When I was a child, I found my tears infuriating. They came unbidden, pooling in my eyes, running down my cheeks not only when I was sad but also any time I got in trouble, was feeling angry, embarrassed (which only made me more so), or frustrated. I learned early on that tears were seen as weakness. It took me a long time to come to terms with this aspect of my personality and accept that it should not be inhibited. I work hard now to model and invite free expression of emotions in my life. I think this is a big reason why Demon Slayer resonated with me. While it boasts a crisp animation style that utilizes vividly contrasting colors and dynamic facial expression in characters, an irresistible storyline featuring an underdog fighting to become strong enough to confront his demons (in this case literal), and an enviable bond between the protagonist and his sister that demonstrates loyalty and perseverance in the face of near impossible odds, the thing that really drew me in was the open expression of emotion—Tanjiro’s tears. While it is obviously not the first time I have come across crying in an anime, it is the most consistently positive portrayal I have noted.
An almost emojistic expression of emotion can become expected with some anime, tears streaming from the corners of eyes both in sadness and laughter. We see an example of this in Zenitzu whose crocodile tears can quickly become annoying, even to Tanjiro, and do not indicate much more than self-pity. But for Tanjiro, tears are more profound. They represent fear and frustration, disappointment and grief, joy and love, loss and anger. They are productive because they serve to release stress and tension and even lead to change. When Tanjiro cries we see him accept the futility of certain situations, realize his limits, and then decide to take it all on, confronting and challenging his failures. This is an admirable model of behavior and proof positive of why crying should not have such a bad rap.
A layer of interpretation is added to this when we see a pattern of demons crying once defeated. They are not initially presented in a way that calls for pity or empathy, yet in Tanjiro’ssearch for answers we see that things aren’t so clear cut. Demons prolong their (potentially immortal) existence by taking life from others. Many of them asked for this existence, chose it willingly, but when we get glimpses into backstories it is not so difficult to understand why. What is more suffering and aggregate evil when it is all you have ever known? We can see demonic form as a shell of protection against this lack of compassion in past life and more of the oppressive same in this one. Once this exterior is hacked away, that tough, showy aura is gone and the tears come, revealing the vulnerable inside. These tears show us it is ok to be fallible, to be human, and we should fight for this humanity, even the sensitive or fragile parts. While I do appreciate the fighting sequences and feats of supernatural ability meant to test and temper the demon slayers and the relationships built between characters as they fight side by side, my favorite part of the show is this underlying message. We should all be willing and able to express the vulnerability within us.
Melissa Nunez is a writer and homeschooling mother from South Texas. When not in the classroom or behind her computer, she is most likely to be found attempting to identify a local species of bird or plant or watching a really cool show (not always, but very probably, anime). She is contributor for The Daily Drunk Mag and Yellow Arrow, and staff writer for Alebrijes Review. Twitter: @MelissaKNunez