The release of the digital Shonen Jump app on December 2018 allowed me to dive into a whole lot of manga that I’ve been meaning to get to. In the past year alone, I’ve binged on Bakuman, Death Note, and the first two arcs of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (the entirety of the first three arcs are available on the app). Even with all the classics available, there was one series I kept my eye on each week: Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man. While it feels like a schlock-fest with pulpy violence on every page, each chapter had me hooked on what would happen next. Even though there are tons of demon-hunting manga currently running, Chainsaw Man is a guilty pleasure that is deserving of your time.
A dark and dismal debut
Right off the bat, there’s something different with Chainsaw Man, namely how it begins. Protagonist Denji is a Devil hunter who exterminates demonic creatures in order to get their bounty. He does this to pay off an enormous debt inherited to him by his father (who committed suicide before the series begins). Denji only companion is a fellow Devil chainsaw dog named Pochita, who helps him exterminate his prey. Unfortunately, the local Yakuza end up killing both characters, and Denji is left to die in a dumpster, chopped up and eviscerated beyond recognition.
And this is all in the first chapter.
It’s a gritty start to a pulpy action series that pulls no punches, because immediately after his “death”, Denji makes a contract with Pochita and fuses with the Chainsaw Devil, making him a half-human, half-Devil hybrid. After disposing of his foes and killing the Zombie Devil, Denji is greeted by Makima, who offers him a choice: die on the spot or join her team in vanquishing powerful Devils.
Three guesses as to what he chooses, and your first two don’t count.
Misfits, miscreants, and perverts, oh my!
Denji is a weird protagonist in terms of a shonen series. While he does exhibit the traits of your everyday Naruto/Luffy/Ichigo archetype (hot-blooded youth with a temper and determination), he also goes a step further and is initially a ditzy hedonist that will do anything to eat another day. However, he’s also an optimistic simpleton that takes whatever hellish circumstance is given to him in stride. Case in point, his main motivation is to eat like a king and touch some boobs.
Obviously, his character arc develops into something else entirely over the course of 50+ chapters, but it’s interesting to see how the cast complements his personality quirks very well. The female fiend (a Devil who has taken over a corpse) Power is introduced early in the series as one of Denji’s partners, and they simultaneously clash and relate to each other almost instantly. While they’re both unhygienic and not the sharpest tool in the shed, the series does enough to differentiate the two and helps them diverge into their own characters.
Perhaps a better contrast is with Aki Hayakawa, a Sasuke-like deuteragonist with a cold and calculated demeanor. However, his past is as screwed up, if not more, as Denji’s, and even Aki is not above childish impulses when the time calls for it. Realist Aki acts as a nice foil to optimist Denji, and I do enjoy how this series handles its wonderful cast of motley scoundrels.
A world of grey morality
The world of Chainsaw Man is an odd one. The premise holds that Devils run amok, and a special squad of agents are tasked with destroying them. However, for those that are too much to handle, some agents will make contracts with other Devils in order to receive their powers. This weird vicious cycle is deconstructed at every turn (such as the person making the contract sacrificing themselves physically or mentally, with the whole concept morally dubious to the cast).
Of note is Makima, the one who recruits Denji to join the special unit of Devil hunters. While she seems like a nice girl at first, doting on Denji and even allowing his somewhat perverted requests to come to fruition. However, she’s one of the most ruthless characters after her debut chapter, and as the series goes on, her grip on humanity feels like it’s slipping. This makes for a great contrast to Denji himself, as he’s struggling to keep his humanity after Pochita’s contract; what’s to stop him from going on an uncontrollable streak and killing hundreds, after all?
Anyone can (and will!) die
In a series that regularly includes Devil attacks, it’s no surprise that the body count gets exponentially high. I’m trying not to spoil anything, but there are multiple deaths with each succeeding arc, and nobody is safe. While it can turn into a case of audience apathy (there were some instances where I had to go back a few chapters and see why a certain casualty was important to someone), the recurring theme of death looming over the heads of the whole cast is intriguing.
It’s balls-to-the-wall insane!
Picture a fun and zany scene from your favorite shonen series maybe a few years back. Now imagine the action ramped up, with twice the gore and three times the chainsaws. Chainsaw Man is a series with gratuitous amounts of gore which oddly enough gets so over-the-top it’s kind of hilarious. That said, the series takes it all in stride, never stopping to breathe when doing fight scenes.
The most recent arc had a chapter named Sharknado, which featured a shark, a tornado, and plenty of chainsaw fun. The early chapters are no slouch in this department either, and while some emotional scenes are stilted and weaker because of this, the whole series feels like a giddy romp into Goreville.
While it does handle its emotional baggage inconsistently (character deaths and motivations can range from truly heartbreaking to unintentionally hilarious), Chainsaw Man is one of those series that will leave a smile on your face if you like goofy, visceral action with a side of fun characters and a world that’s grows more sinister the more you think about it. The series is currently running within the Shonen Jump app for those in North America, with chapters simupublished weekly for free, so you have no excuse to check it out and go on a wild ride. Rev up those chainsaws, you’re in for an entertaining experience.