Demon Slayer — The Silent Oppression of Nezuko

Demon Slayer

Female anime characters often face silencing, demonization, and objectification. Nezuko’s story is a stark illustration of this. Given Nezuko’s pivotal role in Demon Slayer, it is imperative to embark on an in-depth exploration of this matter, raising awareness about its significance. Nezuko’s story encourages us to continue fighting for justice by reviving important discussions on female inequality and societal tyranny.

When we delve into the world of Demon Slayer, tragedy and revenge collide in a dark and twisted tale in which we join Tanjiro Kamado on his journey, haunted by the horrors of his past. Driven by the brutal slaughter of his family and finding solace solely in his sister Nezuko, who herself has been transformed into a demon, Tanjiro is unwavering in his quest to restore her humanity. He becomes a fearless demon slayer, but he follows a path of compassion, choosing to vanquish demons with kindness.

Motivated by an unrelenting pursuit of justice, Tanjiro finds a glimmer of hope taking root within him. Guided by an unwavering resolve, he sets out to unravel the enigmatic mysteries shrouding demonkind. His journey is made alongside the enigmatic ranks of the Demon Slayer Corps, a united front against the looming malevolent forces.

Nezuko. Art by Alexandra Fomina.

The narrative’s allure transcends the confines of devoted fandom, extending a warm welcome to both steadfast enthusiasts and curious newcomers. Woven intricately, it threads through unforeseen complexities, poignant sentiments, and hard-fought victories, delving deep into themes of courage, selflessness, and redemption, offering a profound exploration of human attributes.

Together on this shared voyage, we’re compelled to reflect upon instances of reverence, amusement, and genuine emotion. The narrative beckons us to fully immerse ourselves in a world where transformation stands as a recurring motif, inviting us to contemplate the endless possibilities of change.

Nezuko — The Silenced Demon Girl

At just 12 years of age, Nezuko became a demon after her family was brutally slaughtered. She was then silenced by a male demon slayer, Gyiu Tomioka, and trapped in a box – shrinking to the size of a child — once again, allegedly for her protection. This confinement, a clear symbol of society’s oppression of women, reinforced the belief that women are incapable of making their own decisions, infantilizing them for their alleged own good. While I have read some articles stating that she could be compared to Buddhist monks, we have to point out and remember her silence was never her vow. It was never her choice, to begin with.

Demon Slayer

Nezuko’s silent battle conveys a profound message to the audience. While we have witnessed Tanjiro and the demon slayers’ efforts to liberate the world from demons’ tyranny in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, it’s essential to remember that these demons were once human. On top of all the demons, and some with amazingly intricately woven stories we learned of, Nezuko’s is one of sadness and hope.

When watched with a critical eye, Nezuko’s and other female depictions in Demon Slayer may be interpreted as a commentary on how women are often mistreated and silenced in society. By depicting these negative stereotypes, the show may be drawing attention to the issue and possibly urging viewers to recognize and challenge these harmful societal norms. With strong females, the show demonstrates that women can overcome these negative stereotypes and become powerful forces in their own right, thus calling viewers to women’s empowerment in real life.

Nezuko remains a force to be reckoned with, despite efforts to silence and own her, remaining strong to her decision not to cause harm to humans even when Sanemi Shinazugawa, the Wind Hashira, tried to make her drink his blood. She gives off the idea that she indeed decided to do good, despite the attempt to brainwash her, that is, using hypnotic suggestion to make her ‘do good’ and ‘see humans as her family’ — which becomes apparent at first when she sees good demons as a family as well.

The Big Showdown: Nezuko Takes Center Stage in the Entertainment District Arc

Demon Slayer

The Entertainment District arc in the anime series is intense and not suitable for children. Originally named the Red Light District arc in the manga, the name was changed to avoid any ties to the real-life adult entertainment industry. This arc shows things from a new perspective that challenges traditional views.

