How to Cook a Series: Demon Slayer

Everyone thinks writers start with a plot and write.

I don’t. I think about what I want to write about, and then cook up whatever other pieces I need. The last story I wrote was to a prompt: Frozen wasteland. From there I decided I wanted to write about a snow woman, and from there had to figure out a character to pair with the snow woman and a plot that would put them together.

Sometimes your long-term intentions determine your meta-plot. Some of them … Comedy, Tragedy, Overcoming the Monster … suit themselves to shorter, finite works. But if you want the story to go on and on and on, you probably want to try something else.

Of course, if your manga or anime is profitable, you want it to go on and on and on.

Rags to Riches as a meta-plot has a lot of long-term potential, but is really character dependent. If the audience doesn’t care for the character, then no one cares whether they achieve riches.

The Quest, though, has a lot more potential. By having the protagonist seek something specific, the writer holds out the possibility they might find it at any time. There’s a certain amount of natural tension in that. I mean, Luffy can find the One Piece at any moment, right? He’s not going to, not without four or five months of buildup, but in principle he could and the series would be over.

Questing characters can be pretty good, since they can demonstrate respectable qualities, like determination, and they can show growth as the search goes on.

Beginning to sound familiar?

Now, to try and maximize our chances of the audience liking the character, we can tie the Quest to something noble. How about sacrificing one’s self for a relative? Like questing to get your brother’s body back?

Yeah, you saw that one coming, right? But one of the things that makes Elric attractive is that he does what he does not for himself but for Alphonse.

Alternatively, you can be trying to cure your sister of being a demon.

BOOM. Fullmetal Demon Slayer.

From left, Inosuke, Zenitsu, Nezuko, Tanjiro

Down at the bottom I always put the disclaimer that, “I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen,” but I have to suspect I’m actually the last to notice the structural parallels of FMA and Demon Slayer, if only because I didn’t get to Demon Slayer for a while. But they so obviously are built around the same plot line that it jumped out at me the first time I turned it on.

Is that bad? Oh, heck no!!! Tropes are tropes because they work!!!

I mean, when you get down to it there are basically seven plots (plus the “slice-of-life” genre, which is essentially plotless). A lot of stories are going to be structurally similar to one another.

The devil – making these kinds of stories work – is in the details, of course.

You want a strong connection between the main character and the person they are helping.

Tanjiro and Nezuko are not only brother and sister, they are the last two surviving members of their family. If Tanjiro loses Nezuko, he has nothing left in the world – and he would have to live with that. He values her more than he values his own life.

That’s actually pretty neat, by the way. “Life and death” are such common stakes to play for that they are almost “ho hum.” I mean, you know the protagonist isn’t going to die in episode twelve of twenty-four, right? But by making Nezuko the stakes they become that much more emotionally powerful.

Strong connection. Check.

You want an interesting world or setting for the story.

You’ve seen Demon Slayer. It’s set in a magical, feudal semi-Japan, and has lots of cool demons who look like extras from the Sailor Moon set. Each demon has their own schtick so Tanjiro outsmarts each differently.

Interesting setting. Check.

You want some sidekicks who change up the emotional dynamic from episode to episode.

Zenitsu for comedy. Kanao for romance. Inosuke, to provide a size/physical presence contrasting with the smaller characters (he is big/uncivilized as opposed to the small/civilized others). Various Hashira, to mentor Tanjiro in various ways, ensuring his character growth.

And Nezuko herself is pretty cool on her own, so very powerful but so very vulnerable. And when she mumbles around her gag at the end of every episode, she’s just so cute!

Sidekicks. Check. Bring it on!

When you put a show together in this way, you end up with a series with a great deal of long-term potential. You pick out a villain of the week. You pick out some subset of the characters to deal with the villain. You can take maybe one, maybe two or three episodes, to Overcome the Monster. Tanjiro wins, and grows, or loses and grows, writers’ choice (although he can’t lose too often).

You can keep doing this for … geez, I don’t know. How long has Pokemon been on the air?

It’s a formula, but if the characters and setting are chosen right, it’s a formula that works well for a LONG LONG time.

I actually don’t care a lot for Demon Slayer, and I won’t be tuning in to the second season whenever it drops. I don’t like blood, and it gushes forth in great red gouts in every episode. But it’s a classic story well told.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

2 thoughts on “How to Cook a Series: Demon Slayer

  1. “Is that bad? Oh, heck no!!! Tropes are tropes because they work!!!”

    The trick is to use tropes the same way an artist uses their pigments – something to build a larger, coherent, picture out of. Sadly, too many use them to fill in paint-by-number paintings.

    Liked by 1 person

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