In a world where devils are real and humans are frequently on the menu, Denji has only one concern – trying to earn enough money to pay off his deceased father’s debt to the Yakuza. But when Denji gets killed on the job, his pet dog devil Pochita fuses with him, reviving Denji as the powerful Chainsaw Man! His new powers bring Denji to the attention of the Public Safety Devil Hunters, who soon offer him a job. But hunting Devils is grisly work – will even his new Chainsaw Man powers be enough to keep Denji safe?
Over the past few years, there would be a general ripple in my social media feeds whenever a new chapter of Chainsaw Man was released. People would make deliberately vague comments about whatever the latest plot development had been, along with exhortations that everyone should read Chainsaw Man. I have to admit I resisted this low-level peer pressure at first, but after seeing some aesthetically pleasing fanart and hearing that an anime adaptation had been announced, I finally took the plunge.
Chainsaw Man takes place in a world where people’s fears give rise to devils, with everything from guns to darkness meriting its own devil. Devil Hunters in both the public and private sector attempt to take down these devils using a combination of special abilities and good old-fashioned projectile weapons. Hunting devils is hard work – battles are bloody, and the survival rate is extremely low.
Our protagonist on this adventure is Denji, a teenager whose primary goals are to eat good food and maybe get to touch some boobs. After he gains the power of the Chainsaw Devil, Denji is recruited by the Public Safety Devil Hunters, where his simple ambitions may well be fulfilled – as long as he uses his power to hunt down the devils that are threatening the public.
With these pieces in place, the series launches into a blend of classic shounen with added ultra-violence. Sure, Denji faces off against the classic series of ever-stronger enemies, but in this world, people can actually die. Being a named character is no proof against the afterlife – you’re just as likely to wind up in a bloody mess on the floor as any generic bystander.
It’s a heady combination – one that directly stimulates the entertainment centre of the brain and demands that you read just one more chapter. Certainly, for the first five volumes or so, I could understand why everyone loved this manga equivalent of crack cocaine. In fact, having devoured the first five volumes that were released in English, I knew I could hardly wait for the later ones to be released. Determined to read everything this series had to offer, I decided I absolutely had to take out a Shounen Jump subscription and read the rest via their app.
While I’m glad I was able to read all of Chainsaw Man’s “part one” (part two is still to even begin), I have to admit that, after experiencing the entire arc, I’m not really the wholehearted convert that I expected I would become. The reason for this is pretty straightforward – I just found the pacing to be far too rushed.
In its later chapters, Chainsaw Man gallops from plot twist to plot twist, barely stopping to breathe along the way. There are points where you might even start to wonder if you’ve missed a chapter or two, so rapidly does the story advance. Now, on the one hand, I can appreciate what the author is doing and why. In a classic shounen series, the hero might spend tens of chapters battling a single foe, but we all know that he’s going to defeat them in the end. So, therefore, why waste time on that preamble? Let’s just get to the meat of the story – the narrative beats where things actually happening. One might even argue that this should be refreshing when compared to the likes of Naruto or Dragonball Z.
However, there is such a thing as going too far in the other direction. Chainsaw Man rushes through its story at such a pace that the reader barely has time to breathe, or to properly appreciate some of its twists and turns. I can’t help feeling that I would have enjoyed the story more if I’d just been able to catch my breath a little.
When it comes to artwork, Chainsaw Man favours a sparse and simplistic style for its humanoid characters, saving the complexity for the weird and wonderful range of Devils that appear. While I like the art style overall, I have to admit that I often had difficulty telling human characters apart. This somewhat lessened the impact of dramatic moments and character deaths – was that someone I was supposed to recognise, or just a small bit player I was never meant to care about in the first place?
Chainsaw Man was an exciting ride, but it went by so fast that I was left feeling metaphorically winded and struggling to catch my breath. While I’m glad that I experienced it, I just couldn’t quite tap into the sheer love for it that others seem to have.
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