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Why Anime Fans Were Worried About Demon Slayer's US Theatrical Release

Anime's mainstream popularity has been a long time coming. Sure, the genre has seen its fair share of landmark series such as "Yu Yu Hakusho" and "Dragon Ball Z," but it seems like only recently that popularity has created a domino effect of critically acclaimed titles. While viewers spent a great deal of 2020 binging shows like "Dorohedoro" and "Great Pretender," the recent anime-watching trend essentially started when "Demon Slayer" caught the attention of audiences on both sides of the Pacific.

The show and its manga source material feature a unique spin on the classic man-versus-demon trope as well as a novel a Japanese industrial revolution setting, and people can't get enough of it. According to ComicBook.com, "Demon Slayer" has dethroned the previous king of anime and manga, "One Piece." And now, even classic movies like "Spirited Away" aren't safe from being surpassed, as 2020's "Demon Slayer" movie is now Japan's highest-grossing film (via CNN).

Given the explosive success of "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train," one would correctly assume that lightning would strike twice once the film was released in U.S. in 2021. While that did end up happening, as "Demon Slayer: Mugen Train" became a commercial and critical hit stateside, not all fans were convinced that the film would be a success.

Here's why anime fans were initially worried about the U.S. theatrical release of the "Demon Slayer" movie.

The film's R rating was cause for concern prior to its release

When Deadline broke the news in mid-March 2021 that the "Demon Slayer" film would hit U.S. theaters on April 23, 2021, anime fans celebrated. However, the festivities didn't last very long, as fans' spirits were simultaneously broken upon hearing the news that "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train" received an R rating in the U.S. 

For starters, this rating — handed down due to the film's "violence and bloody images" – doesn't match the PG12 rating it received in Japan; Japanese audiences under the age of 12 can see the movie with a guardian, and those older than 12 can see it unaccompanied (via VICE). Comparatively, only viewers 17 years of age or older can see "Demon Slayer" without a guardian in the U.S.

Additionally, the R rating makes the new movie different from every other version of "Demon Slayer" media. For example, if you visit the Netflix page for "Demon Slayer," you'll notice it sports a modest rating of TV-14. The show features some blood and violence, but it's all with a fantasy flair and it isn't gratuitous. The original Japanese version also touts a similar age rating. Why has the U.S. release of "Demon Slayer: Mugen Train," which comes in both dubbed and subbed versions, been given the same age rating as anime movies like "Akira" and "Ghost in the Shell"? Because the "Demon Slayer" movie features "violence and bloody images," which is the same material in the TV-14 show.

Because of this R rating, younger fans won't be able to see the "Demon Slayer" movie in U.S. theaters — at least not alone. If they can rope parents, guardians, or older friends into seeing the movie with them, that would solve one problem but cause another in the form of increased movie ticket costs. And an anime movie that requires prior knowledge of the series is a tough sell for parents who have never seen or heard of "Demon Slayer."

Thankfully, though, the concern fans had about "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train" melted away when the film debuted in U.S. cinemas. Critics praised the flick, and audiences flocked to theaters to see it — even with it being rated R. As of May 2021, the feature has earned more than $34 million domestically, bringing its global total to over $430 million.