Well Nicky, this is the big one. The momentous centerpiece of this Fall season we were all looking forward to: The latest role for Shiori Izawa, voice of TWIA favorite, Heybot!
Once again we stand in the shadow of gremlin-voiced greatness.
Thanks for that reminder. I'll never look at this adorable pupper with saw blades sticking out of its face ever again! While we're being devilish, did you know that everyone's new favorite gremlin waifu was inspired by South Park? I present to you and everyone reading this column, Anime Girl Eric Cartman!
Just deeply cursed revelations all around. If there were a Trivia Devil, it would be thriving on the amounts of fear feeding it at this moment. And you're telling me our only defense against that sort of monstrosity is... this guy?!
God help us.
I wouldn't worry. Our action hero may be an teenager hopelessly putting his life on the line just to enjoy basic necessities, but it doesn't matter that he's an absolute good-for-nothing when the one thing he happens to be really good at is making chainsaws pop out of this face. Denji may not be the brightest of bulbs but he's a true star fit for the screen.
Hope everyone's got their popcorn ready because This Week, we're taking a sharp look at Chainsaw Man!
I am in my seat and ready to rock.
Seriously, Tatsuki Fujimoto's manga was already a bona fide modern classic (can confirm, I read the whole thing!), and the gears turning behind this show were determined to turn it into a mega hit. It can be daunting to even talk about the anime itself, as any discussion at this point feels obligated to address it as an adaptation of Chainsaw Man the manga, alongside its impossibly ambitious promises.
But six whole episodes in, I think our humble little column can definitively decide if this anime lives up to its hype!
Let me start by saying it's unreal how lavish it is, in look and feel. The manga didn't always have the cleanest art, but it always had a careful amount of framing. The series goes full cinematic with all of it; playing out like a short movie of its own, the first episode alone is certain to captivate the eyes of both fresh and "established" viewers.
Not an intentional pun on Denji's missing eye here, one which he sold for money to pay off the massive amount of debt left to him by his deceased abusive father.
I mean, that's the in-story reason, yes, but the main reason would seem to be that Fujimoto just has a thing for eyepatches. Several other characters sporting them pop up across the work.
I'm a big fan of Fujimoto's style myself. That loose line art conveys a grungy tone that grounds the story of Chainsaw Man. MAPPA hones in on the "grounded" aspect, going for a filmic feel which you'd think would do the manga artist proud, massive cinephile as he's known for being.
It's a bold choice, I think, for a series that previously achieved notoriety for coming off wild 'n' wacky. But it paid off in the anime; it has its own distinct vibes compared to other shonen battle-action anime adaptations.
I believe it's the correct choice. Despite Chainsaw Man selling itself as a love letter to action movies, western superhero comics, and schlocky horror films, the real crux is the down-to-earth conversations. Denji's crude and simplistic ambitions don't match the moral dilemmas of his superpowered counterparts, but he's a perfect fit for anyone looking for an authentic coming-of-age character study.
Case in point: Denji's simplistic boyish ambitions of wanting to live of a life of eating good food and smooching cute girls isn't mere teenage id—it's reflective of his hellacious living conditions prior to getting chainsaw-fied.
Small wonder he swears fealty to the first person who shows any affection to him at all.
Though if my Twitter feed is any indication, he's not alone in that.
After getting chopped up and tossed in the trash by the mob for his troubles, Denji's beloved devil-dog Pochita sacrifices himself to become Denji's heart as long as he promises to live the best life possible with it. Freeing himself from debt and death, Denji carves his way through the remaining zombie mafia army and falls straight into the arms of Public Safety, a government branch of Devil Hunters.
His division leader Makima pities his half-human, half-devil status like one pities a stray animal, granting him food, a warm place to sleep—and most importantly, a job.
Makima comes with plenty of pre-fab appeal for those in the audience who wouldn't mind being her dog themselves. Her charisma combined with Denji's lack of life experience makes it easy for her to exploit him. And I feel it does need to be confirmed that what Makima's doing here is, pretty obviously, exploitation. You don't need to have eaten more than stale bread in your life to grok that this lady is absolutely not on the up-and-up.
