Today, Chainsaw Man, a hit manga about a demon hunter and his quest to touch some boobs, makes its highly anticipated return. It’s a heartfelt story about ultraviolence, the power of the state, and the purity of simple love, and it’s absolutely worth your time.
Chainsaw Man is about a kid named Denji who worked as an independent devil hunter with his dog-like devil Pochita until one day the mob to whom he owed money decided he wasn’t worth it, and chopped him up. As he dies, Pochita makes a deal with Denji: If Denji continues to pursue his simple dreams of having friends, eating decent meals and going to school, then Pochita will act as his heart. This deal also gives Denji the power to turn into Chainsaw Man, a devil/human hybrid with chainsaws coming out of his legs, arms and head—and leads to him becoming an agent of the state under Makima, a charming but cold devil hunter Denji quickly develops a crush on.
There is so much to like about this series that it’s hard to summarize. What grabbed me immediately is the liveliness of its art, especially in the gory action scenes. Tatsuji Fujimoto, who writes and illustrates the series, has a particular skill in conveying people in motion, conveying force and power in his fight scenes. Even the match-ups that are just about fighting skill rather than supernatural devil-empowered abilities are a thrill to read, and some of them take obvious reference from classic action films like The Raid. Fujimoto also has an incredible imagination in terms of the design of his devils. In this world, devils manifest from the things that people fear, and their power and general grandeur is determined by how much people fear them. Some devils, like the Darkness Devil, took my breath away in their design. The Darkness Devil is eerie and inhuman, but also perfectly represents what humans fear about the dark.
The series is also incredibly funny. One character, Kobeni, has the worst possible luck of any character in any work of fiction I’ve ever seen. She ends up quitting her job as a devil hunter, and in one of the funniest sequences in the series, is held hostage at her new job as a fast food worker when Chainsaw Man forces her to go on a date with him, on which he keeps accidentally murdering people with his chainsaw limbs.
It’s also a series with a great deal of warmth and humanity. Denji’s desires in life are simple. All he really wants is to play some video games and touch some boobs. Unfortunately, in order to have that life, he has to put himself into harm’s way, and almost dies several times—many of his allies do die. Throughout the course of the series, Denji has to learn the value of friendship and family, things he’s never really experienced. When he moves in with fellow devil hunters Aki and the blood devil Power, they develop a familial bond, and Denji understands for the first time the real value of human life after a lifetime of being willing to throw his away.
But what is most fascinating to me about Chainsaw Man is that although it functions as a by-the-numbers manga about the power of friendship, it is also extremely willing to directly discuss the politics of our society. In the world that Fujimoto has created, the Gun Devil is the most fearsome devil there is. When it’s activated for only moments, the manga turns into a seemingly endless list of names—all victims of the devil. The existence of these devils and the power they hold is also of interest not only to the Japanese government, but to the American government as well. While getting into too much detail would involve serious spoilers, the deals these entities make with devils in order to maintain their power are heartbreaking, but also all too real when you look at how these states wield their power in the real world.
Today, a new chapter of Chainsaw Man was published after the series went on a break in December 2020. While there will also be an anime adaptation of the series from Studio Mappa, which also produces acclaimed shows like Jujutsu Kaisen and Attack on Titan, do yourself a favor and get caught up on the manga now. The new plotlines—and devils—that are introduced in this first new chapter are intriguing, and knowing Fujimoto, will result in an orgy of violence, if not an actual orgy. The least you can do is get acquainted with the kind of joy and heartbreak Chainsaw Man will put you through before you watch him rev his engines on your tv screens.