by James Beckett,

Chainsaw Man GN 1

Chainsaw Man GN 1
Denji is a destitute young man who lives in a world filled with bloodthirsty monsters called Devils, though his main concern is the millions of yen in debt that he inherited from his father, which he will likely never be able to pay back, especially since he's only ever one bad day away from starvation. One day, he befriends a good little Devil pal that he names Pochita, who is a Devil dog-thing that is also a literal chainsaw, with a handle on its head and pull-cord for a tail and everything. If that wasn't already a weird enough place for Denji to find himself in, things take a real turn when Denji is murdered by gangsters, and Pochita fuses with his soul to save his life. This turns the perpetually hungry and horny Denji into the titular Chainsaw Man, who ends up hunting other Devils for the enigmatic Makima, a woman who works for a governmental bureau of Devil Hunters, and strings Denji along with vague promises of sex and fortune, even as she treats him as little more than a dog himself.

I don't keep up with manga as much as I used to these days, mostly because I already spend so much of my time wading through the eternal river of New Anime That I Have to Watch, and also because whenever I do get into a new series, like The Promised Neverland or Dr. Stone, I tend to prefer being able to watch those adventures play out in (hopefully) glorious animated form. Every now and then, though, I get sucked back into that wonderful world of black-and-white panels that you have to read from right to left, and the newest title to sink its teeth into my fickle attention span is Tatsuki Fujimoto's Chainsaw Man, which has been blowing up in Shonen Jump ever since it premiered in 2018. Though a lot of English readers are likely keeping up with individual chapters using Shonen Jump's app, the first seven chapters have been collected in print for Chainsaw Man Volume 1, so even all those technophobes out there that still want their books to "exist" on paper in some kind of "phsycial copy" can discover what all of the fuss is about.

I will admit that, when I first read the premise for Chainsaw Man and got a peek at its artwork, I took it at face value as a goofy nonsense comic, a parody of shonen manga that primarily exists to push out page-after-page of gross-out gags and gory action. It's goofy, kinky, dark, and bizarre, which is already the kind of tonal mishmash I'm generally down for in my art (my favorite video game of all time is NieR:Automata, after all). Still, I let my preconceived expectations lead me into expecting nothing more than a shlocky exercise in crudeness, rudeness, and lewdness, which I think does this manga a disservice.

It definitely is all of those things, don't get me wrong, but Volume 1 of Chainsaw Man is nothing if not proof of how something can be greater than the sum of its parts, because the world and story that Fujimoto is messing around in carries a surprising amount of weight, a sense of tangible emotions and stakes that ground all of the gross and insane goings-on of Denji's new life, exaggerated though they may be. The early chapters that show Denji's life as a comically impoverished and debt-ridden twentysomething carry a distinct mark of bitter satire, and they give meaningful context to his decidedly base urges and motivations. This is a creature who has only ever known the urge to survive to the very next day, and the minute Makima grants him even the smallest morsel of stability, he's suddenly without purpose. What does someone who has spent his entire life consumed with the singular desire of “not starving” do once he has regular access to food?

The answer, for Denji, is “touch boobs”, and though his new life goal doesn't play as sleazy or aggressive as you might imagine, it's worth remembering that all of Chainsaw Man's surprisingly compelling world building and character development is wrapped up in a story that's a mishmash of raunchy teen sex comedies, Hellboy, and The Evil Dead — the guy's got freaking chainsaws for his head and arms, and boy howdy does he use them. Chainsaw Man gleefully revels in the cornucopia of meat and fluids that Denji's appendages rip and tear their way through on his quest to touch literally any consenting woman's breasts, and this is where Fujimoto's artwork shines the most. His character designs and general linework can come across as a bit generic at first glance, but when the carnage comes flooding in, Chainsaw Man has a clarity of style and consistency of vision that can be wondrous to behold. Fujimoto makes excellent use of contrasting white and black spaces in his panels, and he has a real penchant for laying out even the most chaotic bloodbaths with impact and lucidity. One early scene in particular sees Denji sawing his way through a warehouse full of Devils and Corpses, and though it eventually becomes impossible to make out individual entities in the sea of viscera that Chainsaw Man leaves in his wake, you never lose track of the action, and its momentum never falters. That takes real talent, and I am eager to see where Fujimoto's artistic ambitions take him from here.

That's exactly the kind of mindset a first volume ought to leave its readers in. Granted, it does take a while to get through all of the exposition and bricklaying that comes after Makima first inducts Denji as her pet Devil Hunter, but the story picks up quite a bit as we meet other cast members, like the antagonistic agent Aki and the wildcard demoness simply called Power. While we're only just beginning to catch on to what Denji's dynamic with this begrudging new family will be like, and what potential mysteries behind the nature of Devils will end up being explored, Volume 1 of Chainsaw Man earns plenty of goodwill by committing to its surprisingly earnest and charming brand of ferocious bloodletting. Chainsaw Man might just be in it for the grub, and the chance to get to second base with Makima (or, really, literally every living person with breasts — he doesn't seem terribly picky), but he's also willing to help his scary new Devil partner rescue her pet cat from a giant evil bat monster. Who wouldn't want to see where a story like that goes next?

Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : B+

+ Takes a delightfully ridiculous and bloody premise and just runs with it in all sorts of fascinating directions, surprisingly well-thought out character development and world building underdeanth all of the gross-out gags and gore
Revels in crude humor and violence in a way some will find off-putting and/or just plain dumb, Denji's self-indulgent motivations might make him a hard hero to root for

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Tatsuki Fujimoto

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