The anime version of Chainsaw Man—debuting for U.S. audiences on October 11th on Crunchyroll—is one of the most anticipated releases of this year. It has all the makings of a huge hit.
Every few years, an anime comes along that defines the genre for a generation of viewers. When I was a kid, you basically got into anime by watching Sailor Moon or Dragonball Z, and then learned to look at all anime through that lens. In recent years, Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer, and My Hero Academia were the shows that became a lot of people’s first anime, bringing them into the wider culture and fandom surrounding them.
Like Demon Slayer and My Hero Academia, Chainsaw Man’s anime has a huge amount of hype surrounding it, given that it was also a hit as a manga. But unlike those two shows, Chainsaw Man is a dark story, where the idea of being a plucky young kid propelled forward towards his goals by the power of friendship is called into question. It’s a thrill to read—and watch—because of the relatability of the characters’ situations, and the earnestness of how it portrays their emotions. If you’re not into that, well, it’s also got some extremely sick fight scenes animated with anime studio MAPPA’s typical relish for ultraviolence. It’s a good anime to be someone’s very first—and there’s a good chance that Chainsaw Man will be a lot of people’s first anime.
The story of Chainsaw Man is a little convoluted, but at the heart of it is Denji, a down on his luck kid deep in debt to the mob who pays off his debts by being a devil hunter, aided by his only friend Pochita, a dog-like devil with a chainsaw coming out of its snout. It’s not a fun or glamorous job, and it barely makes ends meet. Denji has already sold his eye and one of his testicles to pay off his debt by the time the series begins, and the mob eventually decides to cut its losses and kill him. Miraculously, Pochita is able to bring Denji back to life with one condition: Denji has to show Pochita his dreams. Before this moment, the biggest thing that Denji dared to dream for was being able to put jam on bread, and maybe touch a boob before he dies. Oh, also, now that he’s alive again, he can turn into Chainsaw Man, a half-human, half-devil hybrid with chainsaws coming out of his head, arms, and legs.
MAPPA’s adaptation of the Chainsaw Man manga is more than just a faithful recreation of the aspects of the manga that made the series popular. We sit in silence a lot more with Denji in the anime, letting the starkness of his environment speak for itself. The intimacy you feel in those early scenes, alone with Denji and Pochita, brings the emotional aspect of the series to the forefront, even when Denji revs his engines and completely murderizes some dudes. Even those moments of extreme violence are underscored, in some scenes, by their aftermath. In one beautifully animated scene, after Denji has been murdered by the mob, viewers sit in silence as a single drop of blood leaks from Denji’s dead body, tracing a line through the trash they’ve been buried in, until it reaches Pochita, binding them together.
Even the score, which is mostly sparse fare, sometimes approaching ambient noise music, further underlines Denji’s helplessness in life. The fight scenes, where the show gets more frenetic, are underscored by twitchy beats that almost don’t cohere into music. Although the show is very cool—what could be cooler than a guy with chainsaws for arms?—the soundtrack adds a sense of uneasiness to every scene.
Tatsuki Fujimoto, the author and illustrator of the Chainsaw Man manga, folds a lot of non-anime influences into his work, making it much larger than the sum of its parts. Watching Fujimoto’s world and characters in motion reminds me of the very first time I saw a sliver of Sailor Moon as a kid. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in terms of its art and storytelling, but it was also grounded in issues that made sense to me as a pre-teen like dating and female friendship. Chainsaw Man has a similar effect, though it’s aimed at a much older age group. Sailor Moon really changed my life when it was my first anime. Let Chainsaw Man change yours.