[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be looking at the grizzly and highly anticipated Chainsaw Man. Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are true classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: is Chainsaw Man worth your time or not?]
It’s rare to see a show completely take over the anime community. Generally speaking, when a stellar anime comes around, it usually gains attention and praise via word of mouth over time rather than right from the get-go. Going into this year, I’m sure that very few people expected shows like Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, My Dress-Up Doll, or Lycoris Recoil to gain the attention that they did. These are great shows, but most attention was drawn to already-established franchises. It’s rare for a title to command the attention of the anime community from the very first episode. It’s even rarer for an anime to command that attention from the mere announcement that an anime is going to be adapted. Chainsaw Man is that anime.
In a season that is stacked from head to toe with heavy-hitting sequels like Mob Psycho 100 III, My Hero Academia, To Your Eternity, and even a new Gundam series, Chainsaw Man was for many (myself included) the most anticipated title of the season, if not the entire year. Generally speaking, I try to steer away from hype culture since I find that it just serves to perpetuate a cycle of always anticipating the next big thing and not appreciating what’s currently out. If you’re laser-focused on only one show/game/movie, then you’ll miss everything else that’s being released and you’re probably going to set yourself up for disappointment if it doesn’t turn out to be as perfect as you imagine it being. There’s obviously a lot more to go into there than just a simple introduction, but I couldn’t help but become excited about Chainsaw Man as we were getting closer to its premiere.
When I attended New York Comic Con and covered the panel for the show, I said that I was going to do a write-up of the show in December to serve as a post-mortem of the first season, because of course there are going to be multiple seasons of this show. I know they haven’t announced any, but come on… The more I thought about it though, the more I debated on if I should cover it sooner rather than later. By the time it finishes airing, sure we can get into spoiler-filled discussions on what worked and what didn’t work, but I feel that at that point any discussions on the series would be incomplete. I’m fairly certain that the show isn’t going to completely adapt the first part of the manga, so we’ll be left at a weird stopping point by then and have to wait who knows how long until the next season begins.
So screw it, in the spirit of Halloween -and because I want to draw as much attention to the show as possible-, if you’re not already watching it, let me convince you to drop everything you’re doing and why you should start watching Chainsaw Man.
Chainsaw Man follows Denji, an incredibly poor teenager who makes his living by killing creatures called Devils with his own devil, Pochita. Every devil bases its power on some element that humans fear and the more humans fear it, the strong it becomes. For example, Pochita is the Chainsaw Devil, so Pochita can use chainsaws to kill other devils pretty effectively. After Denji and Pochita are killed by the Zombie Devil, Pochita becomes Denji’s heart, allowing him to transform into Chainsaw Man, a human-devil hybrid that effortlessly kills the Zombie Devil. Denji is then found by Makima, a member of an organization called Public Safety dedicated to eradicating Devils. Makima brings Denji into the organization and has him team up with other Devil Hunters in order to kill as many Devils as possible and protect mankind.
As a Shonen Jump series, you better believe there’s a huge focus on action here, but compared to most other series, the action on display in Chainsaw Man is grimier and way more violent than virtually any other series the publisher releases. Blood and gore are aplenty and Denji drapes himself in blood when he becomes the eponymous Chainsaw Man. Devils scream in pain as he slices through them and Denji laughs with glee as he drinks their blood to fuel his chainsaws. There are plenty of decapitations, vivisections, dismemberment, and violence galore.
I would argue that Chainsaw Man is more like an anime slasher movie when you compare it to its other horror action peers like Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen. While those shows have a certain level of gravitas and melodrama to their arcs, Chainsaw Man trades all of that in for B-movie glory. Each mini-arc contains a new baddie for Denji to fight and the answer to every problem that Deni encounters is to slice it with a chainsaw. Or if it’s a guy, kick him in the nuts a lot. Like, a lot a lot. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be too much depth just by that description. The anime relishes in violence, which therefore should make the violence the main draw for the audience. But the reality is that there’s a lot more substance here than you may think.
I know I said this when I covered the first episode, but there’s a surprising amount of subtlety and atmosphere with the premiere. Denji doesn’t become Chainsaw Man until the last three or four minutes of the premiere. Most of the time is spent hammering home how miserable of a life Denji has. His father committed suicide, he was forced to work for the yakuza to pay off his debt, he can only afford to eat a slice of bread a day, and he has some kind of illness that has him cough up blood. At times, it borders on being almost comical with how terrible Denji’s life is, like how he says he had to sell a testicle in order to help pay off his debt but is still nowhere near close to paying it off. There is comedy to be had in the show, but the narrative really does lay it on thick in the beginning about how we should pity Denji and his circumstances.