In the exploration of the prevailing conditions faced by women within this district, a compelling facet emerges when juxtaposed against the backdrop of a prominent female antagonist demon. This dynamic casts a sharper spotlight on the degrading experiences endured by women, accentuating their plight. I do not think it was by chance that Koyoharu Gotouge chose this point in the story to portray the further development of Nezuko, and her berserk transformation and evolution. But we shall get back to that soon.

Interlude: What Happened to Daki (Ume)

Daki

Daki, one of the Upper Six Demons, had her story told by her male brother only after her demise, which highlights the gender disparity prevalent in our society, where women are often subjugated and denied a voice. Daki’s fate is reminiscent of the historical persecution of powerful and independent women who were burned as witches, showcasing how women are still treated unfairly in reality. She was burned alive for standing up to a samurai who insulted her brother while she was working as a courtesan. Her tragic end reflects the harsh reality of how society punishes women who dare to assert themselves.

Daki’s character in Demon Slayer, as conveyed through her male brother’s narrative, serves as a poignant reflection of the pervasive gender disparity deeply rooted in our society. This gender inequity has been a historical issue across cultures, and in the context of Japan, it has its unique complexities and resonances.

Daki’s fate draws eerie parallels with historical events, particularly the persecution of powerful and independent women who were accused of witchcraft during various periods in history. In Japan, the narrative evokes memories of the onna-musha, or female warriors, who were marginalized and denied a rightful place in society. These women, like Daki, dared to challenge societal norms and assert their strength, yet they faced severe consequences for their audacity.

The story of Daki’s tragic demise is a stark reminder of how Japan, like many other cultures, has a history of punishing women who defy traditional gender roles. Her execution mirrors the harsh realities faced by women who dared to challenge the established order, a practice that persists even today, highlighting the imperative need for societal transformation, where women can assert themselves and be treated fairly, free from fear and repression. Demon Slayer masterfully weaves these cultural elements into its narrative, invoking thoughtful reflection on the gender disparities present in both Japan’s history and the present day.

Nezuko — Infantilization vs. Sexualization

Nezuko

While Nezuko may be portrayed as childlike, her transformation demonstrates an immense increase in power. With incredible abilities of regeneration and blood demon art, her character design purposely shifts to that of a sexualized adult replacing her innocent appearance. Displaying features such as large breasts, a horn, and vines on her body — illustrating her ability to adapt and flourish in difficult situations- Nezuko nearly loses control and attacks a human, ultimately requiring Tanjiro, her brother, and a man, to intervene and regulate her behavior once more.

As a woman, Nezuko’s character in Demon Slayer hits me close to home. I see how her struggles with demonization and sexualization mirror the real-life struggles that women face every day. It’s heartbreaking to see her boxed in and stripped of her agency for her own “protection,” as if women can’t make decisions for themselves. And when she goes berserk, she’s immediately sexualized, as if her worth as a character is defined solely by her appearance.

Nezuko’s character in Demon Slayer is indeed a complex and thought-provoking one, especially when we consider the layers of textual and meta-textual implications tied to her transformation into a berserk form. Textually, her demonization and subsequent monstrous appearance are central to the plot. Her struggles serve as a driving force for Tanjiro, the protagonist, as he seeks to cure his sister and understand her condition. This narrative element is integral to the story’s themes of family, sacrifice, and resilience.

However, when we look at it from a meta-textual perspective, the story takes on a different layer of meaning. Nezuko’s berserk form, which is indeed highly sexualized, raises important questions about the representation of female characters in anime, mainly shonen. It highlights a recurring issue where powerful or transformed female characters are often reduced to objects of fanservice, effectively sidelining their agency and character development in favor of their appearance.

This meta-textual aspect invites us to examine the genre’s relationship with gender dynamics. Shonen anime typically targets a young male demographic, and this audience’s expectations often drive the portrayal of female characters. Nezuko’s sexualized transformation can be seen as a reflection of these expectations, catering to a perceived male gaze within the genre.

