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Demon Slayer’s Entertainment District Arc lifted from real-life destruction

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[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for the finale of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’s Entertainment District Arc.]

Between a Demon Slayer’s sword and a Higher Rank 6 demon, flames were all over the place in “Never Give Up,” the penultimate episode of demon slayer‘s Entertainment District Arc. As Tanjiro Kamado clung to life in his fight against the demon Gyutaro in the episode’s opening moments, the neighborhood went down in flames from Tanjiro’s mighty force of Hinokami and Gyutaro, leaving the Demon Slayer to stand. ask if the locals did well. . The breathtaking devastation at Yoshiwara was highlighted by a wide, lingering shot of the area.

But for residents of Yoshiwara during the Taishō era, the period between the years 1912 to 1926, this destruction of the neighborhood would be all too familiar. Time and time again, just like Edo itself, Yoshiwara fell into ruin and was reborn again.

The Continual Destruction of Yoshiwara

A photo of a power line pole with a fire at the base in Demon Slayer

Image: Ufotable

The Yoshiwara we see in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Entertainment District Arc is a city born from the ashes of another. The original Yoshiwara, founded in 1617, was located in an area known today as Nipponbashi, one of Tokyo’s most central locations and close to the Imperial Palace. The original district was created by the shogunate as part of the licensed prostitution system, not to hide the debauchery that took place there, but to keep the sex industry centered in one place to ease taxation and regulatory process. (A very government thing to do.)

As Edo changed from a rural town where the then emperor vacationed to a market town, the area surrounding Yoshiwara became increasingly urbanized, and the space occupied by the pleasure district was necessary for the hordes of people moving to the eastern capital. Around this time, Edo’s first major fire (later known as the Great Fire of Meireki) burned most of Edo and took Yoshiwara with it.

Like a phoenix from the ashes of destruction, Shin Yoshiwara (New Yoshiwara) was born on the outskirts of Asakasa. The shogunate forced businesses to move to the then paddy fields and settle in 1657, where for nearly 100 years the area witnessed the carnal desires of Edo.

But the new location has still seen its fair share of fires. Every 20 years or so, residents of Shin Yoshiwara fled to temporary housing in Asakusa as they watched their homes and businesses crumble – a common sight in Edo where machiyathe style buildings were made of wood and were close enough to each other that you could borrow kitchen equipment when reaching your neighbor’s kitchen.

The cause of these fires was often arson: yukaku sex workers pushed to their limits by abuse from their owners and clients, or Shinto priests attempting to rid the neighborhood of demons. A smaller nearby pleasure district known as Susaki Paradise also burned down often for similar reasons.

Paint

“Illustrated scroll of the fires in Edo” by Tashiro Koshun in the 19th century
Image: Edo-Tokyo Museum

These recurring small fires (if you could call “small” blocks of burned buildings) culminated in the Great Yoshiwara Fire in April 1911. The fire was so large that it followed the Sumida River to neighboring districts – including including the famous Asakusa district – destroying the entire Yoshiwara area – including 300 rental parlors (so called because one could “rent” a girl from the window), 123 Hikie tea parlors (where a suitor was introduced to an “upper class” girl who would entertain him for the night), as well as 650 houses and dormitories.

Just as Yoshiwara has done on many occasions, the neighborhood rises from the ashes to serve its clientele for another decade…until the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which again flattens the neighborhood along with most of the bustling city. The magnitude 7.9 event was estimated to have swept away 70% of Tokyo’s buildings, with subsequent fires and aftershocks contributing to this statistic. Yoshiwara, who had only recently rebuilt, saw whirlwinds of fire engulf the neighborhood, with a powerful typhoon helping the flame reach 20 meters into the air. It is estimated that more than 40,000 people perished when these fiery whirlwinds cut off exits from the neighborhood, leaving them to die in these flames.

This was the last time Yoshiwara would be rebuilt for use, as the area was flattened again during the bombings of Tokyo during World War II, then was removed by law in 1958 when the Anti-Prostitution Law came into effect. force and destroyed the neighborhood. more than any of the fires. But the area mostly exists today – although it’s just another urban suburb of Tokyo with a few soaplands, rather than the flashy neighborhood that’s portrayed in demon slayer.

