Chainsaw Man – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser October 11, 20220 Comments
Denji holding Pochita the chainsaw dog in his lap

Crunchyroll, which has long underpaid its employees, has currently declared its intent to recast the English dub of Mob Psycho 100 rather than even consider meeting with SAG-AFTRA representatives to discuss unionizing their dubs—this would help actors gain access to things like health insurance, and help make up for lack of residuals. People continue to pressure Crunchyroll to change their stance on social media; we encourage readers who are able to take part.

Content warning: Heavy gore, dismemberment, capitalism, potential implied (offscreen) child survival sex work

What’s it about? Denji has been saddled with his late father’s debts since he was 12; since then his days have involved scrambling for money and barely surviving, with the tiny chainsaw devil Pochita his only source of companionship. When the yakuza decide he’s more profitable dead, it might actually mean his fortunes are about to turn for the better.

Hey kids, do you like Devilman?

If yes, good news! You will enjoy Chainsaw Man. Go in peace and soak up the viscera.

If no… you might still enjoy Chainsaw Man? We’ll have to do some cross-referencing vis-à-vis your opinions on Hayashida Q.

I can’t bring you the opinion of a Mansaw Chain newbie, unfortunately, as I binged the manga back during quarantine and have been looking forward to the adaptation ever since. It’s both ironic and more than a little nauseating that this story about the pursuit of survival under capitalism literally dehumanizing a person is being animated by MAPPA, a company with conditions so brutal they warrant special mention in an industry rife with overwork and underpay; and distributed by Crunchyroll, a company currently riding high on its de-facto monopoly as a reason to ignore calls for unionization and to continue underpaying its translators. But this title is a license to print money right now, and neither of those companies was going to let that chance slip away. As a result, it has all the polish that you might imagine of a prospective Big Money Maker–though part of me thinks the smoothness around the Chainsaw Man rig itself detracts a bit from the almost Grindhouse rough edge Fujimoto’s art can achieve.

There are a couple things that will measure whether this series is one you’ll get something out of, and the Devilman comparison isn’t actually a joke. While Fujimoto’s manga is doing its own thing—see if you can notice the post-recession despair infusing this first episode, it’s very subtle!– it bears at least as many basic plot similarities to the iconic Nagai manga as the directly-influenced Berserk, so I consider it both a valid reference and a useful expectation setter–though like Hayashida, Chainsaw Man isn’t afraid to weave in absurdity and warmth to break the tension between bloodbaths.

Makima cradling Denji's head in her lap
See? Ain’t that downright wholesome?

The gore is going to be the big hurdle for many. There’s a whole splash zone of blood in this first episode, and it’s an aperitif to where the series eventually escalates. As someone who missed the fleshier gore of ‘80s anime, it’s a delight, but anyone who doesn’t get at least some enjoyment out of gory entertainment probably won’t find it worth it to continue on.

There’s also the fact that Denji himself kinda…sucks sometimes? He’s a sad kid in a brutal situation, and he has a good heart, but his initial character motivation is “must touch a boob” (something something Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) and down the line he’s casually homophobic at the mere possibility of physical contact with men. The former is mitigated considerably by the fact that Fujimoto rarely depicts the female cast in a leering way, and they have stuff to do that doesn’t revolve around Denji’s boner, so moments of horniness feel localized to the character more than the story; the latter is complicated by Denji’s history of trauma, including the brief implication that one of the jobs he might have had to undertake was survival sex work. But it still frustrates me that in later parts of the series, when faced with potentially positive relationships with men, it ends up resembling the long, long tradition of casual homophobia by Jump leads that is treated as normal, understandable behavior.

Power leaning forward to camera in a bikini
MAPPA I swear, if you ruin one of the only Jump series that doesn’t treat its female characters like some variety of shit
I will throw eggs at your house

It’s hard to tell whether the anime will keep to that crucial dearth of sexualization either, since the only woman in this episode only appears in the last few minutes. I’m giving an extremely suspicious look to the shot of Power in a bikini during the opening credits, but the optimist in me wants to hope.

Man Door Hand Hook Car Door has a lot to say about systems of power (especially capitalism), about trauma, about sexuality and intimacy. It also posits that watching a guy made out of chainsaws strangle a demon with its own intestines is fucking rad, actually. I, for one, am inclined to agree.

Editor’s Note (10/12/22): This article was edited after publication to add additional content warnings and amend discussion

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