The subtext here is a recurring tension in anime and manga between the need for strong, empowered female characters and the temptation to objectify them for commercial or aesthetic purposes. It prompts us to consider how this portrayal impacts the audience’s perception of gender roles and expectations. Does it reinforce stereotypes? Does it undermine the character’s autonomy and significance?

In exploring these facets of Nezuko’s character, we delve into the broader issues within anime and media in general, and how these portrayals can both perpetuate and challenge societal norms and expectations. It encourages us to critically analyze the choices made by creators and their implications on both storytelling and the culture surrounding the medium. Ultimately, Nezuko’s character becomes a lens through which we can examine the intricate relationship between gender representation, narrative conventions, and audience dynamics in anime and manga.

Nezuko — The Power of Actions Amidst a Silent Voice

Nezuko

Taking all these aspects into account, what truly underscores the power of Nezuko’s story is that it transcends mere reflections of cultural or religious attitudes toward women. The themes it touches upon are not bound by any specific culture; instead, they resonate on a universal level, significantly influencing the treatment of women in both fictional narratives and the real world. Nezuko’s character serves as a poignant symbol of the enduring oppression that women continue to encounter in contemporary society, effectively shedding light on the pervasive and deeply rooted nature of this issue across popular fiction and our day-to-day experiences.

As Tanjiro attempted to comfort her with a lullaby, it was the powerful presence of her mother that ultimately came to her aid, reflected in memories of the comforting sound of her voice and her unwavering strength. Then, with her anger suppressed, she kept on forging her path and wielding impressive power and skills.

Even silenced, Nezuko’s actions speak volumes and demonstrate her unwavering willpower. Her symbolic journey toward empowerment serves as a potent inspiration for women everywhere, underscoring the importance of supporting each other and striving to create a world where gender equality and dignity are the norms. In this scenario, Nezuko’s journey serves as a reminder that we must take action against the persistent injustice women have been subjected to, and strive for a society that treats us with equality and dignity. Her story gives us hope that we can stand a fighting chance against the discrimination and mistreatment we still face today.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Posted on by
Beatrix Kondo is a freelance writer based in Canoas, RS, Brazil. She is also a translator working on her specialization course in writing.
Edited by Siothrún, Sunni Ago.

Want to write about Anime or other art forms?

Create writer account

46 Comments

  1. Ace
    2

    I told my husband to buy me a Sailor Moon t shirt from the states. He comes home with Nezuko Kamado hoodie. 🤣 Best day ever.

  2. Catalina
    1

    Nezuko is one of the best characters in Demon Slayer. I was peeved that she got sidelined through most of the Entertainment District Arc. Though her awakened fight was cool, I missed the early arcs where she and Tanjiro went around like a little demon killing Scooby gang

  3. Lucero
    1

    I feel she has such a strong character that if they wanted to make her the main character of the show they could and I think that would be really cool to have this main character with this constant inner conflict facing a lot of outer conflicts as well!

    • Webb
      0

      Nezuko and tanjiro are both main characters, we just see more of tanjiros perspective.

  4. Clayton
    1

    What I realize is that Nezuko doesn’t really fight all the time when her brother is in fights sometimes the fights will take long but another thing I realize is that Nezuko is in fights with her brother, the fights don’t really last that long when I first started watching it and really got into the details I was thinking about how Nezuko should be in more of the fights with her brothers, but then I realize that is her brother won’t learn anything if she’s there all the time but then I realize that they are a great duo so they should work together all the time I can’t really choose which one.

  5. elisabeth
    1

    In Jujutsu Kaisen Nobara is an outstanding character. It doesn’t matter what she does the animators don’t sexualize her. She actually acts like a real girl liking mall shopping and girly things while also being a strong and independent character who idolizes a women as a woman; which is a really rare thing in to see anime. She doesn’t simp for her male peers which is also rare and she is an amazing comedic relief who risked her life to safe a few bucks. Nobara also has a lot of imperfections while being rude, selfish and very prideful but she is still very likable and relatable. Gege Akutami also broke a norm of anime with her it being how every time there is a woman there is a love life but with Nobara we get to see an anime girl who is prideful, girly and independent who is neither stronger nor weaker than men.

