Directed by Tatsuya Yoshihara & Ryuu Nakayama
Produced by MAPPA
Streaming on Crunchyroll
I struggled for a hot minute on how to handle this review. Chainsaw Man was the first manga that I reviewed, and it’s wild that it is finally here. I’ve spent so much time hyping up the Chainsaw Man anime that now that I need to write a review actually appraising it, I’m at a dead-end.
It feels wrong to follow my usual template. I’ve already said that the writing is masterful, that Tatsuki Fujimoto isn’t just the best writer-illustrator working for Shonen Jump today, but maybe ever, and what more can I say? I already broke down the characters, what makes them so appealing, and I think it’s honestly some of my best work.
So, I’m going to go off-script a little bit here, and try to break down what makes Chainsaw Man special, while not repeating anything I’ve said previously. That’s going to be a monumental task, because it’s actually really hard writing about why something is so good that it doesn’t have any defects.
So, let’s see if this works out or blows up in my face.
To understand Chainsaw Man, first, you have to understand its author, Tatsuki Fujimoto. His inspirations are eclectic, drawing from a wide range of classic and new wave cinema, but he’s particular about the themes in his work. He’s fascinated by mortality, the creative process, and how both influence and drive people’s behavior.
That becomes clearer the more of his work you read. Chainsaw Man is a good jumping on point, as Fujimoto made it his most accessible story. Fire Punch is just bananas, while Look Back and Goodbye, Eri are somber, introspective stories. Chainsaw Man is all that and a very gory bag of chips.
But you should read everything Fujimoto puts out, because they all contribute to a fuller picture of a writer who is hard to put in just one box. In his one-shots, where he isn’t bound by the needs of a weekly shonen magazine to have a series of high-octane fights and digestible characters and storylines, he can produce some of his best work. I’ve already written about Look Back, which you can read here, but both are masterpieces.
Some writers are brilliant for their ability to address complex ideas, while others are no less talented for speaking to the heart of a simple one. Tatsuki Fujimoto, though, is special because he writes about complex ideas with such simplistic grace that you wonder what made it so complicated to begin with.
So, if director duo Ryuu Nakayama and Tatsuya Yoshihara and scriptwriter Hiroshi Seko were already gifted a manuscript from the heavens to produce the Chainsaw Man anime, how did they do? I have to say, they did an amazing job. Studio MAPPA is one of the biggest names in the anime industry right now, but I would not say their reputation stems from the consistency of their animation.
What would Jujutsu Kaisen be as an anime without Sunghoo Park’s fight choreography? Or Dance Dance Danseur without Munehisa Sakai’s knack for making ballet as intense as a battle? Before even thinking of these anime as “by MAPPA”, I first think of them as the product of their directors, more so than other studios.
Chainsaw Man is perhaps the most gorgeous anime that MAPPA has produced to date, easily standing with the best from other industry icons like Bones and Ufotable. Before this, I really haven’t thought much of MAPPA’s work with CGI, because the results from past series like Attack on Titan have just been okay. Here, they have irrevocably blurred the line between traditional and digital animation.
The fight choreography is probably not what many people were expecting. I’ve seen complaints that Denji is sluggish, but that might just be a problem when people have had so long to look at static manga panels that they aren’t inclined to think about the way real things move. Chainsaws don’t cut cleanly; they rip and tear, and Denji’s attacks hold believable weight and momentum.
Putting CGI into anime is hard. Putting digital imagery next to hand-drawn animation requires a massive amount of work and talent to pull off without looking weird. Then, the movements of that 3D model are under much more scrutiny than traditional animation; if your characters don’t move right, it’s going to feel wobbly and disorienting.
Chainsaw Man isn’t just pioneering as a manga, it’s pushing the boundaries of blending 2D and 3D animation.
I briefly touched on it in my essay on Chainsaw Man last year, which you can read here, but there’s a good reason for Chainsaw Man’s runaway success. I mean, it’s just unprecedented for a manga to receive this much attention years before the anime was even announced. It’s simple; everyone can appreciate Chainsaw Man to the full extent that they want to.
Chainsaw Man balances so many disparate tones and styles of storytelling that it is immediately accessible on the level that its audience wants to engage with it. It throws crude comedy, dark philosophical character writing, relentless bloody action, and rollercoaster-esque pacing at the audience. If Fujimoto didn’t use each tool so masterfully, it could almost be overwhelming.
Long, long ago, I wrote an essay dissecting the greatest hype beast in anime, Attack on Titan. To give you the long and short of it, author Hajime Isayama created a series where each moment of action builds to the next, creating a gradual crescendo of hype. Chainsaw Man’s a little different.
Fujimoto knows all too well when to use subtlety and when to abandon it. In this case, he throws it out the window as he continually strives to one-up the insanity of each fight. There’s moments of downtime, as there have to be, lest the audience wear themselves out on sheer excitement, but when the fights start, he keeps his foot on the accelerator until the last bloody bit.
Some people don’t like to think critically about the shows they watch. Other people love to pick it apart until they can see how each moving part affects another. Personally, it’s a matter of what I’m watching and when. Chainsaw Man, though, is tailored to whatever style of viewing you prefer.
If you like the tale of Dennis who just wants to touch a boob, then you are going to get a 10/10 experience for that. If you want a brutal shonen thrill ride, you’re going to get a 10/10 experience for that. If you want characters grappling with deep questions, both in fights with monsters and with themselves, well, you can guess what I’m going to tell you.
It doesn’t matter what you want, Chainsaw Man has it.
I’ve talked very little about the anime itself, except for a portion about its presentation, but when you’re dealing with a story that is this good, the animation is kind of all you need to talk about. I thought I was eating good with Blue Lock, but I wasn’t ready for Chainsaw Man.
I’m not going to score Chainsaw Man. Maybe that’s a let-down if you’re one of those people who scrolls to the end to see what the score is before they read a single world, but you just need to know it’s peak fiction. Read it or watch it, but I think you should do both.
While this Chainsaw Man craze goes on, might I also suggest reading Look Back and Goodbye Eri? And if you’re not too emotionally worn-out from those, maybe just take a glance at my Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku where I’m going to be barking for Makima with the rest of the simps. Until next time, thanks for reading.