There is a point to the needless misery, however, and that’s to contrast with Denji’s life once he joins Public Safety. Upon meeting Makima, he states that his dream is to eat bread with jam every single day for breakfast. If he can do that, then he’ll consider that to be a happy life. This idea of Denji searching for happiness is one of the most important arcs of the manga and, so far, we’re seeing the seeds planted well in the anime. Denji is a man of simple pleasures. He enjoys just being able to eat three times a day, take a warm bath, and talk to a woman that seems to be interested in him. There are rough moments, like when he meets his direct superior Aki, a stern and emotionless Public Saftey officer who beats him in an attempt to make him quit, but Denji just laughs at his attempts. And kicks him in the nuts. Like a lot.
As far as main characters go, Denji stands out from basically any anime protagonist I can think of. When you think of a Shonen anime protagonist, what are some traits that come to mind? Usually, they’re optimistic, kind-hearted, and maybe not the brightest in the world but gosh darn it they mean well! Denji is a punk. He’s curt, fairly stupid, short-sighted, rude, horny, and straightforward. However, it’s his short-sightedness that makes him interesting to watch since his motivation is always changing. In the first episode, Denji just wants to live a comfortable life. By the time he gets that comfortable life in episode 2, he gets a new goal once he kills a Devil living in the body of a human corpse: he wants to touch some boobs. Not hook up with a woman or have sex with her, but just touch her chest.
Weirdly enough, I find that kind of refreshing. Maybe it’s just because most anime protagonists have lofty and deeply personal goals for themselves. Tanjiro wants to save his sister’s life and defeat the demon that turned her into a monster. Deku wants to become a hero like his role model All Might. Denji just wants to cop a feel. It’s comical, but very down-to-earth at the same time. It’s also fitting for someone like Denji who never really had any interactions with girls before, so of course, he wants to spend time with them and satisfy his urges. He’s still a teenager after all. But as the anime progresses, his goals are going to constantly shift and develop as he reaches each and every goal he sets out to have.
If I had to compare Denji and Chainsaw Man to any other anime, it reminds me the most of Yu Yu Hakusho. Both series involve punk teenagers who gain otherworldly power and are put to work by an organization for the betterment of mankind. Not only that, but both series take plenty of time to disrespect their protagonists, with Yusuke Yurameshi called a delinquent and chastised by his friends and loved ones while Denji is compared to by basically everyone as a dog, displaying no agency of his own and simply doing what he’s told. To risk angering fans of Yu Yu Hakusho, I find that Chainsaw Man explores more interesting themes and ideas and generally is more substantial than Yu Yu Hakusho. Yusuke’s treatment is more comical and fades away as the series progresses and the stakes rise, but Denji’s dog imagery is present for the entire manga. Denji is always seen as a dog and the manga/anime explores what that even means. Does Denji truly develop independence as the series progresses, or is he still a dog chained and controlled by whoever is holding the leash?
When you compare both series, you slowly start to see how the elements of Shonen anime have radically changed over the course of several decades, for better or for worse. A show like Yu Yu Hakusho wouldn’t have spent the time to flesh out Yusuke in the same way Chainsaw Man does for Denji. After all, it’s a Shonen action anime and without a focus on battling and fighting new and unique foes, what’s the point? Chainsaw Man still has action setpieces with new and unique foes, but they come across as incidental when compared to the motivation for their existence.
In Yu Yu Hakusho, Yusuke is forced to enter a tournament because the big bad of the arc told him to do so, allowing Yusuke to fight new opponents to raise that action quota. In Chainsaw Man, a future arc has Denji on the run from international assassins due to his exploits as Chainsaw Man, allowing him to fight new opponents to raise that action quota. Both are transparent in what they’re trying to do. Both series are deliberately generating threats that our protagonists will have to fight in order to increase the number of fight scenes present within. The difference here is that one of them fits naturally in the established world and is a natural escalation of the threat our protagonist faces while the other is an arbitrary scenario that comes across like the author not really knowing how to naturally integrate more fight scenes into their series, instead leaning on genre tropes to get the job done whether it makes sense for the show or not.
Then you have the general pacing of the shows. When Yu Yu Hakusho aired its original run back in the 90s, it did so nonstop without any major breaks. This allowed the show to take its time and drag out its production, for better and for worse. For diehard fans of the original series, that meant that the show would go into detail on virtually every arc and not skimp any details, at the cost of several arcs dragging considerably. In fact, this was a trait of most major Shonen anime up until the past decade, with productions trying to blitz out new content at a breakneck pace, resulting in strapped budgets, filler arcs that had no relevance to the main series, and padding out fight scenes.
