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Chainsaw Man manga cover.

Love and Chainsaws: Why you should read the Chainsaw Man manga (if you haven’t already)

Written by
Evan Robins
and
and
July 19, 2021

In the past year or so, I tuned back into my love of anime and manga. Part of it may be the intimate connection queer and trans culture share with anime (which I discuss in an upcoming interview/follow-up to my Op-Ed! Shameless Plug!), but it also just has to do with me being introduced to the medium at a young and impressionable age (namely Attack on Titan at age twelve… in hindsight that is a little worrying). So, jumping back in, I voraciously tore through five parts of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, season four of Attack on Titan, Neon Genesis Evangelion, The End of Evangelion, Dorohedoro, Castlevania season four, the list goes on, and on (and on).

Love and Chainsaws: Why you should read the Chainsaw Man manga (if you haven’t already)
Chainsaw Man manga cover.

Yet in all that time, I hardly touched a manga, rarely at least, without having first run out of show to watch. After AOT ended the first part of season four on a cliff-hanger I caught up with manga, just as I began reading Part 6 of Jojo’s after I ran out of animated parts to binge. However, there is one series which I did read entirely of my own volition, and it may have just left the biggest impression on me of any series – manga or anime – this year.

Chainsaw Man is a Japanese manga series published from Dec. 2018 to Dec. 2020, both written and illustrated by Tatsuki Fujimoto. The series follows Denji, a 16-year-old who lives in a world cohabited by demonic entities, or “devils”, who take the tangible form of fears or phobias – swords, foxes, darkness, etc. Denji originally works for the Yakuza, hunting devils to work off a debt his father incurred, but when he is killed while fighting a horde of demons his soul fuses with the powerful Chainsaw Devil, enabling him to turn into “Chainsaw Man” at will. He is then saved and recruited by Makima, the domineering head of the Japanese Public Safety Division’s devil-hunting unit (yes, that is a real thing). Denji gets paired with Aki, a stoic, strait-laced mentor, and Power, a precocious Fiend (a devil inhabiting the body of a human), who are together tasked with fighting devils and protecting public safety, with the goal of one day using Denji’s unprecedented abilities to take down the massively powerful Gun Devil.

The first half of the series adopts this pleasantly surreal slice-of-life tone, strangely reminiscent of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics, of all things. The characters get into wacky situations and intricate fights as part of their work with the Public Safety Division, fight demons, get drinks, have fun. There is a lot of time spent to exploring Denji’s personality, both in the way he handles fights and the way in which he interacts other characters, which is refreshing to see considering the Shonen genre’s heavy reliance on character archetypes and generic “tough guy” protagonists.

In fact, the entire cast of Chainsaw Man are both unique and memorable. Apart from the main trio there are a good number of side characters that prove immensely memorable despite their relatively small roles. The other new recruits that Denji works with prove to be exceedingly quirky and fun, and recurring characters like Kobeni rank among fan’s favourites overall. The series also devotes exceeding care to creating empathy for both allies and antagonists, devils and humans. The fact that major antagonists are remembered by fans with as much fondness as mentors, allies, and love interests speaks to the depth of character writing that Fujimoto puts into his work.

This in turn leads us into discussing the worldbuilding of Chainsaw Man, which is perhaps the series’ single greatest asset. If you’ve read enough manga, Chainsaw Man doesn’t provide a huge barrier for entry. Hell, the premise is pretty much taken beat-for-beat from Go Nagai’s Devilman series. The way in which the series subtly weaves together alternate history, character backstories, and the supernatural, however, stands out among the typically blunt approach of many series of its kind. There is a sense of the world being lived in that isn’t present in a lot of Shonen series where the protagonists fight string after string of villains of the week without any repercussions. Characters in Chainsaw Man feel like they’ve lived, they have histories together which show in the way they treat each other, and the political and supernatural elements of the story both feel like they have an actual impact as the story progresses.

It helps that the breakneck pacing creates a delightful anticipation for each chapter, so much so that I finished the entire 97-chapter series in the span of just three days. The tension builds quickly and effectively, turning the fun slice-of-life-meets-horror romp of the early chapters into a madcap spy thriller, and then a Lovecraftian battle against cosmically powerful antagonists that still manages to deliver on the payoff promised from the very beginning.

Also, the art is stunning. It’s impossible to convey the impact of some of Fujimoto’s panels and the palpable horror and action they capture. Characters seem to pop off the page, and the visual storytelling carries some of the weightiest parts of the story even more than the words on the page.

So yeah, this series is good; it is really, really, good. I might go so far as to call it nearly perfect. Chainsaw Man is a cocktail of incredible parts which work in unison to form one of the most compelling manga I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I simply cannot recommend this enough to anyone who enjoys manga and anime, especially quirky, dark, and over-the-top Shonen. If you’re looking to start a new series and get totally sucked in, Chainsaw Man is just waiting for you. As long as you take the plunge, this series is one ride you’ll never forget.

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