Weekly Shonen Jump has always offered a diverse range of comics, but people tend to know it best for ones that follow a certain formula. Young man gets or has special abilities, then uses it to prove himself and potentially make a difference in the world. The greats, like Dragon Ball, Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece all follow that formula. And, well, so does Chainsaw Man. The Tatsuki Fujimoto series, which began running in the magazine in December 2018 and has since been picked up by Viz Media, is finding its footing elsewhere and we’ll see Chainsaw Man volume 1 released in North America on October 6. It’s just this series also is completely visceral and plays by its own rules.
Chainsaw Man begins by playing with those expectations. We meet Denji, a young man with a ¥38,040,000 debt recounting the ways he’s started to pay it down. It seems simple, since it started with ¥60,000 per month cutting trees, but it quickly escalates to selling a kidney and cutting out an eye. But, even though things are terrible, Denji has dreams, is optimistic, and there’s even a cute chainsaw-dog-demon sidekick named Pochita! We even see flashbacks of the pure friendship between Denji and Pochita, and how much this human and devil care for one another.
It’s then that reality hits again with a 1-2 punch, as we see Denji’s physically unwell and the people holding his debt are done using him.
It’s this first chapter of Chainsaw Man that sets the stage for the entire series. It wildly swings back and forth between wholesome, heartfelt moments with a genuinely lovable and blunt protagonist who deserves the best and visceral, gory, brutal carnage that suggests a brutal, painful world will never give anyone what they want or deserve. The setup makes you treasure those quiet, peaceful, affectionate, and funny moments all the more. Because sometimes it gets too quiet, and that’s when you know you’re going to get punched in the gut again.
Chainsaw Man’s first volume also does an exceptional job of setting up Denji’s relationships with other people. His first meeting with Makima, a Public Safety Devil Hunter, comes after an incredibly traumatic event and his first transformation into the Chainsaw Man. She’s everything he’s ever wanted—a cute girl who actually seems to give a damn about him and is offering him something as close to a normal life as he can get. In the first localized chapter, he says one of his dreams is for a girl to hug him, and she offers that unconditional sign of affection.
But then, this is Chainsaw Man. So even though we have that moment where we see Denji with the promise of everything he’s ever wanted, it comes with a threat that everything could be viciously stolen away.
His relationships with his other colleagues are set up to be much more straightforward. There’s Aki Hayakawa, who he’s forced to both patrol with and live with, and we get treated to a number of scenes where they physically and verbally go at each other. It is especially great when the duo come back from their first outing. Makima asks, “So what do you think? Can you get along?” Immediately, both reply. Denji, with, “Not a chance.” Aki, with, “This guy is scum…” You feel for Denji, because Aki is being a jerk. But also, after seeing how Denji can behave on and off the job, you get why he’s acting the way he does.
And then there’s Power. Power is the best and offers us an opportunity to see how Denji interacts with someone who’s more like himself. (You have to appreciate someone who introduces herself with, “Grovel, human!! My name is Power!”) Which is great, because it means he’s forced to deal with a person displaying personality traits he has (and that drive Aki nuts). She’s in a similar situation in the department as Denji, due to her nature as a fiend. It’s a fantastic dynamic and we get to see the foundation for it with their first two “missions” here.
My favorite line from Chainsaw Man volume 1 is when Denji responds to Aki asking if he’d want to befriend devils. Deni replies, “If there are devils I could be friends with, then yeah, I do. Cuz I don’t have any friends…” Even though Denji is surrounded by evil, filth, and unscrupulous, terrible people, he has this genuine innocence and pure heart. He wants these very basic, sometimes even wholesome things, but is in situations where he might never get them. Yet somehow, even though we know this series is going to play with our hearts, there’s always the hope that maybe we’ll get to see and enjoy watching him achieve some happiness as a Public Safety Devil Hunter.
Chainsaw Man volume 1 will launch in North America on October 1, 2020. Unfortunately, there are no games based upon it just yet.