Chainsaw Man - Season One
A young man named Denji is trying to pay off a debt to the Yakuza incurred by his father. When he saves a Devil (more or less resembling a dog, with a chainsaw for a nose) that he names Pochita, you'd think the task would be easier, but his Yakuza boss betrays him. Fortunately, Pochita is able to save Denji by merging with his body, which makes Denji semi-immortal, and also gives him the ability to turn his arms (AND his head) into chainsaws. This attracts the interest of Public Safety Division 4, which has a unit that uses people allied with Devils to fight "rogue" Devils.
"I mean, three square meals a day and good sleep every night is pretty awesome to me" - Denji
I don't think it's the violence per se that I had a problem with, since I've enjoyed (or at least found interesting) several extremely violent, way over-the-top shows (some of them are in the Recs); nothing in Chainsaw Man out-outrages the eviscerations in Calamity of a Zombie Girl, for example, although Chainsaw Man DOES find some new ways to be tasteless in other departments.
No, I think the main problem I had with this show was the hype. You'd think the show was the Second Coming from the response in Crunchy (42,000 views of the first episode, versus 3,800 for the first episode of Raven of the Inner Palace, which I liked much better.) Does it live up to the hype? No, because it would be impossible for ANY show to live up to this kind of hype.
But setting the hype aside, how is the show? Better than I expected, at this point, and judging by the Wikipedia entry on the manga, these first 12 episodes have only scratched the surface of quite an involved saga. And there are signs that this might be trying to be a "thinking person's" visceral anime, just as I guess Evangelion was supposed to be a "thinking person's" mecha anime. (Though I still think Evangelion was pretentious as hell, which is not really a charge you can level at Chainsaw Man.)
Both Evangelion and Chainsaw Man can be psychoanalyzed, for one thing. Evangelion had a Freudian (specifically Oedipal) preoccupation, but Chainsaw Man kind of lends itself to developmental psychology, specifically Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs. In Maslow's formulation, which is usually depicted as a pyramid, humans were said to work on achieving needs starting at the bottom (base) of the pyramid first, then working upwards toward the top. From bottom to top, they are: physiological, safety, belonging and love, esteem, cognitive, aesthetic, self-actualization, and transcendence.
Denji had been struggling mostly at the bottom of the pyramid, the physiological needs; the Yakuza had been swindling him, and he had been barely getting by, chronically hungry and even having to sell body parts. (I guess these were restored when Pochita merged with him?) Joining Division 4 brings him to the Safety (well, except when he's pitted against Devils and their users, of course) and Belonging levels; and as for Love, Denji's a young man with little experience with human relationships, so he feels sex will do instead. We will note that certain women quickly take advantage of Denji's yearnings for their own ends- EVERYBODY (well, ALMOST everybody) exploits this guy. But as the Denji quote at the beginning of the review indicates, he may indeed be finally wondering if there's more to life than what he has, and I gather from the Wiki synopsis of the manga that Denji will, in fact, work his way up Maslow's Hierarchy, in time. So yes, the show does have aspirations to being more substantial than others of its nature. And perhaps it even avoids completely succumbing to nihilism, which is also commendable.
I can't fault the art here at all. The show has the look of a high-end graphic novel. MAPPA did an impressive job of it.
I'm still trying to work out the Infernal Cosmology here. I gather that Devils are more powerful than, say, Demon Slayer's demons; most of the Division 4 crew have acquired powers through pacts with them, and they're led by Makima, an apparently beautiful woman who is nevertheless a Devil herself. (The "Control Devil"; you'll see why. This ugly/evil versus beautiful/(good?) Devils thing recalled the Youmus in Beyond the Boundary; something else recalled that show, too, but I'll get to that later.)
Nicoletta said she'd heard there were strong female characters in the show. Well, ABOUT that:
-Kobeni Higashiyama is part of the Division 4 force that accompanies Denji in his first group assault on a Devil. The Devil in question plays a mind trick on the team to disorient them; and Kobeni quickly, totally, freaks out. I was saying to myself, "Why is this utter coward on the team?", but then later Kobeni comes charging, pistol blazing, into the middle of a fight that even Denji was having trouble with. (This is a severe understatement, by the way.) So I guess she's OK as long as it's a stand-up fight?
-"Power" is supposed to be a Fiend (a Devil that's occupying a deceased human‘s body.) She's arrogant, thoughtless, reckless, and, above all, selfish. (She's one of the first to take advantage of Denji's naivete for her own ends. I have to confess that I used to know a young woman with a personality very similar to Power's, so I may be a little prejudiced against her.) Power's power is pretty much the same as Mirai's in the aforementioned Beyond the Boundary. I TOLD you I'd get back to that.
-Makima, like Power, wants to string Denji along for her own ends, though since she has more "class", and is more mysterious, Denji's desire for her runs deeper than his lust for Power. (Sometimes the jokes write themselves, you know.) I was a little puzzled over something here: given the sacrifices required to make Makima's (grisly) ability work, why was she picking on the small (and easily replaceable) fry, rather than the more dangerous Devil-handlers? It seemed like a lack of intelligence; and it fact, it really was. (Can't say more.)
-There was ONE woman who sincerely wanted to have sex with Denji, though I think she ended up just leaving a bad taste in his mouth. She was also the only woman among the leads that I felt much sympathy for. And, again, I'll say no more.
A fair warning to the viewer: don't get attached to ANY character in the cast (except, perhaps, Denji). The show has a Game of Thrones attitude toward its cast, meaning the (relatively) good ones have no real survival advantages over the more rotten ones. But the show DOES go out of its way to prophesy the imminent demise of ONE character, I guess to keep us from feeling too bad when they're done in. (This is the other main character that I sort of liked, by the way, despite an unprovoked attack they make early in the show.)
The usual miscellany:
-At one point, Denji is actually cut in two. Well, he's semi-immortal (by the way, that lowers any sense of peril you might have for the guy). But I did wonder if they'd have to glue him back together (as was done in Gleipnir), though I secretly hoped that each half would grow the complementary other half (as in flatworms), and we might have TWO Denjis.
-We have a re-creation (optically censored) of a scene described in the works of the Marquis de Sade. No titillation here, though, it's just gross.
-Division 4 seems to have some problem avoiding collateral damage. It looks like the reconstruction of a considerable part of Japan will be required.
- The main villain that Division 4 is pursuing is the Gun Devil, to whom firearm massacres in the U.S. are attributed. I don't think "the Devil made them do it" is really a good explanation for U.S. gun violence.
How to rate this? It's not purely carnage for its own sake; as I've tried to stress, it also seems to have aspirations to be a kind of twisted Pilgrim's Progress (albeit with blood, and gore, and chainsaws). The late film critic Roger Ebert used to say it's not WHAT a show is about, it's HOW it's about it, and while I'm sure a lot of the fans of this show are just there to see flesh rended, it DOES also operate on a there's-more-that-we-haven't-shown-you-yet basis; it does have a sense of humor (though a crude and/or warped one at times); and one wishes Denji well, simply because he's been such a victim for so long. The whole thing's ridiculous, but it's a very well-worked-out sort of ridiculous. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Rightstuf rates the manga 14+. To me, that's way too young for the anime, which includes bodies ripped apart and spewing blood everywhere, several characters get bisected, and there's sexual innuendo and "boob touching". I would have gone 16+, to be honest.
Version(s) Viewed: Crunchyroll video stream
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Chainsaw Man - Season One © 2022 Tatsuki Fujimoto/Shueisha, MAPPA
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