Tanner McEveety ‘22 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Last June, Studio Mappa released a trailer for their anime adaptation of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s hit manga Chainsaw Man. The studio has built a reputation of excellence with their work on Jujutsu Kaisen, The God of High School, and the final season of Attack on Titan, and the trailer continues to uphold that high standard with jaw dropping artwork and animation. But even with an upcoming adaptation that’s sure to be a grand slam, you should still read the Chainsaw Man manga. It’s completely understandable that you’d want to wait and watch the anime when it comes out. But Chainsaw Man isn’t just good source material: it is a good piece of art, and for every second you spend not having read it, you are doing yourself a disservice.
Published in Japan’s most popular manga magazine, Weekly Shōnen Jump, the manga follows Denji, a high-school aged boy who is drowning in debt to the Yakuza thanks to his dead father. He dreams of living a normal life while using his pet devil, a chainsaw dog named Pochita, to kill devils for the Yakuza. Eventually, the Yakuza decide he’s outlived his usefulness, literally chop him to pieces, and dump the remaining chunks in the garbage. Luckily, Pochita fuses with Denji’s heart, restoring him to life and allowing him to become the titular Chainsaw Man, a half-man, half-devil hybrid with chainsaws attached to every limb. And thus begins a tale of devil hunting in 1990s urban Japan, which masterfully blends zany comedy and over the top action with dark social commentary and surrealistic arthouse sensibilities. Now that you’re aboard, you’d better grab onto something, because this train has no brakes.
From there, the manga quickly fills with lovable and interesting side characters, but what really makes the manga work is Denji himself. In a magazine full of protagonists who are paragons of moral virtue, he’s mostly disinterested in morality, instead focusing on his own, highly simplistic goals with the same fervor as any character trying to save the world. He’s constantly forced into bloody battles with horrifying monsters and villains that would rock other Shōnen protagonists to their cores. And yet for Denji, simply being able to choose his meals and not having to sell one of his organs every other week to keep a roof over his head is a life of supreme luxury. It’s obvious to the readers that Denji is actually deluding himself in his contentment. Whether he realizes it or not, his circumstances are horrible. He’s clearly being manipulated and mistreated, and the world around him is incredibly dystopian. Among all the battle manga where teenagers are expected by older mentors to risk their lives against horrifying demons, Chainsaw Man is the only one to ask the obvious question: isn’t that kind of messed up?
But you can get all of that from the anime when it’s released. What you can’t get is an untainted first-time viewing experience once you’ve been spoiled. Chainsaw Man is already a popular manga, even though the anime adaptation hasn’t been released yet. Once the anime comes out, spoilers for some of the manga’s best moments will be flying left and right. Of course, spoilers don’t ruin stories, they just eliminate the chance to experience the narrative without knowing what happens, and a good story doesn’t need to rely on shock value to be enjoyable. But being shocked is fun, and Chainsaw Man’s plot twists are worth the trouble of staying un-spoiled.
Emotionally, reading Chainsaw Man feels a bit like a master martial artist landing combo after combo on you. Fujimoto will pull you along with some well executed comedy, knock you off kilter when some zany action takes a gory turn, and then bury his fist in your gut with a sudden, heart-shattering revelation, all in the space of a single chapter. The masterful blend of tones and genres feels bizarre, but never crosses the border into unfocused absurdity. As a result, even if you’re well-versed in the language of storytelling, it is genuinely difficult to predict what will happen next. And yet, you always end up loving the new directions the twists take.
Another thing you can’t get from the anime is the manga’s art style. Studio Mappa’s trailer is visually impressive, but the artwork is much too sleek and untarnished to effectively match the story’s tone. Fujimoto’s rough, scratchy, and yet highly detailed art style is better suited to this dirty, bloody world, where tragedy is frequent and every character is deranged in their own special way. Character designs have distinct silhouettes and details that effectively communicate their personalities, but there’s also a looseness to the rules of how they’re drawn. This allows for slightly off-model facial expressions and poses that really bring the manga to life. Exaggerated reaction panels are a large part of what makes the manga so incredibly funny, but Fujimoto is also adept at leveraging them in more emotional contexts to turn you into a crying mess.
And speaking of panels, Fujimoto is also a master of the medium of comics. He’s constantly experimenting with panel size, shape, borders, and layout, and seems to have an intrinsic understanding of panel flow. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the action scenes, which are somehow filled with absurd levels of detail without overwhelming the reader with visual information. They’re often capped off with gorgeously composed full-page spreads, though Fujimoto also utilizes those for especially horrifying, emotional, or otherwise significant moments. Many of them will stick with you long after you first lay eyes on them, whether in your dreams or your nightmares.
That also goes for many lines of dialogue and narrative beats throughout Chainsaw Man. As comically outlandish as the premise of a man who can grow a chainsaw from his face is, the manga actually has a lot on its mind. Primarily, it’s about how indulging in base urges can lead you away from the things that will make you happy in the long run, but it contains a variety of themes and will constantly engage you on an intellectual level. This is not a “so bad it’s good” story. It is genuinely well constructed, from start to finish. And with only ninety-seven chapters in its first arc and lightning-fast pacing, you can get caught up in no time flat.
Yes, the anime is practically guaranteed to be a masterpiece. But the manga is one-hundred percent worth your time. And the manga is available right now. So what are you waiting for?