Full SPOILERS ahead for Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train and the first season of Demon Slayer.
No shonen anime would be complete without some magic-like superpowers, whether it’s harnessing ki in Dragon Ball, or training your quirk in My Hero Academia, or cursed energy in Jujutsu Kaisen. When it comes to Demon Slayer, we don’t get superpowers, per se, but the titular demon slayers have breathing styles instead.
Though we still don’t know a lot about the breathing styles or where they originated, Mugen Train does begin to answer some questions and tease future developments.
If you still aren’t exactly clear on how the breathing styles work, or why they matter, don’t worry. We’re here to answer all the questions you may have about the different swordsmanship styles in Demon Slayer.
What Are Breathing Styles?
Breathing styles, as we learned way back in episode 3, are specific breathing patterns that increase the lung capacity of the user, in turn increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood. The non-medical answer is that breathing super hard and concentrated allows the swordsman to enhance their physical prowess and mental focus in order to be able to fight a demon.
There are some swordsmen that have mastered a breathing style to such levels they become a Hashira (or Pillar). These nine swordsmen are the best of the Demon Slayer Corps, capable of killing demons like nobody’s business. In the film, we meet the Flame Hashira, Kyōjurō Rengoku. He teaches our main character, Tanjiro, about the breathing styles, explaining they all originate from five fundamental breathing styles based on elements — water, flame, wind, stone, and thunder. From there, skilled swordsmen were able to put their own spins on these styles, developing their own unique techniques. Out of the nine Hashira, only four follow one of the fundamental breathing styles.
How Are These Like Powers?
Breathing styles not only allow a swordsman to endure pain and continue fighting, but they serve as this world’s version of superpowers because of how they allow the user to heal themselves — to a point. In the anime, we see Zenitsu is able to slow down the spread of poison in his body just by breathing. In Mugen Train, while fighting the demon Enmu, Tanjiro is stabbed in the gut by the train conductor, who was working for the demon, and starts bleeding to death.
Of course, Rengoku offers an alternate solution — to concentrate his breathing so much that Tanjiro is able to literally will his torn blood vessels into closing through breathing, staunching the bleeding. The Flame Hashira then teases that Tanjiro may be able to do all kinds of things through breathing.
Before you start imagining all the cool and over-the-top abilities that can be achieved through unreal breathing, Rengoku has some bad news for you. After Rengoku is fatally wounded by the demon Akaza, Tanjiro begs Rengoku to use his breathing to stop the bleeding or heal, but the Flame Hashira tells him that there is nothing to be done, and he dies in an incredibly emotional moment. Focused breathing may be a superpower, but there are limits, sadly.
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The Swords Also Have Powers, Sort Of
A Demon Slayer’s powers are not limited to their breathing, but they also rely on the nearly magical swords they use to decapitate demons. These special swords, named Nichirin Blades, are forged with a special ore that absorbs sunlight — the demons’ biggest weakness. The blades change color depending on the unique breathing technique and personality of each user.
When it comes to Tanjiro, however, this may be a concern rather than a benefit. You see, his blade is not blue like water, or red like fire, but black. When Rengoku tells Tanjiro of the Hashira, he teases that our young hero may be able to join that elite rank one day — until he looks at his blade.
Rengoku says he’s never known a swordsman with a black sword who became a Hashira, because that color indicates the swordsman hasn’t decided which breathing style to master. Tanjiro trained with the water style first, and that’s what he primarily uses, but he’s now using a special technique he learned from his father, which looks fire-inspired. He may have to choose one over the other.
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What About Nezuko’s Powers?
Not to be left behind, everyone’s favorite demonic little sister, Nezuko, also has powers of her own. When Tanjiro and the others are trapped inside their dreams by the demon Enmu, Nezuko manages to free her brother by setting him on fire in his dream. She does this by using her own special power — a demon blood art.
We learned about demon blood arts in the series, and they are basically the demon equivalent of breathing styles. Each demon has its own unique power, which uses its blood for everything from enhancing its physical power to controlling creatures and casting illusions.
We saw Nezuko develop her own blood art in episode 19 when a vision of her mother told her to help Tanjiro in a fateful battle, which unlocked her Blood Demon Art, “Exploding Blood.” This ability allows her to turn her own blood into engulfing magical flames, which hurts demons but not humans.
In Mugen Train, Nezuko tries to wake up Tanjiro but fails. She then tries to headbutt him, which causes her to cry as her head starts bleeding. Then, she sets the blood that dropped on Tanjiro on fire, which makes Tanjiro himself burst into flame inside his dream, waking him up.
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For more on the anime’s big-screen debut, check out our Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train review.
Let us know your Demon Slayer questions and thoughts in the comments below!