Demon Slayer : Difference Between Eastern and Western Demons
Like all of you, I too was swept along by the passionate story-telling of the Demon Slayer franchise. I can’t even explain why, except that the plot just seems to move along at a decent pace, and that it’s an anime which brings anime back to its roots. Epic hero journey, saturated Japanese culture, dark fantasy story, and an underground corps of secret elite fighters pitted against a hidden world of monsters.
If you described the show to me cold, I would have shrugged and said “Sounds like I’ve seen it a million times already.” But damned if I didn’t get into it anyway. Who knows, maybe my shōnen resistance is wearing off and I’m due for a booster shot.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba so far…
Clearing it up before we move along: We’re talking about Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, which is available on Crunchyroll, Netflix, and there’s a Toonami roll-up on Adult Swim. Not to mention the movie, Kimetsu no Yaiba: Mugen Ressha-Hen (Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train), which was released in Japan last year and became “the highest-grossing anime film and Japanese film of all time.”
That’s over Studio Ghilbli’s records. That does not happen any old year. There’s an American release of Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Trainscheduled for 2021. And a second season of the anime has been announced by studio Ufotable.
Today is a good day to be a Demon Slayer fan. But I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk about why Demon Slayer‘s demons are different.
Spiritism : East Meets West
Recently the Internet has been passing around the “shocking” discovery that angels, as described in the King James’ Christian Bible, are nothing like our popular conception of an angel. It’s been hilarious watching YouTube, Reddit, Tumblr, and all just howl in outrage because they’d been lied to by all those Christmas tree decorations.
And this is the part where us former Christians (former Evangelical refugee from Jesus Camp, no less) come in handy. My sweet little Internet puppies, if you find the Biblical truth about angels to be jarring, just wait until you find out about the rest of the Bible!
Demon Slayer fans note that the depiction of demons in the manga / anime / movie are nothing like our American conception of demons. Demon Slayer demons act more like American vampires; they have fangs but can pass for human, sunlight kills them, they crave human flesh, they regenerate from mere mortal wounds, getting bitten by one turns a human into one, etc. These demons also shape-shift, and sometimes pick up traits from other animal species altogether, similar to how Western vampires may transform into a bat or get mixed up in lycanthropy somehow.
Where our average American version of a demon is something like, uh…
Yeah, that guy.
Here’s the main difference: The entire category of Japanese supernatural creatures (collectively called “Yōkai“) are rotated about ninety degrees from Western definitions. Death Note introduced us to the concept of a shinigami, which is nothing like the Western Grim Reaper, but fulfills a similar enough role.
Along came Spirited Away, just to name-drop Ghilbli one more time, which introduced us to the idea that Japanese spirits are really, REALLY different from what Westerners mean when they say “spirit.” Generally speaking, Japanese folklore tends to sweep a hundred of our fantasy beings, from faeries to wraiths to Bigfoot, all under one label of “spirits” and be done with it.
So here again, we have demons which do not intersect with what we think of as a “demon.” Just like with angels and the American Evangelical Christian interpretation of the concept, we’ve been lied to again. Except it’s even worse this time:
Your “Demons” Aren’t Even in the Bible!
Let me run it by you as you probably know it if you’re American:
There are bits and pieces mentioned here and there. We “know” that the Devil tempted Adam and Eve, but the book of Genesis only mentions a talking serpent. In other places, “Lucifer” is described as “bringer of dawn” and “shining star.” It isn’t until we get to the book of Revelation that we get Satan described again as “that ancient serpent.”
Satan, or some kind of malevolent being pitted against God, is described in other parts of the Bible as anything from a “great red dragon” to a beast with “ten horns and seven heads,” and all kinds of raving imagery. As for “demon possession,” the Bible does refer to King Saul falling sick with an “evil spirit.” By the time of the New Testament, Jesus does deal sternly with some more evil spirits possessing people, but that’s dismissed in a single sentence or two with barely any description, so who knows what that’s even saying?
Ditto “Hell,” Satan’s purported appearance, and all the rest. This is not just a Christian interpretation of Hell, Satan, and demons, but it is a distinctly American, Evangelical Christian concept of Hell, Satan, and demons. Not even European Catholic nor Russian Orthodox nor even Middle Eastern Islam has a remotely similar concept!
Instead, as you might have guessed by now, the American Evangelical Christian idea of Satan, Hell, and demons is yet again European Paganism, folklore, and mythology with the serial numbers filed off and a new coat of paint. Those of you who were less than secure in your relationship with God will be relieved to know that the actual Bible text makes no guarantee of the following:
that Satan collects human souls like Pokemon
that sinners go straight to Hell after they die
that demons live in service of Satan
that Hell is actually an eternal sentence
that Satan is in charge of Hell
Also, all the crap about Ouija boards, possessed girls puking pea soup, the horns and pitchfork bit, that’s all Hollywood fiction.
Demons in the Rest of the World
The final, shocking revelation is that only American Christians seem to have this notion of a Satan being as a literal personification of pure evil. In the rest of the world, demons, devils, and THE devil are all more of the mischievous trickster sort, similar to Pan. In the rest of the world, a demon may be anything from an annoying troll to a traveling jester to an instructive sorcerer with a vaguely seedy reputation.
Furthermore, demons in most of the world are recognized as objects of folklore, not religion. Just for comparison, here is a Hindu demon:
…and this is the closest thing you’ll find to an Islamic demon:
In fact, Islam actually tends to put more stock in djinn (the root of the word “genie”) as the true bad spirits to watch out for, which means this guy:
is actually closer to the Islamic version of a demon, in spirit.
This has been your lesson in culture for the day. Oh, and if you’re looking at Demon Slayer demons and their resemblance to Western vampires, wondering what an Asian version of a vampire is, don’t get me started!