Although the fall anime season is stacked as hell, one anime sits atop the catalog of new and returning isekai, mecha, and shonen shows as the most hotly anticipated show of the year: Chainsaw Man. Whether you’re in the anime community or not, chances are decent you’ve seen fans hype up the manga—dubbing it “peak fiction,”—and experienced your social media timeline flood with waves of hype anticipating its anime adaptation following suit to become the pop-culture touchstone of the year. After watching its first episode, I can say that the Chainsaw Man anime more than lives up to the hype.
Chainsaw Man, created by Tatsuki Fujimoto, the mangaka (writer and artist) behind Fire Punch, follows Denji, a poor teenage boy who survives by taking on odd jobs from the local yakuza to kill devils with the help of his chainsaw devil named Pochita. Whatever luck Denji has seems to run out when his former employer cuts him down in an unceremonious Reservoir Dogs-esque killing, but somehow this leaves Denji with the power to turn into a chainsaw devil himself. After coming under the employ of the commanding and entrancing Makima, Denji takes on killing other devils as the fearsome Chainsaw Man.
I watched the first episode of Chainsaw Man via a screener, and it’s scheduled to premiere today for attendees at New York Comic Con. For those wanting to watch in the comfort of their own home, Chainsaw Man will start streaming on Crunchyroll on October 11.
As someone who first experienced Chainsaw Man by reading all of it in one sitting a year ago, I’m envious of anime-only viewers who’ll get to experience it for the first time through anime studio Mappa’s adaptation. Much like how studio Trigger recently reeled in its trademark bombastic action so that it does not outshine the emotional weight of its Netflix anime series, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, so too does Mappa as it goes about setting the stage of Denji’s hard-knock life and depicting how his companionship with Pochita makes it worth living.
While Chainsaw Man’s manga is known for its blistering pace, the anime’s first episode doesn’t overwhelm the senses. Instead, it eases you into its cruel and briefly beautiful world, kind of like submerging yourself into a warm jacuzzi while knowing that a bucket of cold water will soon be dumped on you. But things are nice now, and the emotional devastation that’ll come later will be a problem for future you. This is appropriate, considering that’s the same experience Denji goes through over the course of the first episode.
Denji’s life sucks big time. After inheriting his father’s debt, Denji sells his kidney, right eye, and one of his own nuts in order to make rent. Denji’s life is an unending conveyor belt of L-taking; at one point he eats a dude’s cigarette on a dare just to make a couple of bucks. Still, Denji finds some light at the end of his never-ending tunnel of woes by holding fast to his dreams one day coming true.
Unlike Naruto’s knuckle-headed ninja unabashedly pointing at the metaphorical WrestleMania sign and proclaiming that he’ll one day become his village’s Hokage—tantamount to being a ninja wizard president—Denji’s dreams aren’t as lofty or far-fetched. In fact, they’re so simple that they teeter between being pitiful and downright endearing You see, my man’s dreams are basically just to experience the lower tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The dude just wants to live in a house, eat some bread (preferably with jam on it) and have someone to hold him at night. Despite Chainsaw Man being the first-ever role of Denji’s seiyuu (Japanese voice actor) Kikunosuke Toya, he might as well be an industry veteran given how wonderfully his vocal performance fully embodies the desperation and longing bubbling underneath Denji’s devil-may-care attitude.
The first episode adapts Chainsaw Man’s 55-page initial chapter but trades its breakneck pacing for a more measured pace that lets those story beats breathe. In so doing, it not only gives off a similar vibe of melancholy and dread as Silent Hill 2’s opening act, it effectively eases the viewer into its bleak world.
Animation-wise, much like how Studio Bones transformed the seemingly static and minimalistic manga panels of One’s Mob Psycho 100 into a sakuga masterpiece of an anime, Mappa also breathes new life into Chainsaw Man’s already hyperventilating world. While most anime usually don’t feel their budget kick in until around the 20th episode, Mappa maintains the feature-film animation quality of its summer blockbuster movie, Jujutsu Kaisen 0, throughout the entire runtime of Chainsaw Man’s first episode. In quiet moments, you can see dew forming on blades of grass and condensation accumulating on window sills, almost like Mappa ray-traced its 3D animated sequences using a GeForce RTX 4090 graphics card.
When the violence hits, Mappa cranks the manga’s “11 out of 10” level of ultraviolence and cranks it up to 12. The climactic final action sequence between Denji and a horde of zombies is a beautiful gory masterpiece that would give anime studio ufotable’s work on Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works a run for its money. In similar fashion, Mappa’s action choreography in Chainsaw Man is a seamless mix of hand-drawn animation and 3D modeling that complement each other neatly. Denji revs his chainsaw arms (and chainsaw head) into the flesh of enemies with the same satisfying, pulpy pop as the plasma cutter in Dead Space.
Unlike shonen anime like Dragon Ball Z or JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, where relative power levels are determined by the amount of training or strategic mastery of its characters, the pecking order for devils within Chainsaw Man is derived from the amount of terror a devil’s name brings. Much like how the Chainsaw Man in Resident Evil 4 is leagues scarier than its Las Plagas zombies, so too is Denji when he fuses with Pochita to become the legendary Chainsaw Man and completely eviscerates the Zombie Devil. This former human’s got a promisingly dark future ahead of him
Time will tell whether Chainsaw Man’s legacy will lead it to dethrone Mappa’s other side project, Attack on Titan: The Final Season, as one of the most important anime to release this decade. But if its first episode is anything to go off of, it’s definitely in the running.