Chainsaw Man adaptation exceeds expectations


Natalie Cullen

Overall Chainsaw Man season one is a delight to watch, with complex characters, high stakes, comedy and stellar animation.

Mars Canepa, Digital Staff

*For this review I will only be critiquing the events of the first season, with no manga spoilers.

In a demon-infested world, a bold new hero known as Chainsaw Man takes the stage! From adrenaline-inducing fights, questionable motives, and an absurd yet thought-provoking story, Chainsaw Man is like no other. Originally a comic book series published in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, animation studio MAPPA brought the first few arcs of the manga to life all with 12 episodes, featuring stunning animation, a great soundtrack and stellar voice acting.

Chainsaw Man is one of the strangest manga I have ever had the pleasure of reading, quickly becoming one of my favorite series due to its bold storytelling, compelling and complex characters and absurd humor. Naturally, when it was announced that studio MAPPA, a Japanese animation studio famous for other great works such as Jujutsu Kaisen, Attack on Titan Season Four, and Banana Fish were creating an animated adaptation I was incredibly excited to see how the studio would adapt this whirlwind of a manga.

In a world where human fears are personified as bloodthirsty devils, Chainsaw Man follows impoverished 17-year-old Denji, who after inheriting his late father’s massive debt to the local Japanese Mafia is forced to become a devil hunter, killing small devils and undertaking difficult jobs to break even. When he and his chainsaw devil pet Pochita are betrayed and murdered by a gang Pochita revives and merges with Denji, transforming the duo into Chainsaw Man, a human/devil hybrid. Denji’s newfound powers lead him to be discovered by government forces, and he soon is forced to join the government-approved devil hunter program, Public Safety Tokyo Special Division Four, fighting devils and sometimes his own teammates to seek the approval of his attractive, yet dubious boss Makima.

For the majority of this first season the show takes time to familiarize the audience with its world and cast and once it does it surprisingly is not afraid to not only raise the stakes but assure the audience that no one is safe. Throughout the season, Devil hunting is considered a very dangerous job with a very high mortality rate. In most shows, this would be proven untrue, with the main character defeating enemies with ease or no real lasting consequence, however, in Chainsaw Man every encounter with a devil means certain sacrifice. The show does this in a creative way where the characters who aren’t Denji are forced to offer anything from grafts of their own skin, body parts, or even years of their lifespan to devils willing to work with humans to fight. Denji himself, while effectively immortal, can be chopped in half, passing out from blood loss due to his own chainsaws cutting himself.  Even if he can heal himself with the consumption of blood as all devils can, Denji being vulnerable helps keeps the high stakes. The mortality of the show akin to shows like Game of Thrones makes it very thrilling to see what characters make it and what characters don’t. The show does this in a way that doesn’t make you feel as if any of the characters are half-baked, with most if not all side characters having interesting motivations and personalities. 

Denji is a perfect main character that drives home a lot of many interesting themes in a very unusual manner. As a young man who has been living in poverty and treated poorly his whole life Denji has a very interesting look on life. He leaves being a tool for the mafia to be used by public safety, but he does not care as he now has a roof over his head and food to eat. Denji through the season shows he at this point is very complacent yet brash, oftentimes fighting devils for the sole purpose of “scoring” with his boss Makima, who takes advantage of Denji’s obedience and admiration. You get a unique motivation of a character who is very human, fighting mostly because it’s his job and for the approval of others making Denji a very fun character to watch and understand. Side characters such as the revenge-filled yet kind Aki, and the impulsive and crazy blood devil Power help to create an unlikely family that never manages to bore you.

As far as the production goes, MAPPA has knocked it out of the park with stunning art/animation, great pacing, wonderful voice acting making a majorly faithful adaptation. The animation, with its fluidity in action sequences or calmer settings lets you take in the energy of the show real well. My only gripe is the blend of CG modeling and 2D drawings used for characters like Denji when he is in his chainsaw man form. Many animation studios around the globe often use Computer Generated (CG) models inserted into hand-drawn environments to better express characters with more complex designs, this case being Denji’s Chainsaw Man form, to help smooth production for animators. This has been met with varying, mostly poor success when it comes to other productions such as FullMetal Alchemist brotherhood, the infamous Seven Deadly Sins, and Baki. It is noteworthy that it has been used successfully and extensively in shows such as Attack on Titan and Demon Slayer. While this show provides the best CG I’ve seen for an anime in recent years, it seems MAPPA, while close, still hasn’t been able to properly blend CG into traditional animation. It turns from awkward and clunky to very fluid and dynamic animation from scene to scene, a challenge that future seasons need to address, as Denji in later seasons spends a lot more time in his Chainsaw Man form with some crazy moves.

Despite Chainsaw Man being published in the teenage-targeted Japanese Comic Magazine Shonen Jump, it contains many adult themes and images, something I’m glad to say were not censored, a norm in the anime industry due to Japanese censorship laws. The show is allowed to breathe, using blood and sexual themes to provide unique themes to the viewers. The usage of blood helps keep the tension of battle scenes high, making us believe the characters are in mortal danger. This may seem a painfully obvious thing to note, however many anime adaptations featuring violent scenes from their source material, have killed their suspense by erasing all blood or massive injury, making it painfully obvious that the characters will make it out. A lot of the humor is very inappropriate,

Overall Chainsaw Man season one is a delight to watch, with complex characters, high stakes, comedy and stellar animation. If you’ve already seen the show and want to check out some of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s other works, consider Fire Punch,  One-shots Goodbye, Eri, and Look Back available physically or online through Viz Media.