You may find yourself asking why this kid is living with a dog in a shack. You may find yourself seeing the simulcast on Crunchyroll hyped up all over the world. You may find yourself scrolling by memes of Power behind the wheel of a large automobile. Soon we’ll find Denji in a beautiful house … with a beautiful wife, and then we may ask “What in the hell is Chainsaw Man about?”
To say that Chainsaw Man is one of the greatest manga to go viral in recent years is an understatement. Personally, it’s the first manga I’ve been completely up to date on since Naruto before Shippuden. But the pressing question, “what is Chainsaw Man?” is a pretty silly one, isn’t it? It’s what it says on the tin. It’s about a man who can turn into a chainsaw. The chainsaw is a devil. He kills devils. When he’s a human, his name is Denji. He likes food and he likes women. Good? Now we’re ready to hit the gas.
Because the thing about Chainsaw Man is that, in a bubble observing only the pilot, the setup and premise are relatively simple and predictable if you’re a bit reluctant to watch the anime format but know its tropes well. The concept of the show, while ultimately simple, needs some time to set up the stakes and Denji’s investment.
The first episode is just the first course as it sets the stage for the plot: Devils exist and Denji is a broke kid in debt to the Yakuza. He partners with Poochita, a “chainsaw devil’,” to help each other survive while doing odd jobs to pay off the debt. Eventually, this turns into Devil Hunting, but there’s one problem with that. As Devils want to do, they make deals with humans, and not all humans are as earnest as Denji. The Yakuza make a deal with a Devil that makes them into zombies, and they slaughter both Denji and Poochita, but thanks to the pact that Denji made with the cute pupper, they combine, turning Poochita into a replacement heart for Denji, and a pull cord in his sternum. This cord revs him into the Chainsaw Man, and this is where we truly begin to see the show emerge into its own existence apart from the manga.
Where the manga in its black and white inked presentation is full of bloody and devious tableuts, the show is being animated by the MAPPA team which created Attack on Titan’s original seasons and Season 1 of Jujutsu Kaisen, giving them a wide opening to create unique action choreography. While Denji’s first fight appears cumbersome, it conveys the heft and power of the chainsaws adorned on his body. While using 3D models and simplified cel shade rendering to make characters and environments look two-dimensional has been a point of criticism in the recent trends of anime action scenes, the Chainsaw Man team takes their experimentation from Kaisen’s biggest moments and refines it to make their visual integration seamless. The show similarly presents warm colors and lighting in ways that elevate the brighter moments of the show, but do so in a dread-filled gold of twilight and crimson of blood to visually set it apart, at least for now.
Once Denji ventures into the big city and meets his new coworkers, we’ll see where things go. This creates a challenge for Chainsaw Man’s premier because the tone that introduces us to the characters and sets up the story doesn’t prepare you for where this series will go. Having to explain the essence of where Chainsaw Man takes you is futile, as the best summation is to compare it to the escapades of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, but if it were a blisteringly fast-paced roller coaster ride.
Chainsaw Man’s entire first season may not even be sufficient enough to prepare audiences for the destination that awaits them at the end of The Public Safety Arc, and as long as it conveys how likable these characters are, that’s totally fine. One needs only look at Tatsuki Fukimoto’s favorite films, which he tells us as he opens each volume of Chainsaw Man’s manga, and will see them each referenced in the show’s kinetic OP: from Big Lebowski to Fight Club to No Country For Old Men, Jacob’s Ladder and Pulp Fiction. Fujimoto is a film nerd through and through, and if the anime can help turn his manga into a cohesive collision of those influences, the series will be all the better.