Yoshiwara’s Influence on Demon Slayer History

Demons overlooking the entertainment district on fire

Image: Ufotable

Yoshiwara’s unfathomable destruction lent itself greatly to the world of demon slayerinspiring manga creator Koyoharu Gotouge to make the Pleasure Quarter (which translates to “yukaku” in Japanese, the name of the arc in Japan) the setting for the most public (and flashiest) fight between demons and killers nowadays.

When the series introduced Yoshiwara in the second episode of the Entertainment District arc, the yukaku seemed like the perfect home for demons, thanks to the nocturnal aspect of the area and the then-intermittent destruction. Daki, one of the demons in the arc who used her title of oiran (the highest rank a Yoshiwara girl could achieve) to kidnap others, constantly had to become a new person so as not to arouse suspicion. on his 100 years of youth. life. It’s easier to do when the neighborhood has practically turned to ashes every few decades.

While the manga did its job of conveying Gotouge’s story, the anime produced at Ufotable only increased the similarities and realism of the dangerous life in Taisho’s time, Yoshiwara might have felt , either facing a Higher Rank Six demon or real-life disasters.

The visceral use of realistic flames, mixed with photorealistic backgrounds, and an orange tint in the lighting throughout the scenes resulted in stunning atmospheric shots. Machiya burning in the background, wood burning everywhere, the sewer in the middle of what was once the gravel path between the houses. If anyone from Taisho-era Yoshiwara saw the footage, they probably wouldn’t mind if they thought they were looking at footage recorded during the 1911 fire – although the giant skeleton of a demon could warn them it’s not real.

A photo of Demon Slayer of Yoshiwara burning

Image: Ufotable

A demon in Demon Slayer threatening Tanjiro

Image: Ufotable

Whenever Gyutaro was within the scope of the attack, the flames danced all over the place, while the shots with Tanjiro leading the attack had more subdued flames, symbolizing that demons were carriers of both natural and supernatural disasters. It also includes the time when Gyutaro and Tengen fought, where each hit from the weapon brought Steel man-levels of destruction in Yoshiwara in a way not seen since the Great Kanto Earthquake.

The staff at Ufotable didn’t need to go that far on animating this episode, but the punch of Toshiyuki Shirai writing and directing the episode with a caravan of amazing animators which included the animator legendary Nozomu Abe, who both worked together to create Season 1 “Hinokami” shots that blew viewers away around the world, leveled the animation beyond anything we’ve truly seen in anime previously televised. The CG staff flexed harder than Tengen’s muscle mice.

Like Yoshiwara himself, rising like a phoenix from metaphorical, physical, and self-created flames, Tanjiro was able to defeat the demon Gyutaro and save what was left of the neighborhood. But Yoshiwara’s lingering last shot used in place of the end credits is a harrowing and haunting moment that felt like the scene of a bomb exploding or an earthquake. If I hadn’t seen the episode before, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had told me it was a painting from the era.

Japanese cinema has a habit of lifting images of real-life events to invoke the emotions one may have felt at the time to really hammer the weight of a scene. One of the best examples is that of Hideaki Anno shin godzillawhich blatantly referenced the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, using similar camera angles to news footage of the day to give that sense of dread that even I felt watching the news footage when broadcast live around the world.

Demon standing above Tanjiro amid burning wreckage in Demon Slayer

Image: Ufotable

Japan is a country of rebirth, especially through natural disasters. Whereas demon slayer may not have the luxury of 4K camera footage of a fire in 1911, the staff at Ufotable have thousands and thousands of images to reference, as well as disaster footage from the last decade. The memory of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami still lingers in the public consciousness, with the wave-flattened house resembling that of Yoshiwara in 1911 and in Demon slayer.

These allegories of real events, whether from 1911, 1923, or 2011, make us feel like these upper-tier demons – which we’ve barely touched on in the series so far – are basically natural disasters. unstoppable. (unless their head is cut off).

Clearly the staff at Ufotable did their homework researching reference images of fires and destruction from the era and likely used photos, as seen in the real photos above of the big fire from Yoshiwara and below from the end of the 10th episode of the Entertainment District Arc.

The utter sense of hopelessness that single wide angle shot was heartbreaking, especially since we had just seen the four Demon Slayers defeat the two Demons after half the arc was spent cutting their necks . As much as the series left us on a cliffhanger between episodes 9 and 10, the nerve of demon slayer leaving viewers hanging with such vivid imagery – pulled straight from the pages of the true horrors of history – deserves a round of applause.

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