This story starts with an orphaned boy and his dog. A tried and tested formula. But what if the dog was a chainsaw, and the boy hunts devils for the Yakusa. Things start to get interesting in the most absurd way, and it only gets weirder. But is Chainsaw Man worth reading?
Chainsaw Man is the violent story of Denji, a sixteen-year-old boy and his chainsaw dog in a world plagued by Devils. With new chapters published weekly in the west via Viz Media’s Shonen Jump. There are currently four volumes out physically in Japan. Unfortunately, no plans on the horizon for an English physical release (as of posting)
Some might recognise the author and artist Tatsuki Fujimoto as the mangaka of Fire Punch; with its final volume releasing in October 2019. Initially, a sleeper hit, Fire Punch has gained more popularity over the last eight months. This momentum seems to have jumped over to Chainsaw Man, after hearing it come up on podcasts and seeing it pop up on my twitter feed, I had to take a look.
Denji, the Chainsaw Man
The series follows Denji, an orphaned boy who’s in the employ of the Yakuza after his father committed suicide. Leaving Denji indebted to the gangsters for a large sum of money, the young boy has to come up with some creative ways to make money.
His main revenue stream is hunting down Devils for the Yakuza with the aid of his best friend, loyal Chainsaw Devil Pochita. But after leaving the Yakuza and gaining the ability to turn into a Chainsaw Man for ‘reasons’, Denji’s small world is opened up.
With Denji’s potential spotted by agent Mikima and being a sixteen-year-old with no prospects, he joins her Public Safety Devil Hunter team. Specifically, experimental Division Four, where all the oddballs are. Chainsaw Man is a Shōnen after all.
It’s like the extremely violent American Pie we never knew we needed.
But why would Denji subject himself to a life of danger and extreme violence? He is a sixteen-year-old boy, girls! Or to be more exact, Mikima although this seems like a lazy and obvious reason. The way Denji acts is pretty much like any boy of his age. Well, with a little added Shōnen-ness mixed in with a healthy amount of The Inbetweeners (a UK comedy series about teen boys everyone should watch).
What the hell are devils though?
Devils are demons which generally cause havoc and destruction. However, some devils allow humans to form contracts with them, allowing for mutually beneficial arrangements. A Devil’s form is based on a thing, with the strength of the Devil determined by how scary that thing is. For example, a Ghost is more feared than a Tomato. Thus a Ghost Devil would be stronger than a Tomato Devil.
Personally, Chainsaw Man wins my (non-devil) heart on three fronts.
Firstly the completely over the top action is very well done. Readers may remember that I mentioned my love of 2000AD in this blogs first post. Well, Chainsaw Man nails the more absurd elements of 2000AD. If you want to see a showdown where one fighter has chainsaws sprouting from his arms and face, and his opponent has katana arms and face. Well, this is the manga for you!
Secondly, the series is hilarious. Yes, the humour is quite crude in places (but may not be to everyone’s taste). In a medium where translations are so crucial for comedic effect, having the jokes almost served up on a plate is quite nice. A particular ‘romantic‘ scene caused a slightly embarrassing moment where I let slip quite a loud, spontaneous laugh on a public bus. It’s like the extremely violent American Pie we never knew we needed.
Thirdly the characters. It feels like every enemy is a concept taken to it’s most ridiculous extreme. The Division 4 team members, once introduced, become quite lovable idiots who you end up caring for quite quickly. The powers of certain devils are very creative; the Fox Devil is particularly brilliant in its concept and visual implementation.
Combining this all together makes Chainsaw Man so easy to read. It’s the first manga I’ve managed to binge forty-odd chapters in a workweek in quite some time. Chapters ending in fights make you want to see what happens next, finishing an arc makes you want to see what stupid antics Denji will get up to in the next one.
The humour might not be to everyone’s taste. Yes, it a little crude early on (in my eyes it gets less so as the story and characters mature) and that will put some people off. Also, characters motivations at first are a little too Shōnen in places, but I can excuse it on its other strengths. This might not be the case for everyone, but I’d say read on a little more if you are feeling put off as things do improve.
The art of Chainsaw Man
Chainsaw Man’s world is such a grim place. The characters are always in back alleys, basements and other dark and dirty locales. The art nails this sense of place. Even with the humour lightening the mode, you can always see that Denji’s existence is horrible per reasonable standards of living. Although this lovable idiot seems to be happy enough.
The action flows nicely, and the panelling gives perfect comic timing. Even in the deadliest of fights, there is a touch of comedy. With such a focus on violence, the combat is frenetic, choppy (pun) and gruesome without being completely disgusting.
Devils stand out from the cast by being heavily shaded, almost scribbled in places. They pop right out of the page at you. Their designs range from comedic dog chainsaws, disgusting zombies, and then to weird abstract forms. Each one is unique, and every time a new devil is mentioned, I can’t wait to see its design.
One final cool touch is the inclusion of scanlines. It gives the art a unique grindhouse vibe which I’ve not seen into many other series. I think it could become overused, but luckily Fujimoto has kept it an occasional feature and not overplayed it.
Is Chainsaw Man worth reading?
Hell yes! Be prepared to sign that Devil’s contract, as you’ll suddenly lose several days to the Chainsaw Man binge that will follow. The series is pure adrenaline-soaked fun with plenty of comedy to lighten the mood. You’ll breeze through the chapters without realising what’s going on in the world outside and once catching up, be left waiting for your weekly fix.
I’ve enjoyed Chainsaw Man so much that I aim to rectify missing out on Fire Punch. Being so close to Christmas, this has gone straight onto my Amazon gift list. Let’s hope I’ll be a lucky boy on December 25th. Well if not, it’s not too long until my birthday.