By Deanna Nguyen
We often tease shounen protagonists’ mid-fight declarations that their source of strength comes from the bonds they’ve forged with their friends or allies. It’s a staple of the genre—the hero’s journey isn’t complete without a ride-or-die crew.
Then you have Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba.
A recent entry in shounen anime that has already earned its share of accolades and praise, the show establishes that its two protagonists—Tanjiro and Nezuko Kamado—share a bond unlike any other.
As siblings, Tanjiro and Nezuko’s relationship might feel similar to Ed and Al’s from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. One is human, the other is not, and their journey is sparked by a tragic loss. Their stories revolve around a desperate chase to find a way for the nonhuman sibling to become human again.
What’s unique about Tanjiro and Nezuko is that they each took on supporting roles for their family, long before Nezuko suffers at the blood of a demon. They acted as surrogate parents for their younger siblings, supporting their mother and the family after the loss of their father.
Their continued tale of tragedy, when the family, sans Nezuko and Tanjiro, are struck down, is further amplified by the number of lives they felt responsible for.
Siblings, best friends and protectors
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba establishes early on that Tanjiro and Nezuko portray a healthy sibling relationship, despite the latter becoming a demon that hungers for human flesh.
The show eventually brings in the “My friends are my power!” trope, but the throughline is finding one’s source of strength through familial bonds, not just those through found family. Tanjiro and Nezuko’s bond is one that has overcome misfortune. As evidenced by their first encounter with Giyu Tomioka, the siblings will do anything to protect each other after already losing so much.
While many shounen protagonists grow stronger because they want to fight tough opponents and power up, Tanjiro is driven for his sister’s sake. Revenge is certainly one of Tanjiro’s motivations, but his main concern is turning Nezuko back into a human. His gentle demeanor is partly due to his protective older brother role, and he possesses something that the demons don’t have: hope.
As a result, Tanjiro’s greatest weapon is his sympathy for the demons who weren’t able to fight for their humanity.
And while Nezuko might not be as active in training and fighting as Tanjiro, when she does join the battle, she instinctively protects whomever isn’t a threat and doesn’t differentiate between humans and demons. Because Nezuko is able to prevent her demon state from corrupting her bond with Tanjiro, the Kamado siblings can support each other while proving to demons and Demon Slayers alike that they’re different, and they offer a source of hope in a cruel world.
This family motif is ever-present throughout the show and extends beyond just Tanjiro and Nezuko’s relationship, they just set the tone. Whether it’s Tanjiro meeting Sabito and Makomo during his training for the Final Selection or Nezuko seeing glimpses of her family in other humans and demons that they come across, these moments emphasize the significance of family.
Family goes beyond humans and demons—it’s the natural instinct to look out for and care for your own.
One of the climatic moments of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is when Tanjiro and Nezuko face off against Rui, a spider demon who has created a false image of family by controlling and assigning roles to other spider demons.
There’s a lot to love about this fight: the (literally) explosive sakuga, the insert song titled “Tanjiro Kamado’s Song” and hearing Nezuko finally speak. But what’s most compelling is the contrast between Tanjiro and Nezuko’s invisible bond and Rui’s spider threads that forcefully tie his family together.
Although the Kamado siblings’ bond is invisible, it’s clearly stronger than Rui’s connection with his “family.” Rui even admits that he wants what Tanjiro and Nezuko have.
Just when Tanjiro and Nezuko are about to lose the fight, they each have their own moment of reconnecting with their parents. Tanjiro remembers his father performing a fire dance ritual despite being so frail, and Nezuko has a vision of her mother telling her to save her brother. This revives their determination, with Tanjiro shouting at Rui: “Our bond can’t be severed by anyone!”
The insert song that plays during the fight offers the lyrics, “There’s a thin thread that can’t be seen and a tender sound that makes you want to cry… There are things I want to protect.”
Because it’s Tanjiro’s song, there’s no doubt that these lyrics were written from his perspective. The “thin thread that can’t be seen” can be interpreted as his bond with Nezuko, and the “tender sound that makes you want to cry” is the sorrow from losing his family. Tanjiro wants to protect the thread, knowing how delicate it is and that it could snap at any moment.
Tanjiro and Nezuko combine their powers—that of a Demon Slayer’s Breathing Form and a demon’s Blood Art—to keep Rui from killing them until Giyu shows up and saves the day.
With this moment, an arc comes full circle. At the beginning of this story, Giyu wanted to kill Nezuko because she was a demon. We later see how the Kamado siblings have inspired others into protecting their familial bond, especially with Giyu and Urokodaki, who vowed alongside Tanjiro to commit seppuku if Nezuko ever kills a human.
One of The Pillars, Shinobu, even admits that she feels at ease around Tanjiro and Nezuko because she had an older sister whom she loved but lost too soon.
It’d be easy to blame demons for everything that’s happened to the Kamado siblings, but Tanjiro believes demons to be more tragic than terrifying. His acute sense of smell can detect emotions, which demons are still capable of possessing. Much of what Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is shows us that there’s no separation between humans or demons because, in a conversation with Kanao, Tanjiro tells her, “It’s the heart that drives people.”
And that heart? The bond between brother and sister.