    • Pierce
      0

      one of the main things i like about jjk’s women (especially the students) is that their uniform is just a uniform. They don’t open their buttons to show cleavage, and their skirts are down to their knees. Like THAT is what a school uniform is. Not mini sailor skirts that shows their bum when they fall.

  6. Ford
    1

    Why I love Ghibli. All the characters are well written and thought out regardless of gender.

    • Adriel
      0

      ok speaking of which i’ve never seen a studio ghibli movie and i’ve been wanting to watch them for a while but idk which one to start with. what’s a good one?

      • Lucas
        0

        Princess Mononoke is probably the best all-around, the most well balanced. If you just want something relaxing as well as very emotional and human, try My Neighbor Totoro. Howl’s Moving Castle is filled with wonder. Finally, though I personally dislike it, I would be remiss to not mention Spirited Away as Ghibli’s film which receives the most praise artistically, being the first animated movie to ever win an Academy Award for best feature.

    • Gabrielle
      0

      Nausicaa is the best feminist movie of all time, as someone who has a disdain for modern feminism (especially in media) I absolutely adore how it’s handled.

    • Kendrick
      0

      Absolute worst is Ouran Host Club.

      “The girl acts normal!?! NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS. ONE OF THE BOOOOYS!!!”
      And all the “fun” characters with personalities are guys even though that’s like the opposite in real life. And the “other girls” in the show are just complete aliens with puffed sleeves and poofy dresses. Gee, I wonder why so many of my friends got confused about g*nder…

    • Logan
      0

      Amen to that.

  7. parish
    1

    If anime don’t have fan service than it’s boring.

  8. rittner
    1

    I’m a female and I genuinely feel so belittled by women in animes. The objectification and generalization of girls that are there to moan and be a sex object just makes me feel self conscious—I genuinely feel wary when people say they watch anime because I’m left to wonder if they see me in that light.

    • howoaoa
      0

      People love ignoring the way women are treated by mangakas even though the sexualisation is usually so overt.

  9. Wilcox
    1

    The best female representation I’ve seen is in Dorohedoro. it’s got women with different body types, different roles, personalities, goals, wants, lifestyles and ultimately each woman makes a unique decision in certain circumstances based off of those things. wasn’t surprised when I found out the mangaka is female…

  10. Elf
    1

    My main issue with Demon Slayer’s female characters is how infantilised and borderline child-coded they all are to varying degrees, Shinobu being a small exception but she still feels really strange and I wouldnt consider her a well-written, deep character. Especially among the Demons the women so far turned out to be relatively weak crybabies that always had a stronger male counterpart to “look after them”, Spider-mom had her abusive son and father, Daki turned out to just be the “weak spot” of her much stronger brother and the Upper Rank doesn’t even have a single female demon. A small shout out to Tamayo for being the only one this doesn’t apply to, sadly we don’t see much of her at all. And finally Nezuko is 100% just the “born sexy yesterday”-trope, look it up if you haven’t heard of it it’s very prevalent in media. She has “innocence” that just makes her seem extremely dumb and naive, she won’t speak so she can’t talk back or express opinions, and hey she’s super powerful and can have massive cleavage or literally turn herself into a cute little child depending what you’re into….She’s every insecure man-child’s dream. I was told so many times to watch this anime but now in Season 4 I honestly just want to stop. And I very much agree with Chris that the writing for the male characters is only ever so slightly better.

