Anime Review: Chainsaw Man

Chainsaw Man is a manga series that I’d have to admit that I held off on reading because I’d read some of the early art and thought it was edgelord crap. However, I kept hearing that no, it’s actually that good. So, when the anime adaptation aired, I decided that this was what I needed to take the plunge and give it a shot. It turns out it’s actually that good. There will be some spoilers for the first season.

In a nutshell – Chainsaw Man is Hayate The Combat Butler meets Devilman. That’s not entirely accurate – main protagonist Denji begins the series saddled with crippling debt left to him by his dead father, and owed to the Yakuza. However, unlike Hayate Ayasaki, it appears that Denji’s father wasn’t the sort of scam artist and degenerate gambler that lead Hayate to have to develop myriad useful work skills in a variety of all sorts of fields that would provide him numerous avenues to make money at 16 – even if his Ayasaki’s bad luck would lead him to attempt to kidnap a wealthy heiress and ending up rescuing her instead. No, Denji, at the start of the series, has already ended up having to sell some organs to make payments – with his only help being his having befriended a small Chainsaw Devil. Oh, speaking of which – Devils in this world are a thing – they draw power from humanity’s fear of whatever they are, and they frequently need to be killed.

So, when the Yakuza who Denji owes money to decide that he’s never really gonna make enough to pay this off, they kill him, and dump him in a dumpster with his Chainsaw Devil. However, that devil has been close enough friends with Denji that he volunteers to become Denji’s new heart, regenerating him and giving him the devil’s full power – and the power of the Chainsaw Devil is quite great indeed. This leads to Denji getting recruited by a government agency that hunts Devils, making a sort of devil’s bargain (pun intended) with the head of the agency, Makina, in the process.

Power, Denji, Aki, and his fellow Devil Hunters from Chainsaw Man
Denji and his fellow Devil Hunters even get to rock the Reservoir Dogs suits, to continue the film references.

It makes for a tremendously interesting group of characters. Denji and his fellow Devil Hunters, such as Aki, Kobemi, and Himeno, are all broken people in their own ways – seeking revenge, or just roped into the profession because their family gave them a choice between that and sex work. Even the fiend Power has her own degree of brokenness, having basically been just living as a feral animal for who knows how long until she found another thing to live for.

Then there’s Denji himself. Denji’s life ambitions at the start of the series are even smaller than Hayate’s – to be able to afford to have bread with jam on it, and to maybe touch a boob. He’d already committed to his own demise, so his desires are fleeting moments of joy, because he sees no reason to have any form of longer ambition, even if he knew enough about the world to have an idea as to more there could be to ask for, assuming there was a chance of getting something more.

In a way, this is much of the arc for these characters, particularly Denji and Aki. Aki saw his family killed by the Gun Devil, and seeks revenge against that Devil – while his mentor Himeno wants him to live for something more. Denji, very early in the series, gets the goals he was living for – to touch a boob, to have bread with jam. And now he needs to figure out what to live for next. If touching that boob wasn’t satisfying, then the question becomes why wasn’t it, and what does he need to do next – and perhaps finding a long-term thing to live for.

And then there’s Makina, who this series does a good job of setting up as being a tremendously dangerous person but keeping a secret to the full extent as to why. It’s part of how this series casually drops some details to set up how this is a world that is different from ours in ways far beyond the presence of Devils, but does so very casually, in a blink and you miss it kind of way. Things like how this looks like our modern world, or one that’s not too far back, but there’s still the Soviet Union. So – on top of the characters themselves, there’s that mystery keeping me hooked.

The visuals in Chainsaw Man are somewhat muted – they’re very fluid, with a real style that takes a lot of cues from movies, but it also has a look to it that is definitely aspiring to be more grounded in the real world, in order to make the more supernatural and horrific elements stand out all the more strongly. It means that some of the slapstick elements of the story are a little underplayed – I can definitely see how people who got hooked by the comedic elements of the manga got rubbed the wrong way.

The series isn’t completely dour – this is an anime series that understands the comedic value of a well-timed kick to the nards (and even more for repeated kicks). Denji and Power’s own ignorance of the world and partial disconnection from humanity also adds to some great comedic moments – complete with a beat where they realize they need to fight more intelligently against an opponent, and in addition to coming up with a plan, they also decide they need to wear glasses because smart people wear glasses. It’s a hell of a start to this story – it puts a lot of pieces into play, and I’m really excited to see how this all plays out.

Chainsaw Man is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.

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