Chainsaw Man, by mangaka Tatsuki Fujimoto, has become an iconic series already despite only beginning its publication run in 2018 and ending after just two years in 2020. As a short series, I’ve been amazed to see how many fans there are and that number is only growing with studio MAPPA’s anime of the series. Chainsaw Man Season 1 offers audiences the first arc in the series, and expertly weaves together humor, action, fanservice, and emotional gut punches to keep you tuning in each week.
When it comes to the humor of the series, it’s the kind that makes the series easy to dismiss. I mean, who wants to watch a series where the titular character is only saving the day because he wants to touch a boob? But this reductionist take on the series does a large disservice to what emotional depth those boob jokes are covering up. Yes, that’s a sentence I just typed, and I stand by it. Denji is a character who hasn’t just led a hard life but has had his body ripped apart from the moment that he was saddled with his dad’s debt.
Having sold his organs and eventually left for dead by the same people he worked for, Denji is at the bottom of a trash can, both figuratively and literally. The way we laugh at his grand dreams of touching a boob, making out with a hot girl, or even having sex is met with equal sadness when we also see that the other dreams on his list were to have a hot meal, sleep in a bed, and sing in the shower. His ideal life is the life that we all and the characters in the series take for granted. When you look at the layers the series provides, the fanservice is just there at the top, resting atop a mountain of tragedy and trauma that you only get when you buckle in for the ride.
The fanservice never overpowers the action and both of those elements don’t ever overpower the more intimate character relationships we see in the series, particularly where Aki is concerned. Instead, each element of the story helps to build the other. The humor offers a reprieve from the emotional weightiness of it all, while the action pays off the series’ larger lore about devils and the need to protect the population from them. Everything is at the service of a story and one thing is clear, studio MAPPA deeply cares about Fujimoto’s story.
When changes are made (outside some dialogue choices that tone down some of the unionization jokes in the manga), they’re made to offer more depth to the characters that we see. From small scenes of Aki checking his hair before seeing Makima to more time with Himeno, MAPPA deserves praise for their emotional storytelling and direction just as much as their ability to animate some of the most breathtaking action sequences in anime to date.
Chainsaw Man is already iconic and that has to do with the tenderness it shows as much as the brutality it puts its characters through. In order to make the shocking moments truly take hold, you have to first make sure the audience is connected to them through. You build empathy before ripping the character away from your viewer and that is captured perfectly. As a series, Chainsaw Man Season 1 contains a multitude of experiences for its audience.
The series has horror, violence, fanservice, humor, and above all else, brutal deaths of characters we’ve come to love. From the beginning, chainsaw Man Season 1 has made sure that every element of the series works together smoothly, using each component to build on the other, working to offer satisfying moments both in visual style and emotional depth.
And none of this is more clear than in Chainsaw Man Episode 12‘s opening scene. We see Himeno through Aki’s eyes, and then, we see her reach back to him through the Ghost Devil. It’s a three-and-a-half-minute sequence that packs a wallop. In truth, MAPPA has made the most out of every minute of airtime they have to tell. The opening of every episode has expertly captured characters at their most vulnerable and done so through mostly silence. The narrative weight each scene carries comes directly from the animation’s directors Tatsuya Yoshihara (action) and Yūsuke Takeda (art), with scene designer Yohei Miyahara and their choice to show characters in wide shots versus close-ups.
For Chainsaw Man, MAPPA has interestingly blended multiple animation styles. While the Denji in his devil form has 3D elements that thrive while in movement, the backgrounds are highly realistic —most easily noticed when food is in the scene—, and then you have the traditionally animated characters within each scene interacting with both elements. This creates striking scenes that excel in building atmosphere and allows the audience to feel what the character should be feeling in those moments. While we see it with Denji in the first episode of Chainsaw Man Episode 1 when he’s with Pochita, this technique is used heavily to showcase Aki’s melancholy and grief after Himeno’s death.
As Aki processes his grief and his need for revenge, he becomes small in the frame, and even hospital rooms become cavernous. He’s alone in those moments, and the coldness that reaches out from the screen is palpable. This is balanced against the season’s finale, where Aki is shown proportionately to the Ghost Devil. The devil appears insurmountable, but when Himeno finds a way to reach out to him, the loneliness is shattered as he takes up more of the frame with only the aftermath of his fight left.
Add in the post-credits sequence where the frame shows Aki in a similar position to how we’ve seen him before, smoking, but now connected to Himeno in a different way. When the scene switches focus from the act of smoking, it reveals the other two chaos gremlin Hayakawas (Power and Denji) passed on the floor in the apartment. These small shifts around one character happen in silence, in minutes, and pack in intimacy with the character and his surrounding that left me floored.
MAPPA’s ability to take minutes to build depth that some series can’t build in a whole season is proof of both their skill as storytellers as well as animators as much as it is a testament to the story that Fujimoto crafted in the manga first. Add in the final moments of this episode and the choice to make the final ending theme focus on our Hayakawas there is more to this series than the blood and violence it coats itself in. Aki, Power, and Denji are a family now, and by the end of this season, Aki has processed his place in everything by embracing his grief.
Even in the choice to change the ending theme to align with each episode’s story MAPPA has chosen to make sure that you’re not only thinking about the action awesomeness that we know them for but also their ability to create worlds and characters that have a reverence to their sources but also carry a different weight once animated.
Chainsaw Man Season 1 is perfect in every way. Bloody, beautiful, and extremely heartfelt all in the same breath. Given how MAPPA has handled this series, Jujutsu Kaisen, and even Attack on Titan, it’s clear that their wheelhouse is telling emotionally resonant stories with as much horror creativity, and darkness as you can give them. As a fan of the manga, I don’t think there is anything more I could have asked from this adaptation. If anything, with their adaptation and added moments, MAPPA has proven why both manga and anime can exist together telling the same story. Stronger when paired together, but able to stand on their own at the same time.
Chainsaw Man Season 1 is streaming now on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
Chainsaw Man Season 1
Chainsaw Man Season 1 is perfect in every way.