The Observation Deck: Chainsaw Man Part 1

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While I did not list it as one of my goals for the year, I would like to read more manga in 2022, if for nothing else than to gain a bit more perspective on upcoming releases and get ahead of the curb in discussing them. Though this series finished in late 2020, it is still making waves both for how popular its manga is and because its anime adaptation is on the horizon.

During a trip to visit my grandmother over the holidays, I decided, “eh why not?” I paid my $2 a month for Viz and binged most of Chainsaw Man in a few days. I returned home shortly afterward, only to finish the series the following evening. So, what does Chainsaw Man‘s manga have to say for itself?

What in the Everloving Fu-

Chainsaw Man, for the uninitiated, focuses on an orphan boy named Denji, who, after losing his family, befriended a chainsaw devil named Pochita. Fast forward a few years, and Denji is working for the yakuza killing other devils for money. Just as he is starting to feel content with the world, he is tricked, and the Yakuza figure he worked for is now himself a demon set out on destroying the young boy. Denji, on the brink of death, is given a new heart in the form of Pochita, and gains strange new powers. He is now Chainsaw Man.

If that was not enough, it gets even crazier, as Denji eventually meets Makima, one of the heads of the Public Safety Bureau, along with some of the other Bureau members, such as Aki, Power, Kobeni, and Himeno. The initial chapters move at a fairly brisk pace as far as advancing the overall story. Fast enough, in fact, that even Denji as a character is having a hard time really absorbing everything that is going on. In a matter of days, he goes from living in poverty to having what seems like a middle-class job in which he makes real money.

Btw, if it was not made clear already, this show is about devils. Hunting devils, becoming devils, and often working alongside as well as making contracts with them. Denji, armed with the abilities of the chainsaw devil, has gained the attention of Makima (and later many others). Thus, she takes good care to keep an eye on him. The way the series just throws the audience into Denji’s world without much explanation feels fairly emblematic of its overall storytelling philosophy.

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Yes, There is a lot of Blood

Though Chainsaw Man certainly has a lot of fast-paced, 1v1 fight scenes that are typical of actions series, its approach to violence and the depiction thereof is decidedly more horror. If the literal devils did not tip people off, the show has no problem giving a ton of unhealthy reminders. In this manga, it could be argued that the gore involved in each fight is as much a storytelling device as it is an aesthetic choice.

Part of this is fairly direct, as it is noted early on that demons need to drink blood to replenish their strength. A good example comes during one of the earlier fights in the series, where Denji, having been betrayed by Power as food for a bat devil, is now forced to rescue them from his stomach. Thus, the only thing he can do is cut open his stomach using his unique powers.

Part of this, at least, is mitigated by the black and white nature coloring of traditional manga, which is to say nothing of mangaka Tatsuki Fujimoto’s extreme eye for detail in a lot of panels. In many of Chainsaw Man‘s fight scenes, Fujimoto takes great care to make sure that the people reading can remember individual demons based on their…insides.

Sex! That’s it, That’s the Joke.

In much the same way as violence and gore, sex often becomes a core aesthetic and thematic part of what makes this story work. Denji, a 16-year-old with a healthy libido, is constantly thinking about sex. At first, he merely wanted to touch a pair of boobs, but after feeling up Power and realizing that there was something special missing from his experience, Denji realizes that he also wants a sense of intimacy with Makima.

By the same token, many of the women in Chainsaw Man use sex as a means of controlling Denji. Again, this is primarily the case with Makima, but Power and Rize do engage in this behavior as well. In Power’s case, it happens when she tricks Denji into saving her cat, and in Rize’s, she simply wants his literal, and for a period metaphorical, heart. Denji is thus both the end and a means to an end at the same time, both himself and also Chainsaw Man. He is continually confronted with the idea that these two people are, in fact, different people.

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The Point, Please?

I am getting there, jeez. Ok, so Denji is a half human/devil hybrid who is hired by a secretly very shady organization to help kill rogue devils and whose members occasionally make contracts with devils which the humans then use to help kill more rogue devils and-yeah ok I have lost myself. So, does it mean anything?

As Esoteric as a task it is to try and find meaning in a gore-filled nonsense-fest like Chainsaw Man, I do think it can be done. Regardless of the arc, the primary focus of the series never ceases to be Denji, the one who uses the heart of a devil. He goes from just a homeless kid barely scraping by with pocket change to having not only money and food but friends who genuinely care about his well-being. When we consider this change in ascent, along with Denji’s character, the focus of the manga becomes apparent.

Denji is not only playing himself but is rather a symbol of those affected by cruel and unyielding social, economic and political systems. This central idea is further reinforced in other parts of the manga. In one scene where Denji is talking to Rize, she emphasizes that Denji having never been to public school, along with his current arrangement at the public safety bureau, is both out of the ordinary and also incredibly “messed up.”

While it is true that the primary reason Rize says this is because she wants to lour Denji away from the other devil hunters, her underlying shock is totally justified. After all, while fighting devils may still be a reality for many people in this universe, that does not excuse the moral dilemma of not having a basic K-12 education.

Conclusion

Chainsaw Man, in a lot of ways, is just an excuse to be transgressive around the amount of physical violence people are willing to accept in their storytelling. More than that, though, it is a story about the human experience, one which tells us that, no matter how evil an act, it can be no more evil than the worst immorality of all: taking away someone’s human element. In that way, it is a phenomenally entertaining series that it feels fair to say many will enjoy.


Have you read Chainsaw Man? What are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments below.

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