People like to believe in big things. Ideology, religion, destiny. It makes us feel important, and gives us a rationale for toughing it out and living on a daily basis in our world. However, what’s lost is that, frankly speaking, most of these are really just complex psychological coping strategies. Oftentimes, what really compels people in their motivations is some sense of insecurity within themselves. When people have a neglectful childhood, they often seek power to make up for that sense of total helplessness they experienced. When something tragic happens to someone, they seek an explanation to help contextualize that feeling of “something’s gone wrong.” The thing which is missed by many of us is that tragedy is normal, the default state of living in this world. People miss the bus, get caught in the rain, fail a class or lose their loved ones on a daily basis. It’s not some glitch; it’s a feature. This, of course, is impossible for sentient rational beings, such as us humans, to accept. It is the foil of all the great anti-heroes and antagonists of fiction, uniting the disparate goals of Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Doom; the desire, the NEED, to ‘fix’ the world in the way they see fit, almost always instead leading to their eventual downfall.
On the other hand, nearly all the great heroes of fiction (such as Achilles, Odysseus, Hamlet) are missing these ulterior psycho-structural motives for their desires. Sure, while their motives may seem complex at first (the conquest of Troy, a return to Ithaca, the removal of an illegitimate monarchy from Denmark), at the center of all these desires all they want is what we all want, a form of justice (or at least, some kind of revenge on those who wronged them). This is the key to their heroism, the clarity of their innermost heart, how these fictional individuals have been able to exist for centuries and millennia through recontextualization and retroactive continuity. This trait, I feel, is shared by the main character of the Japanese manga and now anime series, “Chainsaw Man.” Denji, as originally written by series creator Tatsuki Fujimoto, is a somewhat pure character from a motivational standpoint. All he really wants is food, shelter and … uh, let’s say love. It is this relative purity which differentiates himself from the other, more outwardly ideological characters of the series, many of whom use their motivations to justify truly horrendous acts of malice. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As you may have guessed from the name, “Chainsaw Man” follows a young man named Denji (Kikunosuke Toya) who can turn himself into a chainsaw, or more technically has fused with a chainsaw devil which resembles a cute little dog, by the name of Pochita. At the opening of the story, Denji is working as a kind of indentured slave to his town’s Yakuza, who hold him responsible for the huge debt owed to them by his (now dead) father. The Yakuza use him as a “Devil Hunter,” a person who is hired to go after and kill other Devils who have come to earth to possess other humans.
From the very beginning, we are reminded over and over again that Denji’s life stinks. He lives in a shack in the woods, and because of his debt payments he often has to survive on single slices of white bread, which he shares with his only friend, Pochita (Shiori Izawa). He has no money, and as a result has no drip and obtains absolutely zero spouses. His life completely, positively sucks. Which is why, when offered the chance at an even halfway decent living experience working for the Japanese government’s Public Safety Division, he jumps at the opportunity. During this time he also meets some other eccentric Devil Hunters, from Aki (Shogo Sakata), stoic straight man, to a Devil named Power (Fairouz Ai Kadota) who doesn’t shower, to Denji’s seductress boss Makima (Tomori Kusunoki) (kind of a Cooper Gottfried type).
Obviously the kooky side characters are definitely a plus, but I think a lot of what has drawn such a mass audience around this property has been its raw, abrasive edge which isn’t afraid to portray morally gray characters in an unflinching light. This is something which isn’t hard to find in western media these days, but still is a bit rare in most anime. For example, I often find myself thinking of another favorite anime of mine, “Demon Slayer,” which has a similar premise of people being enlisted to hunt down and kill supernatural demons ravaging the Japanese countryside. However, in that show becoming a demon slayer is actually considered an honor, something to genuinely strive for, which uplifts ordinary people into legends and heroes. The Public Safety Division, on the other hand, is a mostly corrupt and unscrupulous government agency run by an insane, sadomasochistic woman who can make people’s heads explode.
(This is a good time to mention that the manga is really cool and everyone should read it.)
I think that might be the reason why it’s soaked into the public conversation so much, considering that I’ve been seeing memes about it for the past year and a half. I only began reading it about two months ago, and I have to say it really sucked me in. I attribute this mostly to the fast-paced style of the story, as well as its jet-black dark sense of comedy, which probably contributes to the endless “literally me” memes it’s spawned. There was a post on some forum a while back talking about how the idea of a “chainsaw man” is so dumb that it feels like it’s existed for a way longer time than it actually has. In my book, that’s usually a good sign. We’ve got some great animation from studio MAPPA, so far I’ve been really satisfied with all the fight scenes, although I have noticed there’s been a little bit of dodgy CGI and weird mouth movements, these have been minimal, and everything considered I really think the show looks nice. I’ve also noticed the exceptional voice acting and sound design; in particular I feel like the music has really stuck out to me as being solid throughout the whole thing.
For real, this is already a very solid show and we’re only three episodes in. I highly suggest everyone who’s interested should check it out. Also, don’t tell anyone I told you this, but I’ve heard that for the English dub they’re bringing in Carlos Mencia to voice the lead of Denji, and Pochita will be played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. SO EXCITED!