Big props to her Japanese voice actress Tomori Kusunoki for her delivery. There's a part of Makima that appears like an extremely kind, coolheaded, and knowledgeable boss figure. Even Denji's newly assigned mentor Aki deeply admires her after saving his life.
But Denji's status as a partial devil means he doesn't really have any choice in her offer. He either proves himself useful to the society or gets killed by it. As we learn that the workforce is largely survivors or other disenfranchised (read: disposable) folk, the sketchiness levels only increase.
Who better to run that kind of kennel of killers than the patron saint of Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss?
BTW, I mean sketchy in the bad way and not in the cool way like one of the various unique EDs for each and every episode.
Each episode having a different song and animation to go with it is absolutely another way this adaptation is all-out bonkers. Only the first episode reuses episode footage. None of the song choices miss either.
They spared no expense, whether that meant recruiting Maximum The Hormone, who feel like they were always made for this series, or just crafting an adorable minute-and-a-half long Power fancam.
The EDs are one of the few places where the anime feels like it's letting itself cut loose with the "crazy" style of the manga, and they are a treat.
MAPPA did a similar experiment with Dorohedoro (second season, when?), so it was a pleasant surprise to see its return.
Dorohedoro also being a grungy urban fantasy action series, so the similar approach fits.
Rounding back to that story, though, the recruitment tactics for Public Safety dig into one of the big driving ideas of Chainsaw Man: whether worthwhile genuine connection can come from transactional relationships. Aki up there is a Sasuke-type whose motivation of revenge is such an obvious trope that multiple characters call it out immediately.
But even then, Aki's single-minded goal means he can perceive value in those he's otherwise antagonistic towards, like Denji, and defend them if only as a means to an end.
Is it a path to genuine friendship? That remains to be seen, but the thesis is that all relationships must begin from needing something (emotional support, physical desire, collaborative combat ability), and that doesn't make it a necessarily bad, selfish starting point.
It also helps that after getting beat up and brushed off, Denji retaliates by kicking his work senior in the balls several times.
Let it never be said that, among all the meditations on working-world exploitation, Fujimoto can't pull humor out of the age-old art of kicking people in the nuts.
I point out Aki's status as a victim to paint how he and Denji are similar, though. Aki believes his negative past makes him somehow more capable, but it's hard not to see him as equally a tool with nothing else left to live for. His squad is also different from others in that they are a special unit of weirdos.
Denji's not even the only devil on the squad. Power is also one, though different than Denji in that she's not a human and is simply a devil taking over a human's body, known as a fiend.
And yes, like the rest of the hype she really is an amusing character.
Aw yeah, here we go. Let it be known that even your cursed Cartman trivia at the beginning there couldn't sway me from my thirst for Power.
It says a lot that the anime adaptation pointedly skipped over some of Denji's earlier adventures in Public Safety just so they could introduce her by the second episode.
Skip the appetizers and get straight to the main course of building up the character relationships. Power gives us a good idea of Devil's insight. Hell, she's even more feral than Denji. She has an inflated ego and couldn't give two shits about humanity. Her power to control her own blood as the Blood Devil make her just as strong as she says is.
Also she's voiced by Ai Fairouz aka Jolyne from Jojo's Part 6, so it's a double-win.
The sound I made when I saw that casting announcement was as inhuman as our favorite gremlin-girl herself is.
Even more than Aki, Power makes the concept of relationships in these early episodes easy to follow. We can tell she and Denji will grow close eventually—just look at them skanking it up like dorks together in the OP!
But at the start, they are only assigned to work together by Makima, with Power specifically utilizing Denji for her personal goals, while he's motivated to assist her through even... simpler... suggestions of rewards.
