Chainsaw Man, Tatsuki Fujimoto’s supernatural horror action manga, won the hearts of fans and critics alike for its over-the-top action, macabre humor, and subtle balance between goofiness and heart-wrenching sobriety. And since the manga concluded its first part in Shonen Jump in December 2020, fans have been clamoring for an anime adaptation. Now, more than a year after studio MAPPA announced that Jujutsu Kaisen episode director Ryū Nakayama would helm the series, the first episode of Chainsaw Man has been unleashed upon the world out of the 2022 New York Comic Con — and it’s as glorious of a feel-bad good time as fans had hoped.
Fujimoto’s manga takes place in an alternate version of 1997 where humanity is plagued by a race of monsters known as Devils. Devils are born from human fears, manifesting into the world much in the same way as curses in Jujutsu Kaisen are born from a concentration of negative thoughts and emotions. There are all types of Devils in the world, from Devils born out of a fear of tomatoes (which is a real fear, by the way, look up “Lycopersicoaphobia”) to Devils born from a fear of zombies (likewise, it’s called “Kinemortophobia”). To combat these threats, humans employ Devil Hunters, individuals who either form “contracts” with Devils in order to attain supernatural abilities or specially trained warriors who employ conventional weapons against Devils.
Denji, the protagonist of the series, is one such Devil Hunter, but differs from others in a few crucial ways: He’s not licensed, he’s being exploited by the yakuza on the threat of death, and he’s perpetually flat broke, having sold several of his nonessential organs in a desperate attempt to claw his way out of the chasm of debt he finds himself in.
When the audience meets Denji in the series’ first episode, which roughly adapts the opening chapter of the Chainsaw Man manga in its entirety, he’s living out of a dilapidated sheet metal shack in the middle of a forest with Pochita, his pet Chainsaw Devil dog. The episode wastes no time in depicting the destitution of Denji’s life as he’s forced to throw himself into mortal peril in order to stay in the good graces of the loan sharks who would just as easily vivisect him as they would commend him for a job well done. In spite of his circumstances, or perhaps even because of them, Denji otherwise maintains an upbeat, albeit servile disposition toward his plight; happy enough to dream of a better life for himself and Pochita all while straining to survive under the boot heel of his yakuza bosses.
What will immediately strike viewers while watching the first episode of MAPPA’s Chainsaw Man adaptation is the series’ overall color scheme and layout designs. Like the majority of manga published in Japan, Fujimoto’s original series is for the most part rendered in black and white. The few notable exceptions are in the opening of select chapters of the manga, which evince a world of more exuberant color than what one might expect from the melancholic bent of the series’ characters and plot.
The world of Chainsaw Man as envisioned by MAPPA, however, is one composed of varying degrees of bleached gray and desaturated white inflected with undertones of muted color peeking its way through. The episode as a whole bears a striking resemblance to the opening animated sequences of the first season of Jujutsu Kaisen directed by Shingo Yamashita, particularly in the color palette of the second opening.
The characterization of Denji in the first episode also merits mention. Denji’s personality is faithful to that of his first appearance in the manga — he’s a mopey horndog of a teenager with very little in the way of social graces. While this, naturally, may rebuff viewers who are coming to Chainsaw Man without prior knowledge of the series, Denji’s immaturity is directly in line with not only the character’s background — which was alluded to during a flashback in the episode — but a crucial starting point in what will eventually become his arc into young adulthood.
To put it another way: Denji’s character arc is basically him ascending Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, moving from base physiological concerns of food and safety before finally reaching a form of self-actualization. If you’re annoyed or put off by Denji now, give it a couple of episodes before you throw in the towel. The kid’s a mess, for sure, but he’s got heart. Or at the very least, a benevolent heart-shaped Devil with a rip cord tail where his heart should be.
There’s a lot to love and take away from the first episode of Chainsaw Man, from the beautifully rendered backgrounds to the impressive character animation evident in its thrilling, gore-laden climax. The opening salvo also offers tantalizing hints of Devilman Crybaby composer Kensuke Ushio’s abrasive EDM score, and how it may expand. With the first season of Chainsaw Man confirmed to be 12 episodes, it’s a strong start to what by all appearances looks to be an exceptional and unique series.
It would be an understatement to call Chainsaw Man one of the most anticipated anime premieres of the fall season, if not the most anticipated, full stop. Fortunately for fans, the first episode rises to meet and exceed those expectations.
Chainsaw Man premieres on Oct. 11 and will stream on Crunchyroll. New episodes will release each Tuesday.