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“I… liked hearing about your dreams, Denji. This is a contract. I will be your heart. In exchange, show me your dreams.”
The first season of Chainsaw Man, one of the most highly anticipated manga-to-anime adaptations of 2022, finally came to an end on Dec. 28, 2022.
Chainsaw Man’s creator Tatsuki Fujimoto and Studio MAPPA have collaborated to showcase truly one of the most epic shounen animes in recent times, with a dedication to build upon the manga and a captivating storytelling element that sets it apart from the others.
Chainsaw Man follows the story of—simply put—a boy with a chainsaw that protrudes from his head upon pulling a rope start. Young Denji’s life begins off to a rough start. His mother dies from a heart condition and his father commits suicide, leaving Denji to pay off the family debt owed to the yakuza—Japanese gangsters. From there, he meets a very cute chainsaw devil named Pochita, who he befriends after healing its wound. When the yakuza deceive Denji in a near-death scenario, Pochita gives Denji his heart on the condition Denji follows his dreams. Afterward, Denji gains the ability to summon a chainsaw through his head and is scouted by the government to hunt devils. With Pochita’s words in mind, Denji begins living out his dreams.
In 2020, the acclaimed studio Maruyama Animation Produce Project Association (MAPPA)—known for Jujutsu Kaisen, Attack on Titan and Kakegurui—announced it would adapt the Chainsaw Man manga into an anime. Months before the first official episode even aired, trailers for Chainsaw Man amassed up to 15 million views and were on par with the views of Attack on Titan’s fourth season trailers, Studio MAPPA’s more established anime series.
As the manga already had a cult fan base from its inception, the hype for an anime adaptation was no surprise. After the anime first began airing on Oct. 22, 2022, it took the community by storm and barreled its way to top anime lists of 2022.
While Chainsaw Man presents itself as a shounen anime, it cannot be boiled down to your average shounen concept. Characters are understandably traumatized from losing family members to devils and are clearly affected by the events in their life. This is more realistic compared to typical shounen heroes who remain unreasonably optimistic after experiencing tragedy. Real-life consequences exist for the characters in this universe. All of the human characters hold a realistic, sometimes pessimistic, view of the world.
Another aspect of this anime is its delivery of humor, an important aspect of shounen. Jokes are not forced upon the audience nor does the show try to be funny. It just is. Many of the scenes involve deadpan humor or moments of absurdity where you have to laugh. As you watch, you begin laughing at unexpected moments. Chainsaw Man takes itself seriously but knows how to take a joke too, finding the fine balance between the two. It takes the best of the shounen genre, but never comes off as corny.
Studio MAPPA’s stunning work meets in the middle with the nuanced characters and creative storyline. Utilizing a modern blend of CGI and 2D animation, Chainsaw Man showcases a depth to its fast-paced battle scenes that extend beyond traditional animation. In addition, Studio MAPPA producer Makoto Kimura explained that Fujimoto was extremely involved in the casting, planning and music during the production of Chainsaw Man. From the beginning, Studio MAPPA wanted to bring to life Fujimoto and the manga’s true vision, going out of its way to developing the world more than sticking close to the manga panel for panel.
Of course, the creators of manga, mangakas, are the fuel for inspiration in the anime industry. Fujimoto, the masterful mangaka behind Chainsaw Man, knew where he was going from the beginning. While he wanted to create shounen manga that would continue to have a platform in Japan’s biggest manga magazine, Fujimoto also wanted to develop his own voice and style in his art. As such, he created a manga series that looks like and acts like a shounen, but is not truly one.
Fujimoto has long been known for being of the eccentric sort. From impersonating his nonexistent sister on Twitter (which he only fessed up to because his editor wanted to sue) to holding popularity polls for Chainsaw Man characters only to derail the story against the readers’ wishes for their favorite characters, the mangaka is the very definition of chaotic neutral. And despite often being described as “weird”, it lends to his vivid, amazing storytelling that appeals to some part of everyone. He has embedded the weird, ridiculous, borderline absurd, humorous, sad, painful and gory all into Chainsaw Man. Being weird does not necessarily make you an outcast—Fujimoto is proof of that.
While the anime’s adherence to the manga’s vision is highly debated, as thousands of fans have even taken to petitioning for a reboot, what can be respected is Studio MAPPA’s dedication to making Fujimoto’s vision work. Despite what fans view as the “perfect adaptation”, it is impossible to please the whims of every person. Chainsaw Man is absolutely gorgeous—with some of the most stunning animations and masterful storytelling—and it is the child of Studio MAPPA and Fujimoto. If Fujimoto’s vision was brought to life, then what more could fans ask for?
Chainsaw Man is weird, it is absurd, things are ridiculous at times. But great storytelling has the power to pull all the right strings and still formulate a great series of events. By subverting tropes and bringing you through the epic highs of fight scenes with devils as well as the lows of desperation in flawed characters, Chainsaw Man packs a highly gratifying punch that yanks you out of the typical shounen catatonia. It provides a darker, nihilist side to the normally cheery, relentlessly optimistic genre.
With 23 million volumes of its manga currently in circulation and overwhelmingly positive feedback for the anime series, Chainsaw Man has entered the anime industry with guns blazing.
While watching the first season of Chainsaw Man, I felt like a giddy kid again binging the series, unable to press “next episode” fast enough. For many fans like myself, it will be a painful but rewarding wait for season two. What is in store for the next season of Chainsaw Man will surely evolve the shounen genre in more unprecedented ways!