At this point, Chainsaw Man seems to have the opposite problem in a sense as it is moving at a breakneck pace. Chapters from the manga are either reduced or cut entirely in favor of trying to get from major plot point to major plot point. That frantic pace almost certainly has to do with the fact that this first season is only slated to have 12 episodes. Like I said earlier, it’s almost a guarantee that the show will get a second season. The critical and commercial success of Chainsaw Man essentially dictates it, but the series, at least three episodes in, is acting like that isn’t a certainty, so it’s trying to adapt all of the big moments and leave out the tinier bits.
But that fast pace also allows for the show to utilize its budget more efficiently. Anime costs money, and for some productions, the money eventually runs out. It’s one of the main reasons why you don’t see shows airing new episodes in major franchises on a weekly basis for several consecutive seasons like in the 90s and 2000s. Now, shows will take breaks in order to replenish budgets and allow greater attention to detail for key scenes. If a show was airing nonstop, the animators would eventually grow tired, budgets would collapse, and the final product would be something that no anime fan would be satisfied with.
It’s very clear that Chainsaw Man has a gargantuan budget to allow for the tricks and risks it’s taking. The OP is immaculately animated, the episodes themselves effectively portray key scenes, and in a twist that I don’t think I’ve ever seen an anime do, every single ending for the 12 episodes in the first season will contain a unique ending sequence and new ending theme song. Do you have any idea how impressive that is? Studio MAPPA had to license out 12 different songs, then create unique 90-second animation sequences for each of them. It’s entirely unnecessary since practically every anime that I’ve ever seen will only have one, possibly two EDs, and just reuse them for the entire season’s run. To me, that’s just MAPPA flaunting the money that they have for Chainsaw Man. They’re doing it because they can.
Speaking of the OP, if you haven’t seen it up at the top, please do so. It’s a frontrunner for opening of the year and it isn’t just because of the stellar animation. Director Ryu Nakayama has a clear love of film and has strewn plenty of cinematic references into the OP, whether they be from well-known films like Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski, Fight Club, or Thor: Love and Thunder, to an assortment of horror films like Jacob’s Ladder and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to even bizarre choices that I can’t even possibly fathom why they are there like Constantine and Sadako vs Kayako. All of these references serve to explain bits of the world and the characters, capturing their personalities and key beats that will almost certainly factor into later scenes, but it just goes to show the attention to detail that’s present in Chainsaw Man.
A Shonen anime from the 90s would have never attempted half of the things that Chainsaw Man does. That may speak to the time and the higher standards that the anime industry has since it’s in constant competition with itself. All it takes is three months for you to entirely forget about a show that you were watching on a weekly basis and heralding as must-see entertainment. It speaks to the shift in how we consume our media too. If a show was presented to us like Yu Yu Hakusho with its drawn-out pacing and average animation, would it keep our interest? Likewise, because of its fast-paced action and desire to adapt as much of the original manga as possible, will Chainsaw Man be remembered as an anime classic in a year’s time? There’s no disputing the legacy that Yu Yu Hakusho has left on the industry, including its subtle influences on Chainsaw Man, but is Chainsaw Man a flash-in-the-pan moment?
When Demon Slayer was released back in 2019, it took over the anime world. When it got a feature film, it became the highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. Only a little more than two years later, is there still fervor for the series given that the manga has wrapped up and we are in between seasons? Chainsaw Man is still an ongoing series with new chapters coming out weekly. I won’t spoil what happens in any of those new chapters, but it’s clear that this is only the beginning for the anime and the franchise as a whole. It does beg the question of when the first season ends if the hype surrounding the show will also end. Is it going to become just another fixture of the industry, becoming part of the establishment as new fans look to find the next big thing?
I can’t say for certain, but I do think that you should give Chainsaw Man a watch. It’s an accessible title for those that crave a little bit of grizzly and gory violence that is the logical next step of horror seeping into the Shonen formula. It’s emblematic of a lot of the trends and styles of the period and its success or failure is going to be examined much in the same way we look at classic Shonen anime of the 90s, 2000s, and 2010s to see how those shows and franchises conducted themselves. Regardless of possible future examinations of the genre, right now, in this moment, you should watch Chainsaw Man. We’re three episodes in and it’s already one hell of a ride. Hop on.
January 2022: Anime of the Year Awards 2021
February 2022: Demon Slayer: Entertainment District Arc
March 2022: My Dress-Up Darling
April 2022: Platinum End
May 2022: Anime Recommendations Vol. 1
June 2022: Ya Boy Kongming!
July 2022: Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt
August 2022: Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero
September 2022: Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun