I don’t know how this keeps happening. I meant to say until the sun comes up. *wink*
The demon manages to get away and Rengoku dies an honorable death of managing to save everyone aboard the train. Yay. Happy story. Good ending. Love to see it.
Rengoku parts a lot of wisdom throughout the entirety of the film and series and his death is a pretty clear - dare I say - signal of virtue being imparted upon Tanjiro. The goal of the mangaka seems pretty clear in this one imo - he’s even the actual FLAME HASHIRA - this death is meant to set Tanjiro’s heart ablaze no matter how devastated he feels due to his weakness or uselessness.
But before we analyze Rengoku’s actions any further, let’s take a quick look at our scripture
This passage comes from one of the letters, or epistles, of John, one of Jesus’ apostles. In particular, this letter was written to a group of churches dealing with a serious secession in their ranks. Some of the members of the congregation had questioned the incarnation of Jesus and it had caused a real crisis of faith that depleted the church of a majority of their membership.
So this passage gains a bit more context and flavor with that in mind - when John attempts to ease the concerns of the faithful believers in these churches, he isn’t just saying very tritely that the ‘world’ generally will hate the believers for what they believe. While that may very well be true, what John is really saying is that these folks that used to be a part of your church family now hate you. It’s way more personal than just some truism - it’s a cutting reminder of the life that these folks are living.
Then John goes into a weird diatribe about love and hate. Who is hating in the picture again? Oh yeah, the world, the world hates. And who was the world again? Oh yeah, the folks that used to be in the church for those this letter is written for.
So John says, “Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.”
Whoa, okay that reads a little different with the context in mind. Sounds like John might be a little frustrated with those who have left the church. So what should we do about it?
Well first off, don’t be surprised by it. Second, we are still called to love, we’ve died to that old death already. It no longer has a sting.
So how do we love? We lay down our lives for one another. John asks, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”
Well, who needs help in this scenario? Probably the folks over there that are abiding in death. So we’re to not be surprised that our old family hates us now, we’re to still love them and intentionally help them. Anything else, John - or can we please be done?
Nope, still a lil more, John continues, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
So to sum it up, when we’re being looked at with hate by the people that used to love us, we are to not be surprised, we’re to love anyway, we’re to go above and beyond because their the ones in need of the love we’re called to offer, and we can’t just talk a good talk, we need to actually do the thing.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at Rengoku’s act of sacrifice
We get to learn more and more about Rengoku’s personal life as we experience this series - his papa was once the Flame Hashira, but retired and became a drunk when his wife, Kyojuro’s mom, died. Now his daddy is violent and constantly upset. Kyojuro also a leel brother who admires his big bro. Most importantly, Kyojuro was taught by his late mama that he must use his great strength for others.
That brings us to the Mugen Train moment where Rengoku knows for a fact that no one else can do what needs to be done. No one will be able to help him. In the words of Son Goku, if he doesn’t who will? So he uses his great strength as a means by which to protect the people that he loves - which is everyone.
This sacrifice unquestionably looks like madness to everyone looking on. As the demon Akaza keeps requesting, Rengoku knows that death is inevitable and that allowing himself to be demonized is the only way for him to walk away from this ‘alive’
From Tanjiro’s perspective, Rengoku could use the help of the three boys and no doubt conquer this demon, but that would risk losing one of them.
So, out of his wisdom of the moment, Rengoku decides that what he must do is fight the fight as hard as he can and sacrifice himself in order for the ones that he loves to live.
So he fights this fight to the death alone. I think that Rengoku knew the odds and knew that it was fairly unlikely he could kill the demon. Despite his doofy personality and quirks, he was a smart strategist and knew the odds. But he also knew his strength and his purpose and knew that he would be able to hold the demon off until it had to flee with the sun, thus saving the lives of the pupils and the innocent on the train.
And in the end, he knows that he will accomplish his real goal of setting the future demon slayers' hearts ablaze no matter how devastated they feel due to their weakness or uselessness.
Tanjiro feels pretty weak at the end of this film, so maybe Rengoku failed. Or maybe it’s not actually a heart set ablaze, but a small flicker of hope that grows bigger as Tanjiro continues to grow.
By the time the credits roll, Rengoku has managed to hold strong to his values and love beyond reason. That love led to the ultimate sacrifice of his life. The demons, who actually suffer with the curse of faux immortality, hate Rengoku because of their inability to comprehend the beauty of humanity - which is in our capability of loving, although this movie calls it a human’s will. But it’s love. Love that pushes above and beyond and does baffling things.
So what does Rengoku’s sacrifice and the words of John possibly mean for us today?
Well, for starters, not everyone is going to be called to literally lay down their life. Sometimes sacrifice looks more like entering into a relationship where you’re hated and offering up love, grace, and understanding.
Checkpoint Church is specifically called to Twitch and the nerds, geeks, and gamers. Many of us were forced out of the church, sometimes physically, because of the things we love. Many of us are angry at the church. Some might even hate the church. And that’s okay. There’s a reason that we end these videos with our three truths that we believe to be true about everyone watching, even those that hate the church.
So, know that you might be hated for the love that you’re trying to offer from Jesus. Don’t be surprised, just offer it and be prepared to move past that hatred into a place of love.
Maybe you’re called to be someone’s Rengoku. Maybe someone needs to see a big brother esque figure that is willing to take them under their wing and guide them in love.
Maybe you’re still processing the loss of your Rengoku. Maybe you’re trying to figure out how to let them set the fire ablaze in your heart.
Regardless of where you might be or who you might more identify with in this movie, know that you’re always welcome here at Checkpoint Church.
Question: Do you think the show earned Rnegoku’s death? I don’t and I’m halfway through Season 2 and I’m worried they are going to do it again. Idk fridging is just a lazy method of shonen storytelling for me and, say what you will about My Hero, their keeping All Might alive despite being a clear motivational death for Deku, it just makes me respect Horikoshi as a writer. Even after these past few volumes. A story for another time.
God loves you.
We love you.