    • Twizzler
      0

      The villainous female characters were childlike, vain, or both, except ones that don’t appear much. I also don’t recall them being without a brother. The first fight is with siblings that use the ball and arrows. And of course the brother is the smart one. The second fight is in the red light district and she is vain and childlike. The brother is the strong one. Nezuko’s chest gets bigger when she grows into demon form and the show zooms in on it in the red light district arc. Now, the show has gone off-script from the manga plot with more fanservice. The manga is much better. If shounen is going to be this way, fine. Sure, the people writing this are men who don’t know what women are like. But what about shoujo? They too have very glaring issues, namely that they are mostly romance and the main female characters tend to be very similar in being awkward, wide-eyed naive girls with (normally older) love interests. I think it’s a good idea to point out well written female characters in shoujo, such as Yona from Yona of the Dawn. Shoujos that know that girls are smart and do not solely care about romance and can handle complex plots with multiple, fleshed out characters. Plots that involve violence and politics and touch on dark themes. Too bad it got two seasons or arguably poor quality animation-wise and then stopped. The manga is popular for a reason though.

  11. Rubber
    1

    Nezuko is the sweetest.

  12. Hurst
    1

    The only creator I always trust to make amazing female characters is Sayo Yamamoto. She made or was a big part of Michiko to Hatchin, Evangelion 2:0, Persona 5, Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and Samurai Champloo, to name just a few.

  13. Darwin
    1

    The thing with Demon Slayer is that they haven’t animated all of the manga yet so the viewers have only seen the first parts of it. Once you reach the infinity castle arc you’ll see that characters like Shinobu had personal goals. And The only reason why Nezuko doesn’t talk in seasons 1 and 2 is because she is a demon. I’d assume that the more people a demon eats the more developed their brains become. She’s unpracticed with using her mouth since she always has that bamboo muzzle. I don’t get why people hate on Nezuko tho 😭. People have to remember she was 12 when she became a demon so she’s basically a child.

  14. Sander
    0

    The real problem for me is the sexualization of the underaged schoolgirl characters. From the upskirts to the giant breasts that are basically popping out of the top. What makes it even worse it that from the face, these characters are clearly underaged. They have those buggy, cute eyes, pigtails and a very innocent looking face in general. It’s like the animators are trying to make 15-year-old schoolgirls look like vixens. That is so messed up on so many levels…

  15. Portie
    0

    As a woman who watches anime, I always get extremely uncomfortable when almost every female character is just there to be sexualised. Something I’ve noticed, is when introducing a new female character, they tend to show her body before her face and they even add a random moan in there aswell.

    • Russo
      0

      I agree with this as well. And i hate that people pointing out that “It WaS WrItTen By a WoMan” as if it absovled them from writing terrible female characters.

  16. Reed
    0

    Isn’t the point of Nezuko having cleavage when she transforms that it represents her maturity into an adult? It’s not just boobs for the sake of boobs. If that was the case they could have given her cleavage a long time ago. And anyways, isn’t Demon Slayer written by a woman?

    • Heather
      0

      I thought it was because her clothes don’t shrink or get bigger when she changes ages. Like when she gets really small her clothes look huge on her.

      • Lucian
        0

        That’s probably the “real” reason, but the symbolic reason is more important. Otherwise the author could have just come up with an excuse for why her clothes don’t get tight, like how Hulk’s pants never rip.

        • kobb
          0

          There is an explanation for that though. Bruce wears very stretchy pants. They still rip occasionally but basically yeah he just wears very elastic pants.

  17. Dingo
    0

    For my opinion nezuko actually deserves more love since she saw her family got attacked my muzan jackson except her brother and she turned into a demon in a very young age, and she also saw her only family member turning into a demon and almost lost him and honestly nezuko and tanjiro are the best duos for my opinion

  18. Janae
    0

    Great article. Side-track, while it is not a show for everyone, the quality of character writing in Revolutionary Girl Utena is the reason why I let the show lead me through its really dark themes. Every single female character has something deeply interesting behind them, their choices impact the story in major ways and they have a strong motivation to act the way they do. They have complex relationships with each other and the men in the story and do horrific or tragic or deeply heroic actions.