Denji is not super enthused about being forced to watch over Power, whom everyone treats like a handful. The only real reason he goes along with it is because he thinks he could be happier if he copped a feel, which Power haughtily offers if they managed to rescue her pet cat "Meowy." However, while they're both animals, Denji and Power are as different than cats and dogs.
Also, I can't see a train car shot like this without feeling some distinct Eva inspo. Denji and Power definitely seem like a more modern take on characters such as Shinji and Asuka.
Careful, you're going to summon the folks who insist on comparing Makima to Misato in the far-reaching art of manipulating emotionally stunted young boys in service of anime plots.
Though that aforementioned OP does feature a direct Eva shoutout, so what the hell do I know.
Still, even as they're at the stage of begrudgingly using each other, you already get a great sense for the kind of dopey dynamic that could lead Denji and Power to become genuine friends. His blatant shift into pretending to care about her cat when the promise of boob fondling is on the line is funny enough on its own, but Power's enthused gasps along with him indicate that they may be more on the same wavelength than they're willing to admit.
Power is the exact opposite of Denji's fantasy girl. Sure, she's cute, but she's also rude and arrogant. I wouldn't really call it flirty, but their similarities make their arguments feel like the way two little kids act, or even siblings. It's the fact that they have very little agency in regards larger world that they live in that forces them to get along. Even after Power betrays Denji to get her cat back from the Bat Devil, you can't help but draw the parallels in their loneliness.
Denji going to bat for her against the Bat Devil while still entirely motivated by the prospect of booby-touching really does belie the idea that they would work great as friends!
It makes it feel that much more appropriate, then, that a turning point in their relationship comes from Denji the horndog actually catching the car he was chasing and realizing it wasn't even remotely what he was hoping for!
This scene served as a fantastic punch line in the manga, and I am so glad it's a place where the folks at MAPPA got it 100% right.
I was happy to see Power move into Chateau de Aki and immediately prove to be a pain in the ass. She only occasionally bathes and flushes the toilet! She hates veggies and flings them around like a four-year-old. She makes Denji look like the polite kid in the family. It makes sense why he wouldn't actually feel anything groping her after he just learned how annoying she is.
I don't know how anyone could disparage her. She is a queen, seated upon a throne of porcelain.
Besides, Denji winds up further bonding with Power anyway via clowning on Aki. And dealing with the rest of the squad weirdos as they head out on their first big mission together.
Dunking on Aki is a great dynamic, but the sheer disappointment weighed pretty heavily on Denji enough for Makima to sneak in and do something that I'm pretty sure counts as workplace sexual harassment and an abuse of her position. But, y'know, totally a great fantasy if you're Denji and oblivious to any of that.
It's a great scene because it shows that Denji really doesn't have a lot of nuance when it comes to relationships, even though he wants things out of them.
In fairness to Denji, I also gotta take a minute to call myself out here and say that even though I trust Makima as far as I could throw her, I'm not immune to horny propaganda.
She's not necessarily to my tastes, but I will concede to Denji's viewpoint that Makima really can look like a snack in some contexts. We, and even Denji to some degree, can tell that Makima is taking advantage of him, but when your previous bosses were saying "Do what we say or we'll cut your organs out," we can understand Denji falling for Makima's obscene lessons in obedience school.
Makima's not even my fav, but this scene in animation was a display of sensuality and another example of how there's a priority towards realism to the point of being hyper-real. But also, damn, every character looks really good in this. Wanna talk propaganda, Aki and Himeno are so attractive they basically feel like targeted smoking ads. (Don't smoke)
They have a whole PSA in the latest episode about how cool smoking is! It's integrated into Aki and Himeno's character dynamic! Talk about fictional context upselling something otherwise unsavory.
Helps that, yeah, Himeno's pretty great.
Like, what's the positive version of Makima's manipulation? I feel like that's what she's doing here.
Himeno is Aki's assigned partner and his senior. Her previous six partners all died on the job. So you can forgive her for being a little lax about things due to how dangerous their line of work is. Devil Hunters also make contracts with devils in exchange for power, which is why Himeno is missing an eye. Y'know, normal work expectations. (Also because Fujimoto thinks it's cool, as we established.)
