ANIME REVIEW | "Chainsaw Man" A Hardcore Work of Cinematic Beauty
There was plenty of hype for MAPPA’s adaptation of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man the moment it was announced. With it being one of the hottest Shonen Jump properties, the excitement of seeing the likes of Denji (Kikunosuke Toya), Makima (Tomori Kusunoki), Power (Ai Fairouz), and Aki (Shogo Sakata) fully animated drew a lot of hot anticipation. Nearly two years since it was announced, MAPPA’s take on Chainsaw Man finally hit the airwaves. What viewers got wasn’t the Troma-like schlockfest we all were expected; we instead got a Martin McDonagh presentation.
Shockingly, it still works, in ways that longtime fans couldn’t even begin to imagine!
Like the manga (which you can read every one of my reviews of its respective volumes), Chainsaw Man follows Denji, a teen whose father left him in debt to the yakuza. After spending his time killing demons with his chainsaw dog Pochita (Shiori Izawa), Denji is soon betrayed and fed to an army of zombies. Pochita gives Denji his heart, and the phenom known as Chainsaw Man is born in the chaos. Soon after defeating the zombie hoard, Makima arrives to give Denji a choice: join her Devil Hunters crew, or die.
What starts as your standard Weekly Shonen Jump fare instead involves into a superhero story for the grown-ups to enjoy. Although Chainsaw Man has shared space with the likes of Jujutsu Kaisen and My Hero Academia, it is by no means a narrative for that same audience. Where those other manga have its long-term goals like becoming the #1 hero, Denji’s goals are rather simple. He wants to eat toast every breakfast, know what a woman’s breast feels like, and just live for the sake of living. After all, thanks to his dead deadbeat dad, Denji’s never had the chance at a normal life until now!
However, becoming a chainsaw-wielding devil with the pull of a ripcord is far from the norm, and neither are the jobs that Public Safety Decision have to do. Devils run amuck in this world, to the point where it’s nigh impossible to keep them hidden. They destroy towns, homes, and people’s lives with a snap of their fingers. And the one that’s most notorious is the Gun Devil, which Devil Hunter Aki has a score to settle with.
There are a lot of layers that Chainsaw Man has to showcase, many of which one wouldn’t find in the first read-through of Fujimoto’s original manga. Everyone in this series, from Denji and Power to Aki and Makima, are seriously damaged both physically and mentally. Yet all they can do is soldier onward and keep on killing the Devils wrecking havoc on society, a society that may not actually welcome Public Safety Division’s existence in the first place! But no mere cop can defeat the evils that appear in this show; only the outcasts of the world can do that!
Granted, it’s not like Denji, Aki, and Power are suffering throughout the first season. Most of the time, they shoot the shit, pull pranks, and simply cause mischief for the straight-man Aki. Testicles are kicked in, boobs are groped, and barf-filled kisses are given out. When the Devils aren’t around, the members of Public Safety Division are out there enjoying life for what it’s worth.
Of course, people aren’t tuning in to Chainsaw Man just to see people reflect on life or taking regular smoke breaks. When the Devils do show up, the adrenaline kicks in hard and fast. Not only do we see civilians get mangled, but even members of the Public Safety Division (included some fan faves) get snuffed out unceremoniously! It’s in those deaths where Fujimoto’s creation breaks many of the shonen manga rules, and it’s even more heartbreaking to see it fully animated.
But when Denji, Power, and Aki fight, those tears of sadness transform into maniacal laughs. Blood, guts, and bone spew when Denji buzzes through these Devils, whereas Power goes the Gallagher route and takes a massive hammer to them. Aki, on the other hand, calls upon the Fox Devil to aid him in his fight due to the curse that comes with wielding his sword. These fights are brutal, to the point where it’s amazing that it got away with airing on Japanese television without being heavily censored!
The detail placed in the animation is on a cinematic level. When it’s violent, the action — with its mixture of CGI and hand-drawn visuals — reaches details that are normally saved for a big-screen presentation. Every punch, slice, gunshot, and spontaneous combustion is presented with such care and precision. It almost feels like live-action choreography, it goes that deep!
When it’s quiet, that’s when Chainsaw Man ironically shows its muscles. There’s a scene where Aki’s is preparing for the morning, making breakfast and coffee before sitting down to read the newspaper. During those two minutes, nothing happens, yet it’s the most beautiful work MAPPA have pulled off in years. These quiet scenic moments are where the true air of the world is on display, which makes the more chaotic parts all the more disturbing.
How Chainsaw Man is presented overall is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the medium. It combines the skills of Makoto Shinkai, Martin McDonagh (and even his brother John Michael), James Gunn, and Christopher Nolan all in one fell swoop. And in doing so, MAPPA has perhaps created a new style of not just animation, but filmmaking in general. Yes, perhaps I’m overhyping how this show looks, but how can you not when you see what it’s able to accomplish?!
The voice acting also helps to accommodate the mood of the anime, with Toya’s Denji being a great mixture of enthusiastic and stupid. The same can be said about Fairouz’s Power, albeit with a little more pompous attitude in her voice. Sakata takes an Everyman route with Aki, sounding like he’s tired of dealing with Devil shit, but still pushes the emotion out when it’s time to fight. Meanwhile, Kusunoki is both terrifying and heartfelt as Makima, who’s soft-spoken voice is but a ruse for the mayhem she can create.
I had my doubts regarding Kensuke Ushio penning the score, even with his phenomenal Devilman Crybaby work under his belt. But he knows how to add another layer to both the loud and quiet scenes, and do so in ways that I never pictured in my head while reading the original manga. On top of the fast-paced sounds of the action-y parts, Ushio manages to dig deep into the soul with the more melancholy aspects of Chainsaw Man. In a way, it makes you appreciate the beauty that’s on display thanks in part to what the soundtrack is able to offer.
What more can be said about opening theme “Kick Back” by Kenshi Yonezu, other than that it slaps hard! It captures both the chaos and peacefulness of Chainsaw Man, all with a killer bass track backing it. With each episode comes a different end theme, as the likes of Vaundy, Eve, Queen Bee, Aimer, and more contribute their own unique take on Fujimoto’s story. All of them are great, with perhaps Maximum the Hormone’s “Hawatari 2 Oku-senchi” being my personal fave of the bunch.
Is Chainsaw Man everything I pictured it would be in animation form? To be frank: no. When reading the manga, I imagined something a lot more unhinged and in-your-face. Instead, I got chaos from afar, like watching an atom bomb drop onto a town from the comfort of my home. It made me want to reread Fujimoto’s work, and see how I came to miss its true tone. Then again, this is an author who delights in fucking with his readers, so perhaps this anime take is just another way of pulling the wool over our eyes again.
But I’m glad this version of Chainsaw Man exists. It’s a work of beauty, both visually and audibly. While I have no idea when the next season will drop (my mind thinks 2024 sometime), what we got here is a piece of true anime art. It has its flaws, but in the same way a work by Van Gogh or Monet could have a strange brushstroke here and there. Even with its naysayers, Chainsaw Man is one anime that isn’t just being placed on a pedestal of essential watches; it has carved its own with a fanged grin and a lust for sex & blood!
Voice Acting: (Japanese dub)
Final Grade (not an average):