Tanjiro and Nezuko have to immediately cut their celebration short when their narrow victory against Rui turns out to have been slightly premature. Rui’s crafty skills result in him buying a little more time, but before he can administer the final blows to Tanjiro or his sister, Giyu comes to the rescue. With only the Sister of the Spider Demon Clan remaining, Shinobu Kocho also enters the fray to lend her skills and help end this battle once and for all. Amidst the impressive takedown of those demons and the exceptional displays of power that Giyu and Shinobu exhibit, “Pretend Family” shades in the remaining details of Rui and his Sister’s past. Through flashbacks, the extreme lengths of Rui’s misunderstood actions are truly realized and one last lesson about family is learned before the intrepid Demon Slayers move on.
Cliffhangers and “rug pulls” are extremely risky business when it comes to shonen anime. There’s nothing wrong with a smart, well executed twist, but a series can ruin its goodwill and permanently skewer expectations if it sets the precedent that a villain is always going to find a way out of what appeared to be certain defeat. It’s a surefire way to suck the tension out of future battles and series like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Yu Yu Hakusho, or most notoriously, Dragon Ball Z have all paid some kind of price for letting their Big Bad survive for just a little longer.
It’s fair to say that the conclusion of the previous episode of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba ranks amongst the series’ best moments and an immense triumph for both Tanjiro and Nezuko. To go back on that moment risks retroactively robbing that entire episode of its power, so there’s a lot on the line when Rui reveals that he’s actually quite fine. In fact, he severed his own head moments before Tanjiro did and it’s allowed him to skirt death and exhibit just how big a threat he is. Tanjiro and Nezuko are completely broken from their encounter with Rui and are in no condition to defend themselves for much longer. However, before there’s a chance to get too frustrated over this level of manipulation, Giyu swoops in and permanently squashes this spider.
Under sloppier circumstances all of this could be a mess, but Demon Slayer has laid the proper groundwork here. The series has hammered in just how strong the Twelve Demon Moons are and that they’re meant to be challenges that are nearly insurmountable. Tanjiro has improved a ton since the start of the series, but it’d still be a little outrageous if he was already able to defeat one of these heavyhitters. Furthermore, it’s been established that Rui is the weakest member of the Twelve Demon Moons, yet Tanjiro still isn’t strong enough to defeat him. It’s a decision that doesn’t cheapen Rui’s strength, but it also impressively creates tension towards the next member of the Twelve Demon Moons that Tanjiro and company will have to face. It reiterates that despite their accomplishments they still have a long ways to go in their journey.
At the same time, Giyu’s use of the eleventh water breathing form is so powerful that he makes Rui look like a training exercise and not one of the infamous Twelve Demon Moons. Giyu has always come across as an exceptionally strong Demon Slayer, but that’s never been more evident than in this episode. If Giyu does decide to take Tanjiro, Inosuke, and Zenitsu under his wing then there’s a lot that he can teach them. Training arcs can often slow down the momentum of a series, but Giyu (and Shinobu too, for that matter) is so interesting and entertaining that it’d likely make for a satisfying use of time here.
With Rui finally out of the picture, “Pretend Family” shifts its focus over to the final member of the Spider Demon Clan, the Sister. Rui may have put on a big show, but it quickly becomes clear that the Sister of the family has the most tragic lot out of anyone. As the Sister demon reminisces about her past and how her life ended up like this, there are also just as many disturbing details provided about Rui and this false family that he’s put together.
The more that’s revealed about Rui, the more he seems like the sadistic, egotistical child from the “It’s A Good Life” episode of The Twilight Zone. Rui has forced innocent people into the position of family members and everyone is so terrified of him that they’re unable to go against anything he says. What makes this scenario even more depressing is that the major reason that Rui has created this family for himself is because he can no longer remember his time as a human. Rui hopes that if he forces this happy family structure onto himself that it will trigger something deep inside of him and activate those memories that have long been forgotten. In a desperate effort to reclaim his humanity, he forces others to abandon their own.
Some may feel some twisted kind of empathy towards Rui, like Tanjiro did in the past, but the details surrounding the Mother demon’s sordid lot act as strong reminders of how much pain and suffering he’s caused to others. Before Rui transformed the unsuspecting Demon Slayer into his mother, she was merely a little girl. This is a child that has to take on the role and responsibilities of a mother, when she hardly has a concept for it, just because Rui needs to create some deranged version of normalcy. Every new detail that Demon Slayer adds to the Spider Demon Clan’s past doesn’t disappoint and it’s surprising to see the dark baseline that this show has already established in its first season.
A lot of “Pretend Family” is devoted to the specifics of the sad charade that Rui has subjected these individuals to, but much like how Giyu comes to Tanjiro’s aid, another experienced Demon Slayer intervenes to finish off the Sister. Shinobu Kocho, aka That Butterfly Demon Slayer, made a brief appearance in the past when she saved Zenitsu’s ass, but “Pretend Family” really acts as her proper introduction. Shinobu may look cute and innocent, but that cutesy butterfly demeanor is just the perfect way to lower enemies’ guards. Shinobu looks to be a master of poisons and paralysis, which gives her a markedly different fighting strategy than anyone else on the show. She’s someone that leans much more into agility, stealth, and projectiles rather than brute strength or hand-to-hand combat.
Shinobu’s brutal, cutthroat display towards Sister is pretty amazing and already makes a strong case for how great this character is. What also makes her such an interesting addition to the team is that she has an intense hatred towards demons where she refuses to show them any leniency. Sister learns this the hard way and it’s essentially the exact opposite of Tanjiro’s attitude, which is built upon an understanding and empathetic approach to demon slaying. Furthermore, it’s just exciting to get a strong female character in the mix and Shinobu already acts as a fun foil to everyone else.
It’s taken Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba a lot of time to work through their Spider Demon Clan arc, but it’s proven to be an immensely rich experience. Admittedly, this material has taken up what’s a quarter of this 26-episode season, which may be too much time for some. Every episode has brought something new to the table and it hasn’t felt like filler in any sense, but it should be interesting to see how the pacing of this arc fits into the overall scope of the season once the whole thing is over.
Demon Slayer is now in a difficult position as it looks towards the future. With only six episodes remaining in this season it doesn’t feel like there’s nearly enough time to begin and conclude a new arc. It seems likely that at some point Giyu is going to train Tanjiro and he’ll finally rebuild his sword, but this could also be something that happens off-screen between seasons. Perhaps Demon Slayer will adopt a more episodic approach for the tail end of this season that features more self-contained missions or quests. There’s still plenty of time to introduce the next member of the Twelve Demon Moons before things come to a close.
“Pretend Family” acts as a triumphant finish to Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’s time with the spider demons over on Mount Natagumo. The fight sequences are able to properly deliver the satisfying kind of pay off that’s longed for after spending so much time with this material. Demon Slayer doesn’t struggle to create an addictive universe where episodes like “Pretend Family” are both action-packed and emotionally rich. This episode feels just as much like the start of something new and exciting as it marks the conclusion of a previous arc. Demon spiders are plenty gross, but who knows, maybe something as vile as demon snakes are on the way…