The Chainsaw Man Anime's Style Feels Offby Sean Aitchison,
When preview images and clips for the anime adaptation of Tatsuki Fujimoto's Chainsaw Man started coming out, I couldn't help but be disappointed. At first, it was just an issue of color choices—the muted palette of the anime is nice, but I was sad that the gritty neon pop art colors of the manga volume covers weren't incorporated in some way. But as more clips—and eventually the first episodes—came out, my issues with the adaptation grew beyond just the colors.
Simply put, the Chainsaw Man anime's animation style felt... off. Now, don't get me wrong, the anime is beautiful in every sense of the word: smooth animation, soft and subtle body language and expressions, realistic movements—it's overall just an incredibly detailed and complex work from the talented team at MAPPA. But, unfortunately, I don't feel as though it's fitting to Chainsaw Man. The Chainsaw Man manga is gritty, goofy, brutal, gut-wrenching, hilarious, insane, and beautiful all at once, and it needs more than smooth animation to encapsulate that. It needs style, specifically a style that adapts Fujimoto's art and storytelling.
Manga Vs. Anime
Again, I want to point out that the animation in Chainsaw Man is gorgeous—it's some of the most technically impressive animation we've seen from any anime. My point is not that the animation is bad, just stylistically mismatched in key ways. The smooth movement, soft expressions, and muted colors can all work (after all, they match the color pages of the first chapter), and I would prefer high-spec animation over stiff animation, but the problem, in my eyes, is that it's all too clean, too plain, too visually similar to other anime out there where the manga is like nothing else.
Fujimoto's linework is thick and loose, sketchy and somewhat chaotic—his sense of movement enhanced by increased sketchiness, nervous expressions are perfectly encapsulated by how he contorts faces into ugly mugs, and the horrors of devils are enhanced by messes of lines condensed to form their shapes. Fujimoto's sense of contrast feels lost too— something that comes naturally in a black and white manga, granted, but could feasibly be translated to color animation, yet isn't.
And… It feels like the anime ignores all of that in favor of being one big smoothed-out sakuga—which is neat in theory, but an ultimately unfitting choice for adapting a manga with such vibrantly kinetic linework. When looking at the anime, we see thin, clean lineart devoid of the endearing scribble and ink quality of Fujimoto's artwork. Also missing is his unique approach to designing faces, specifically in how they express and emote. The anime, on the other hand, goes to great lengths to animate smooth lip-synch and soft, subtle expressions, rather than adapt the delightfully ugly faces Fujimoto utilizes. Everything is just so soft and plain, so un-stylized—like this is one of those high-spec anime commercials for a company product or recruitment videos, and not freakin' Chainsaw Man. It feels like the anime is holding back from its potential.
As mentioned, the anime makes use of the manga color pages' muted, “sunset-esque” colors, which is keeping the adaptation true to the source material, but it feels like we also needed a dynamic palette, colors that change with the battles and possibly incorporate the neon manga covers into action freeze frames or special sequences. Without a dynamic palette, the anime feels a bit too chill at points where it needs to be wild. Combined with the soft, smooth movement, these color choices make it look and feel more like a realistic drama than a gory supernatural action dramedy.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the gory action feels less impactful—the movement is animated spectacularly, but the splatter (both of blood and kinetic linework) is missing. Comparisons between the anime and manga show that the gory scenes and blood splatter feel not as deep into the depths and dregs of despair, the etching quality of Fujimoto's horror art lost in translation. Take Power's introduction and first fight: scenes that are full of energy and life in the manga, but lack that kinetic buzz in the anime. Sure, things move smoothly, but Power introducing herself has significantly less oomph, and her falling hammer attack lacks the feeling of cutting through the air that Fujimoto's art exudes. In the anime, the vibe of the fight scenes generally feel the same as the vibe of the dialogue scenes—Denji's fight with the Bat Devil illustrates this as well—so they don't hit like the manga does.
The vibe of the manga is loose, grungy, chaotic, horrifying, funny, sketchy, kinetic and at times soft and human—gritty scratches that also display phenomenal staging, gentleness, humor, sense of motion, and use of anatomy. The anime on the other hand—while still portraying an excellent understanding of movement—is missing the exaggeration, the oomph that is felt on every page of the manga; it's too gentle and smooth (useful for the humanity-centric scenes, sure), moving well but lacking in stylistic energy, something that you can't afford lose in adapting Fujimoto's work.
