Shounen anime these days sometimes feels oversaturated due to the use of repeating tropes and cliches. Rarely does a show get enough attention with something unique and distinct to the table. Even so, most of the time you have to sit through a long while to find that uniqueness which can be a drag and might not be all that worth it. That uniqueness might be just another variation of what we’ve already seen. But some stories, once in a blue moon, do something that breaks the typical format and flips it over its head by completely drifting off from the primary category. Hunter x Hunter, D.Gray-man, Death Note, The Promised Neverland, Jujutsu Kaisen to some extent, and Chainsaw Man are some examples that stand out amongst all and often can be mistaken as a different genre. But the most distinct of them all is Chainsaw Man and we’ll immerse ourselves in this world.
The Appeal of Chainsaw Man
First thing first, if you started with the anime then it should be obvious why it appeals to the broader audience. The art, colors, sound, background, character movement, and everything we can perceive with our five senses feels refreshing and atmospheric. The clever use of camera panning, angles & focus shifting, the lighting from the rising & setting sun seeping through the environment and blazing the open sky & sea of clouds, dust particles flying around in the afternoon sun rays through the window, the minute details on every character’s eyes & pupils and realistic reflection them, the sound of wind blowing, the gray exteriors of the city and traffic noises, the reflections on the glass windows, neon light from the vending machines illuminating the dark alleys, the lofi-ambient OSTs expressing the inner feelings of the characters, the characters dialogue, design and expressions verbalizing what type of characters they are and so much more that I couldn’t spot everything. You can notice when the camera cuts to the outside of a room, the traffic sounds louder & the dialogue sounds muffled and vice-versa. Everything is crafted to perfection to convey the cinematic experience on the small screen we see at home. None of the scenes and dialogues have been wasted or used casually for no reason. Every moment has its purpose in the story. The anime even added some extra scenes to elevate certain aspects. And that’s all only on the surface. The real story, its theme, and the characters fit flawlessly in this world.
Chainsaw Man has a certain pattern. It’s a quiet moment followed by a loud moment, mundane scenes invaded by exciting, energetic, or horrifying sequences. The slow moments let us sink into this world and understand what’s going on. Then when the action scenes come up, they feel all the more intriguing and the fights feel more impactful. The fight scenes are another story as a whole as they take inspiration from different media and make them fit in this world. The fights are like the means for survival rather than looking cool and yet some great choreographed sequences are formed. They are the cherry on top of this amazing story. Someone up that together properly, that the fights are the result of the story rather than the fights themselves being the story like some Shounen battle series.
The Story and Characters
The best type of story goes hand in hand with its characters. The characters in fact are the story. Their motivations, actions, dialogue, and styles shape the story and make it move forward. I am going to segment this character-wise and explore how each of them tells the story. Since Chainsaw Man is a story about being human in an inhumane world, it’s about learning one’s identity, purpose, and bonds with each other in a fantasy-horror setting.
Denji, aka Chainsaw Man
I think Denji’s character is best described in the Opening theme “KICK BACK” by Kenshi Yonezu and its lyrics. It’s meant to mock the typical society we live in. “Grind, Future, A Beautiful Star” is the repeating phrase meaning the life of a worker who is meant to work hard for the future, which is how Denji’s life was before taken by the Public Safety Bureau. The next line says about getting in the empty laundromat and now he can finally say goodbye to all the filth, meaning his life is finally getting better and the empty laundromat indicates that his life finally has a room to breathe. We even see that in the episode from his perspective. The world looked bleak & grey and it started to get more colorful as Denji got to live a better life. Then the song moves to his desire which is to find love. Ultimately, Denji only wants a normal, happy life which is pretty realistic than what we’ve seen in many Shounen protagonists. No one would want to become president, pilot, CEO, or change the world for the better. Mostly one would just want to finish education, get a well-paid job, start a family, have some vacation now & then, and have a peaceful retirement. This is why many people found Denji to be more relatable. He just wants the happiness that’s in front of him. But this mindset is also one of his weaknesses. Since he doesn’t have any grand ambition or moral compass and he dashes ahead for what he wants. Some exploit that idea and easily manipulate him. He used to be called a dog because he would do anything for chump change. Then Makima set him in many dangerous situations including killing the Gun devil with the promise of a reward. The way she puts a tie on his neck feels like putting a leash on a dog. Denji, who once had nothing, now will risk everything he gained so far just for that reward.