  19. Jerimiah
    0

    It seems like we’re definitely getting some broader inclusion and better portrayal of women as the years go on. I love Demon Slayer and also Jujutsu Kaisen, but despite it’s well-written women, it does still feel pretty male-dominated. There are great female characters, but to me they are adjacent to the fundamental plot. They are involved, they do great things, have personalities, but none of them are a focal point of the main conflict: aka Itadori, Gojo, and Megumi (that’s my impression only having seen the anime partway through season 2). It’s the story of men that happens to have some awesome women involved, and reacting to events, but not driving major plot points. I think many Ghibli films are the best I’ve seen when it comes to women-centric narratives in Japanese media.

    • steff
      0

      Yess I was thinkig the same thing, they did great in the first season but the portrayal of women in the second season kinda disappointed me. Especially the differences in strenght, I remember one scene that stuck wirh me where 2 (actuslly strong) Girls where fighting against one mediocre bad guy and had to be saved by nanami because they had no Chance. Meanwhile all the male characters fight epic battles and grow beyond themselves

    • Deon
      0

      Another great thing in Jujutsu Kaisen which you don’t see that often in anime is a trans character that isn’t a caricature or stereotyped, it isn’t used for “comical relief”, it’s not portrayed as grotesque or even unusual. It’s only pointed out by one of the characters that she used to be a man. Megumi uses gender neutral pronouns once he learns she is trans. She is a powerful and confident jujutsu sorcerer. She is also in a caring relationship with a straight man who is aware she is trans. I just love how the narrative doesn’t make a big deal out it, neither treating as something bad or virtue signaling. It’s just a character who happens to be trans.

  20. austin
    0

    My teenagers and my wife LOVE this show!

  21. Jean
    0

    The fight against Rui was probably one of the coolest, specially as it allowed viewers to see nezuko use her demon blood art for the first time in such an epic fight.

  22. karei
    0

    If Nezuko was with Muzan, I feel like she would be either upper moon 6 or 5 because her regeneration speed is super quick, she basically could beat Daki, her blood demon art is really powerful, etc. So I think she would definitely make her way to the upper moons.

  23. Mariela
    0

    Lots of my female friends won’t watch anime because there is nothing for us to connect with.

  24. Cole
    0

    I hate the writers for what they did to nezuko. they made her look weak in the swordsman village arc. in season 2 she was pounding daki an upper 6 with way more experience. now she struggles with one clone that is not even as strong as the main. she also does nothing to help in the fight she just sits there and waits for commands from tanjiro before engaging. she was supposed to carry the fight since this was her last time fighting as a demon. yeah sure we find out she’s immune to sunlight but still I hate how they made her so useless in the fight. I really hope the anime is nothing like manga because we need to see more of nezuko kicking ass.

  25. Eleanor
    0

    I feel like sometimes (or most of the time actually) anime fans forget that Shounen isn’t the only type of Anime there is. Shoujo Anime, that is written by women for girls, doesn’t have this problem. Other Anime that isn’t Shounen or isn’t directed specifically at boys or men doesn’t have this problem. The problem doesn’t lie with Anime as a whole and it can not be simply reduced to “Badly Written Women”, it is Sexism. It is men writing stories for boys and men where Women are treated as objects and sexuaized, because of Sexism.

    • Amira
      0

      I’m going to be honest though, there is a lot of sexism in shoujo too, it’s just more of the internalized misogyny flavor.

  26. Edith
    0

    Nezuko story is so heartwarming.

  27. Milton
    0

    I feel like the problem of sexualization in media can be conflicting. It can be part of a characters growth or just be for FS.

  28. Zoie
    0

    People find anything with boob cleavage offensive unless it’s a real women in a revealing outfit.

    If it’s fictional it’s bad and they will find any reason to call it out.

    They also call out traditional women for covering up because they assume their husband is forcing them.

    It’s backwards land.

  29. vila
    0

    Nezuko’s story was a bit anti-climactic at the end. I was expecting her to confront Demon King of Pop or at least have one more big fight before returning to human. Heck, with her immunity to the sun and her returning ability to speak she really did not have to return to being human at all.

Leave a Reply