What Could Have Been
Adapting a manga with a unique art style isn't easy, of course, but I can't help but think of Mob Psycho 100 when analyzing how the anime adaptation of Chainsaw Man could have made more decisive design choices. ONE's art is crude and simple but expressive; it's not something you could copy directly and make for a strong-looking anime, so the adaptation makes some creative choices to—and this is the crucial part—maintain the vibe of the original.
Mob Psycho's anime adaptation cleaned up ONE's artwork into more solidified designs but maintained his sense of expression, comedic exaggeration, and stylistic choices. The vibe of ONE's art remains, and the anime elevates it in motion, going nuts with beautiful sakuga that both move well and ooze style, ONE's style. I wish that Chainsaw Man had taken a page from Mob Psycho 100's approach, both in how it approaches the original, tough-to-adapt manga and in the series' use of sketchy, heavy, chaotic linework for key moments of exaggeration, action, or intensity.
This was the ideal Chainsaw Man anime I had envisioned in my head when the series was first announced— capturing Fujimoto's art, making it work in motion, and adapting what couldn't be perfectly recreated into something that remains spiritually true. Chainsaw Man's anime could have also taken notes from the Dorohedoro anime; many have compared Chainsaw Man to Dorohedoro and recommended the Q Hayashida series to its fans. More importantly, it's an adaptation that changes but ultimately captures the manga's style.
The heavy stylization in Trigger-produced series also comes to mind for the staging and exaggeration—which is fine in the Chainsaw Man anime. Still, it sometimes feels afraid to commit to emulating the more wild perspectives of the manga. The work of Tatsuya Nagamine on Dragon Ball Super: Broly and One Piece's Wano arc is another great example of maintaining the style of the original material while elevating it.
Strangely enough, the anime does get it right in some capacity… in a small segment of the end credits. From 0:29 to 0:51, we see a glimpse of what could have been: a psychedelic wash of neon and black and blood red with a compelling mix of linework perfectly emulating Fujimoto's artwork and heavy, scraggly brushstroke-like lines that writhe and vibrate with life, all brought together by solid exaggeration of movement and perspective. This is what I wanted Chainsaw Man to look like: a chaotic, kinetic horror series with a great sense of action, but with the capacity to soften for those profound, human moments… but we didn't get that, and I think the anime adaptation suffers for it.
Why It's Important
So why does this matter? Not every anime has a perfect adaptation of the manga's artwork, and with how beautiful the animation is, what is there to complain about? Well, there is, of course, the matter of staying faithful to Fujimoto's artwork —a debatable issue when talking about anime adaptations, sure, but something worth discussing for an artist as unique and skilled as Fujimoto.
The bigger issue, however, is the content of Chainsaw Man. All at once, Chainsaw Man is a gory grindhouse thriller, a supernatural action series, a psychological horror, a moody dark drama, a workplace comedy, a shonen battle manga, and much more. In its crisscrossing genre-bending, it explores themes of human needs, the dichotomy of power and powerlessness, the crushing weight of capitalism and debt slavery, the selfish wants we have that make us who we are, death and the emptiness it brings, the human condition and all its horrors, the good and bad sacrifices we make for good and bad causes and a dozen other powerful, rich concepts that are reflected by Fujimoto's gritty, brutal, scary, silly, goofy and (when it needs to be) calm and quiet artwork.
Or, put more simply, you can't have the written and thematic storytelling of Chainsaw Man without the visual storytelling of Chainsaw Man—and unfortunately, the anime doesn't have that. Where the manga is a one-of-a-kind, unique masterpiece of visual storytelling, the anime visually feels like something we've seen a dozen times before, and that's incredibly disheartening for an adaptation of one of the most phenomenal and important works of art ever created.
Geoff Thew of Mother's Basement has called the Chainsaw Man manga peak fiction, a “work of art that will change the way you look at art,” and I 100% agree… so why doesn't looking at the anime make me feel that? I'm not mad that the Chainsaw Man anime isn't perfectly tailored to my ideal fantasy version of the series, nor am I simply a hater finding something to dislike about a popular anime—I loved the manga and binge-read it in the days when I first discovered it; I have no bias I am chasing confirmation of. Frankly, I'm disappointed that everything the manga had to offer visually, all the purposeful rough edges and metaphorical chainsaw teeth, feel shaved down and smoothed out in the anime. It's a bummer to see an artist as talented and one-of-a-kind as Tatsuki Fujimoto have his style smoothed out to look like other anime.
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