Aki is a man of code, so to speak. He is stoic, upright, dutiful, and has mad respect for Makima. He is the complete opposite of Denji who is more laidback. He is only driven by the ambition of killing the Gun devil who took everything away from him and he is willing to give everything to achieve that, even his lifespan. He sees everything and everyone around him as tools he needs to reach that goal. But he too begins to change after certain individuals pried in his life. It’s as if his character would be empty if it weren’t for them and Himeno is the first one to thank for that. Then comes Denji and Power. At times when he starts losing his humanity in pursuit of his reckless goal, he’s pulled back by them. Having lost his family in the past, he found another, only to place them in jeopardy as well.
Episode 8’s ED “First Death” is by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure is focused on Aki’s character, his dilemma, and his connection with everyone around.
Power is Power, that’s the best way to describe her. She is the unhinged personification of raw energy, conveyed amazingly by her design, animation, and voice acting by Fairouz Ai. She is crazy, inattentive, a pathological liar, chaotic, easily distracted by her surroundings, and selfish. And yet she is the most adorable character in the entire series and the most popular from the popularity poles. Despite being so annoying, she is someone you can root for. You can’t help but feel for her for what she’s been through and for her childlike innocence. You’ll see her often staring inside the vending machines with a face full of wonder just like a child. She never cared about anyone else but slowly learns to do so. All that started when a stray cat took a liking to her and for the first time, Power felt a sense of companionship. As time goes by with Denji and Aki, she learns to care for them. We even see that in one episode where she helps Aki to stop bleeding. She has this sibling-like dynamic with the two which is pretty rare to see nowadays.
Power’s character is also portrayed in the 4th ED “Jozai” by TOOBOE which just shows her frantic nature and also throwing vegetables.
Makima is a difficult character. She is calm, reserved, and has a commanding & intimidating presence. You will never know whether to like her or be afraid of her. We hear even her inner monologue or thoughts. All her speeches are calculated and with purpose. She gives this uneasy feeling as if she has some ominous intentions that won’t end well. Everything that transpired feels like orchestrated by her. And all that was set in motion when she randomly found the Chainsaw devil or Denji. She is the gateway to the world of Chainsaw Man as she displays the hierarchy of this world. From what we’ve seen so far in the anime, her goal is to obtain the ultimate power and she got the first step when all the devil hunter divisions were placed under her command. And her understanding of the world is far broader than any other character. What she sees beyond the wall, we can only imagine. She is the literal personification of the devil who marionettes all the phenomena of this world.
There is actually no dedicated ED song for Makima but her presence is there in every ED.
Himeno is the most humane character we’ve seen in the entire series. Her life has been full of tragedy, driven by the same goal of killing the Gun devil just as many others, she lost many close to her, including one of her eyes which she offered to the Ghost devil. If we look closely, her eyes are the most beautiful ones in the entire Chainsaw Man story. In the anime, it’s all the more apparent. The dark blue color in contrast to the white part and black eyelashes around is so pretty to gaze upon that you can’t really take your eyes off that.
Upon knowing that the devils fear crazy-minded people, she tries to act like one. But when backed into a corner, her human starts bursting out. But interestingly, her human side is what affected everyone around her and caused others to embrace humanity. It caused Aki to break down his stoic facade and Denji to think about someone other than himself. Everything human about Aki has Himeno’s hands on it. She will be remembered as the story moves on.
Himeno’s character also has a dedicated ED theme but mainly in the lyrics with some visual metaphors perfectly synchronized. Episode 9’s ED “Deep Down” by Aimer visualizes Himeno’s pain & suffering and tributes to her departure in a deep and emotional way. The feeling is harmoniously described in the lyrics itself.
Kobeni is another human character who is forcibly thrown into this chaotic world. Her thoughts and reactions are pretty much like a normal person in the situation she is in. The more horror she experiences, the more craziness seeps into her mind. She does realize that & even questions her psyche.
Kishibe is the mentor character later introduced who has already lost his mind. He has seen a lot and learned a lot enough to educate the youngsters & prepare them to not get killed. He is probably the only one who sees the world for what it is and he’s the one who figured out that the devils can’t handle crazy people. He even sees through the facade Makima has put up to manipulate the world around her. But he is not swayed and lives by his own ideals. There isn’t much to talk about him since he explains things about himself. But things get deep and emotional later in the series.
Now, there are more characters that are introduced who are yet to be explored fully in the anime. The ones above drive the main plot of the first season. But all the characters are well-written and grounded in reality which makes them fun & captivating to watch. They talk & behave like most real people and do weird stuff that we might do when we are not ourselves, which is why the emotional moments hit very hard. All of their motivation, action, interaction with each other, and the situation they face is what makes this story so damn good.
