In the hero’s journey, the approach is the phase that precedes one of the most important parts of the story: the ordeal.
Since the next event often hides a great surprise, a major turning point, an epic battle, or an emotional moment, the approach functions as a preparation.
Approach to the inmost cave
This whole section of the story serves as a “quiet before the storm” moment, that help the characters and the audience reflect on two things:
- what the journey has been so far
- what is coming next
In the book The writer’s journey, Christopher Vogler says that the approach has an important strategic function. Here, the protagonist has to find out more about the threat he’s facing and come up with a plan to neutralize it.
Essentially, the first step is to gather information, which is a nice way to say “deliver exposition”. As the hero learns more about his foes, so does the audience.
Tanjiro and Inosuke get attacked by a group of demon slayers that were sent to the mountain just like them.
By studying their movements and the environment around them, Tanjiro realized that those are just the unconscious bodies controlled by a distant puppet master through spiderwebs.
This is our first glimpse of the villain’s powers.
What are the stakes?
Another important function of the approach is to remind the audience of what is at stake if the hero fails the mission (the end of the world, a failed career, the doom of a love story, the death of an important person etc…).
So the first thing to keep in mind while writing this step is the mental state of the protagonist.
A classic trope used in this moment is the “pep talk” of a friend. The hero feels the weight of the whole world on his shoulders, so one of his friends has to go to him and make an encouraging speech that will give the protagonist the confidence he needs before the final battle.
So, since our protagonists are demon slayers, the mission is kinda obvious: kill the demons of the mountain. But still, we need to ask ourselves: what is at stake here? What happens if they fail?
First of all, the demon slayers that were sent to the mountain before them will all be devoured by the demons. And secondly, the demons might decide to leave this place and go harm humans somewhere else.
The series reminds us of the stakes with a brutal scene in which the mysterious demon puppet master dislocates the joints of a girl in order to move her body more easily, and then decides to kill her when she decides that there is no use for her anymore.
This has a strong impact on Tanjiro who is more motivated than ever to find the demon and avenge the dead slayers.
A different approach for different heroes
If the heroes of the story are in a group, they might all be headed towards the same goal, but this doesn’t mean that they are on the same page. During the approach, a group of heroes with different personalities and opinions can find it difficult to collaborate or trust each other.
Maybe one of them wants to face the threat head-on, another one wants to plan, and the last one wants to hide.
This is the case with our 3 demon slayers: Inosuke charges into enemy territory without thinking, Tanjiro follows him trying to stop him from doing something too reckless, Zanitsu decides to stay behind and cower in fear.
The approach and the B plot
To summarize it quickly: the B plot is the secondary story that takes place during the main story. It usually involves a sidequest, a romantic subplot or a conflict between the characters. During the approach, the B plot is the main focus.
As I said, the 3 demon slayers have different personalities and take different actions when faced with danger. There are 2 important conflicts that create the B plot and the C plot:
- Tanjiro trying to convince Inosuke to work together
- Zenitsu trying to get it together
Tanjiro and Inosuke are polar opposites and they have fought with each other in the past, and now that the situation calls for teamwork they have a hard time getting along.
Inosuke wants to demolish the enemy with all he’s got to show that he’s brave and strong. Tanjiro, who prefers to study his foes and come up with a strategy, tries to hold him back and reason with him.
Meanwhile, in a different location, Zenitsu walks around aimlessly trying to find his friends but gets attacked by one of the members of the family of demons.
The heroes discover more about their true potential
Now that the conflicts of the B plot are set up, it’s time to solve them. The heroes manage to overcome their fears/antagonism and realize something new about themselves, something that will eventually help them during the final battle.
Seeing Inosuke’s swordsmanship in action make Tanjiro respect his passion and skill, while the tragic death of the other demon slayers humbles Inosuke who accepts to collaborate.
But the best example of this is probably Zenitsu’s confrontation with the spider demon.
It’s pretty obvious that Zenitsu is a Shaggy without a Scooby: he’s the coward of the group (he admits it himself), he’s always coming up with escape plans, he hates confrontation but he’s always being dragged around to new adventures by his friends despite his reluctance.
He has a unique ability, though. Whenever he passes out because of fear or shock, he is relaxed enough to use his deadly thunder-breath technique which kills the enemy in one blow.
Now we see that he’s confronted with a demon that uses fear against his victims (he poisons them with a venom that turns people into spiders), but we already know that fear can turn the cowardly Zenitsu into a deadly man.
He passes out, and while the spider demon laughs at his incompetence, we see in a flashback Zenitsu’s childhood. We find out that Zenitsu doesn’t have a “gift” which allows him to use this rare and difficult technique, he actually trained for years in order to master this deadly skill. The only problem is that the boy lacks confidence and considers himself weak.
As he is unconscious, secret-all-powerful-Zenitsu makes an appearance and kills the spider demon in a flash.
Once everything is over, the boy wakes up and says that he dreamt about being a strong and fearless warrior who helps people, instead of a coward. Meaning that he realized (at least subconsciously) that he has the potential to be a good demon slayer.
There you have it! This is the approach, stage number 7 of the hero’s journey and one of the most difficult parts of it.