How many times do you eat in a day? While you may have the option to skip a meal or book a food delivery, teenaged boy Denji longs for a simple toast that he and his dog Pochita could munch on.
His father’s demise left him in debt and he only has his cute chainsaw devil canine Pochita to help him with his money situation. On top of the organs that he has sold, he also lumberjacks and kills devils so the Yakuza could sell its corpses to the black market. He is even willing to eat a cigarette in exchange for cash.
Welcome to the animated world of Chainsaw Man, the series based on the hit manga of the same name by Tatsuki Fujimoto (Fire Punch), where human fears manifest into “devils”. Studio MAPPA captures the grim tone of Chainsaw Man with muted colors and a hybrid of fantastic CGI and dynamic 2D animation. MAPPA, which also brought Attack on Titan: The Final Season and Jujutsu Kaisen to life with such powerful visuals, gives justice to one of the decade’s best-selling manga titles.
Episode 1, “Dog and Chainsaw”, introduces us to Denji’s transformation into the Chainsaw Man, a devil-human hybrid with chainsaws on his head and arms. But before all hell breaks loose, the series takes its time to immerse us in the life of Denji, who dreams of having a normal life. Until the end, he is a victim of circumstances, a metaphor for the working class who could not seem to get better luck in society.
The finest moment of the premiere episode is Denji’s body morphing into Chainsaw Man. The CG animation however might not be everyone’s cup of tea and could ruin one’s suspension of disbelief. Still, the character design is on par with the best creatures in body horror like Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider, Image Comics’ Spawn, Hellraiser’s Pinhead, and Silent Hill’s Pyramid Head. Seeing the Chainsaw Man in full color is mind-blowing— no pun intended. With a weapon associated with massacres as a helmet, this is an anime series not for the faint-hearted.
Yet, it contains heartwarming scenes between Denji and Pochita. Kudos to director Ryū Nakayama who also directed the emotional and visceral Jujutsu Kaisen and writer Hiroshi Seko who scripted the poignant Attack on Titan The Final Season. If you are a fur parent, hug your mutt tightly as you watch the first episode. I dare you not to dress up your dog as Pochita for Halloween.
But if you haven’t empathized with Denji enough, Episode 2 might do the trick. The story titled “Arrival in Tokyo” sees Denji playing with condiments and sandwich spreads he’s tasting for the first time. Despite being tone-deaf, he enjoys singing in the bathtub and then passes out while sitting on the toilet. These silent scenes show the simple joys of life that Denji was deprived of.
Seemingly being treated as a human being for the first time, he still feels incomplete and sets a new goal in life - to touch the boobs of his boss Makima, a superior devil hunter at the Public Safety Division. While that may be going into the yaoi territory, it reveals the general flaw of humans of never being content no matter how much we have achieved.
Denji’s romantic interest is also a walking red flag. Makima promises to provide him food and protection from other devil hunters so long as Denji says “yes” or “woof” to her demands. Again, this is an allegory to the working class who blindly follow the power-that-be because it benefits them. Even Denji sees through her manipulation but he submits to her and “falls in love” with her because he has not experienced kindness before.
The rest of the episode focused on world-building. We get to know the samurai-wielding Aki, a self-destructive demon hunter who wants to avenge the death of his family. Power, a horned woman, is also a scene stealer. She is a “fiend” or a devil who possesses a dead woman’s body. Her skill set includes forming a hammer out of her blood and heightened senses that can track a devil. There’s still so much to explore from these characters and we still have ten more episodes to see them.
I enjoy watching anime in its original Japanese form with English subtitles. What stood out for me is Pochita’s voice actress Shiori Izawa’s portrayal of Pochita, who brings charm to an otherwise depressing and violent first episode. Another perfect casting is Denji voice actor Kikunosuke Toya, who gives a sense of naivete and weirdness to the protagonist.
The opening of Chainsaw Man maintains the absurdity of the series but is consistent with the themes of experiencing the simple joys of life. Here, we see the public demon hunters watching a movie, dancing to Kenshi Yonezu’s KICK BACK, and even Aki, the most serious character in the series, breaking the fourth wall.
As for the closing credits, JPop and JRock fans are in for a treat as the series will feature 12 different ending songs. These tracks are Hawatari Niku Centi by Maximum the Hormone Chu, Tayousei by Ano, Fight Song by Eve, Deep Down by Aimer, Rendezvous by Kanaria, In the Back Room by Syudou, Violence by Queen Bee, Time Left by Zutomayo, First Death by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure, Tablet by Tooboe, Chainsaw Blood by Vaundy, and Dogland by People 1.
All in all, Chainsaw Man is worth the hype. It is an anime event that fans of manga and animation, in general, should not dare to miss.
The first two episodes of “Chainsaw Man” are now streaming on Prime Video. New episodes drop every Wednesday.