The Opening and ending themes
I figured that a separate section of the Intro and outro sequences is needed since they are an integral part of the anime. From references, and foreshadowing to characterizing and many unknown mysteries lie in those sequences. Never before has a credit roll in a TV series been made to be this much interesting. From visual metaphors down to lyrics is meaningful in some way. In the OP, after the start of the chainsaw, the leading group walks by and we see everyone’s faces that tell who they are. When Denji diverts his gaze to Makima after making faces with Power, we see Makima’s face darken as it’s telling that she has some ominous plans for him. That’s only one of many that I can’t begin to fathom. Refer to this YouTube video if you want to know more about it.
The ending themes are another story. Each episode has unique ending sequences and songs summarizing what took place in the episodes in a metaphorical way. They basically re-tell the story at their own pace. Some of them are even character-focused and tell about their inner dilemma. This is totally unheard of and it shows how much the staff really care about this show.
Why is Chainsaw so much Terrifying?
Chainsaw devil is being built up to be a terrifying and powerful entity that we’ve only gotten the gist of it. Makima’s obsession with him and other devils including the Gun devil targeting Denji to be eliminated before he gets stronger are only hints we’re given. From Makima’s explanation we’ve learned that the more a concept is feared, the more powerful devil is born from it. So then, why is chainsaw so much scary? Now, this is my fan theory from what I’ve dug up. Chainsaw is seen in many horror films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre where the murderer uses a chainsaw to kill with some excruciating pain. We’ve already seen the pain aspect in the anime as Denji makes the eternity devil surrender by causing it unbearable pain. Not to mention its destructive capabilities in general. An accident caused by a chainsaw can be very gruesome and graphic. The chainsaw is the main tool used for deforestation on Earth, causing major climate change and causing permanent harm to the entire planet. Also, we’ve learned that the devils fear the ones with screws loose in the head. Denji is just utterly insane after all the BS he’s been through all his life. The crazy rattling and loud ear-bursting noise of the chainsaw screams pure insanity. Every devil Denji has encountered got lost for words and couldn’t figure out a way to deal with someone who has no sense of logic or common sense. He got the Zombie devil to panic, the Bat devil to drop its jaw & freeze in fear, the Eternity devil to crave death, and traumatized the Katana devil for life. The enigma of chainsaw goes deeper and maybe because of that the Chainsaw devil was once held high in regards that terrified people to the core. Hopefully, we’ll learn more in the anime.
Some Fair Criticism
The Chainsaw Man anime has delivered in a way that we have yet to comprehend and appreciate. But there are some hiccups as the anime goes on. Looking back, some moments could’ve been done differently and made better to compete with the manga counterpart. But if there’s any decline in the quality, it’s due to technical issues. Studio MAPPA has an infamous history of overworking animators under harsh conditions. Near the end, the anime felt a bit rushed as the studio had a hard time keeping up with the schedule and had to outsource animators and still ended up on the short side of the stick. Rushed pacing, running out of creative ideas, key moments that don’t stand out as much, all that is just disappointing. Especially the last episode which should’ve been of 1-hour runtime to finally close the arc properly. Believe me, when the anime is at its peak, it surpasses the superb paneling of Tatsuki Fujimoto. Some moments fall short due to the limitations of the animation, not because of the lack of animators’ skills. But some moments just didn’t feel right. The world is just not ready for the Chainsaw Man anime to stand one-to-one with the manga. Also, the enjoyment would’ve been better knowing that the animators are also getting what they deserve, not what they are currently getting. I wish they reanimate those scenes to give the moments proper treatment as they should’ve gotten in the first place.
I don’t think I had to explain in such length why you should give a damn about Chainsaw Man. The sheer feedback from manga lovers speaks volumes about why Chainsaw Man matters. As for which one you should grab, manga or anime? Both actually. The anime has some moments that only anime can deliver and the manga has some moments that can only be conveyed through its paneling. Whether you are an anime-only fan or a manga-only fan, doesn’t matter because it’s that much worth it to check out both of them and compare them side-by-side. Both are enjoyable in their own right. I said Chainsaw Man hasn’t started yet because the anime has only given us a taste of what’s to come in the future. We’ve seen nothing of what Makima sees beyond the wall and how terrifying yet beautiful the world of Chainsaw Man truly is.