If there was one question that captured the essence of Chainsaw Man, it would be: ‘What does it mean to be human?’
Every storyline and character set about different ways of answering this question.
Chainsaw Man is a bestselling manga and now a popular anime by Tatsuki Fujimoto. The story revolves around a dirt-poor boy called Denji who cheats a gruesome death when his pet devil Pochita gives him his heart. The pact between man and devil also gives Denji the power to become Chainsaw Man, a human-weapon hybrid.
Denji’s transformation gains the attention of Chief Public Safety Devil Hunter Makima, who gives him the choice of using his powers to work for her or dying at her hand. The fact he’s immediately infatuated by her makes it that much easier for Denji to become her toy.
Throughout his journey, Denji crosses paths with other devil hunters like Power, a bold and brash fiend (a demon whose taken control of an empty human body) and the stony-faced Aki, who Makima makes responsible for Denji and Power, much to his dismay. Along with these four, there’s a diverse range of friends and foes who Denji crosses paths with along his journey.
So, with these core building blocks, what else makes Chainsaw Man such an addicting read?
Obviously, a great cast is key to an entertaining manga, and we can see this starting with the main character.
Denji’s refreshingly down to earth. Unlike shonen protagonist such as My Hero Academia’s Deku or Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’s Tanjiro, his big life goals aren’t to save the world or bring peace to humanity. In comparison they’re not all that grand. He’s barely able to keep himself alive and a slave to the Yazuka paying off his dead father’s debt. So, it makes sense why having a girlfriend or eating a whole piece of bread with jam are Denji’s biggest dreams. Aside from Pochita’s companionship, his they are the only thing keeping him going.
Pochita was Denji’s heart long before that was the case physically. As much as he’s trying to live a normal life, he’s also navigating the world without the only family he had for quite some time. He’s gained the life that was only just a dream for so long at the cost of his only friend.
The relationship between humans and devils is something explored widely within the series. Compared to the less than pleasant deals humans usually have to make to gain a fraction of their power, Pochita giving Denji all his strength because he only wants to see Denji live a good life in return, shows how deep their bond is.
Power is selfish, dirty and greedy, but that’s what makes her great. Her antics and unseriousness bring comic relief at the most unexpected times and the moments when she and Denji use their one shared braincell are fun as well.
Aki is the polar opposite of Denji, becoming a devil hunter to avenge his family. He scoffs at Denji’s motivators for joining and the two of them often clash heads. But as much as he’s laser focused on vengeance, being responsible for Denji and Power grounds him. Like Denji, it gives him the taste of the normal life that was taken from him.
This trio is a great found family and their time together outside the battlefield is just as entertaining as their action scenes. Despite the unfair hand they’ve been dealt, they’re all just trying to get through life as best as they can.
These three are just the beginning of the great cast of characters within Chainsaw Man, with many motivations for choosing this line of work. From getting closure, supporting their family or just because this job is marginally better than going to hell, it’s interesting to see all these people come together with one shared goal.
The visual storytelling in Chainsaw Man is also another important feature that makes it so popular. The overall art style is dark and grungy with many chilling horror aesthetics at critical moments in the story. The placement of panels displays the action and tension of scenes in a great way. While there’s an overall good pace and flow from page to page, the deliberate few full pages with no panels or text that leave you with nothing but the chaos about to erupt before you are hauntingly beautiful. It’s nail-biting but exhilarating, you’re at the edge of your seat but you’re almost afraid to turn the page to see what happens next.
The designs of the characters are simple with one defining feature like Power’s horns or Himeno’s eyepatch. More than being just a visual quirk, these features usually tend to be a tidbit that revealing part of the character’s powers or backstory, showing how much thought has gone into every decision in the manga.
As Chainsaw Man is an especially gory manga, there’s a lot of detail put into the resulting damage of blood and guts all over the place whenever characters clash, which adds weight to every hit and slash in each fight. The use of sharp thin lines to represent quick movement or falls adds tension to scenes in a way that’s easy to understand. Subtle gradients from light to dark and block shadows depict the sheer size of an enemy and that it’s closing in to strike. Even though many characters can regenerate, the stakes are always high, and some consequences are permanent.
The decisions that went into the art make it an effective vehicle in delivering the story of Chainsaw Man. It’s no surprise if these scenes play over and over in your head while you’re waiting for the new weekly release.
If you’ve never read a manga or you’re just looking for a new read, Chainsaw Man is a great place to start. What starts as a story of boy vs monsters opens up into something much richer, captivating, and horrifying than you could have ever bargained for.