Himeno provides an interesting angle for a window into Aki's mindset. He was sympathetic to her previous brushes with death and guilt over her past partners. They lean on each other for in situ support, but he still doesn't seem to see his life as especially worth preserving past attaining his revenge, and thus she has to continuously remind him that they're in this together.
Is that genuine concern for Aki's life, or mostly Himeno not wanting to grapple with the burden of another dead partner? That's the complexity of human relationships, and that's Chainsaw Man, baby!
So they're definitely kissing, right?
After some sort of fashion, anyway.
Black Lagoon already taught me this was the deepest level of intimacy.
Also, the squad's first group mission looking for a piece of the Gun Devil got them stuck in an infinite hotel loop. It's neat in that it's basically a genre shift into what feels like a classic horror scenario where the point is to be a stress test. As a group, they would fail miserably if it wasn't for both Himeno and Aki keeping their cool. Skills stemming from their experience and trust.
However, if you're inexperienced and don't even got any shit to keep, well then, your name is Kobeni and you're a fucking wreck.
Just an absolutely fabulous season for utter anxious wrecks of anime girls. Kobeni here was set to be that type's poster child, and she still wound up getting upstaged by Bocchi and Suletta early in the season. Classic Kobeni.
Everything about her is hilariously pathetic. She can't keep her composure for even a second. Denji and Power's lax attitude gets on her nerves. She got forced into this whole Devil Hunter's biz because her parents made her to pay off her brother's college because even they think she sucks. After being isolated in time for a bit, she freaks out and starts trying to frantically stab her own comrades. God, she sucks. She's not relatable or cute at all. I love Kobeni.
Theorem that proposes the more unflattering the Chainsaw Man character is depicted, the more you like them.
It's funny, because back when I was reading the manga, I saw people say they found Kobeni annoying, which I didn't really agree with. But catching her going Full Kobeni in this latest episode of the anime... I almost get the frustrations with her. It might be having to deal with her antics against the more grounded, realistic backdrop of the anime, but she was definitely more grating in her first major showing here.
Which is a roundabout way of getting to saying: Stick with her, anime viewers, because I already know that the tragedy Katamari that is Kobeni's whole existence only escalates to a more entertaining scale from here.
Oh yeah, she's intentionally unfit for the whole deal with devils. While she's not an endearing scumbag like some of the other characters, I actually think her frustrating elements is another way Chainsaw Man prioritizes feeling very "real," as real people aren't always flawed in a way that's likable. Which is ironic that it's one of this story's greatest charm points?
Given that one of the show's most popular characters quite literally smells like shit, that is absolutely on-brand.
And right, that is a key point to Kobeni's portrayal. She was still roped into joining the Public Safety Division, but unlike the extreme anime backstories of the likes of Denji and Aki, in Kobeni's case it was on account of much more mundane capitalistic manipulations. A thoroughly everyday disaster of a person.
I was worried that an anime treatment of Chainsaw Man might tone down what a sweaty, snotty mess Kobeni constantly is, and I never should have doubted them.
It goes to show that while Chainsaw Man is a fantasy heavily influenced by genre fiction, its worldview heavily stems from a more crushing reality that the world is a cruel place with a bunch of weird sad people in it. On the outside that sounds pretty depressing, but it still finds its own way to be fun and carefree even if it's a bit dark and edgy when it's playing around. Denji is a perfect reflection of this. Even in a bad situation, he gets excited about taking a free nap.
I know Denji is a relatable anime hero because that would be my exact reaction in that situation too.
The world may suck and our jobs may suck, but we can forge connections with those weird sad people to mitigate that suckage. Sometimes, any port in a storm is a manipulative government boss lady, but other times it's a fun fiend pal with aspirations of infrastructure reform!
One final propaganda message telling you that we endorse Power for Prime Minister! I'll see you all at the polls.
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