Review: ‘Chainsaw Man, Vol. 1’ by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Straight from my Goodreads profile.


While the first volume by itself is closer to four stars, I’ve read the first three already, and I’m hooked.

A brutal dark comedy set in an alternate modern world in which powerful, more or less sentient demons appear suddenly to cause mayhem, so the various societies have set up organized ways to hunt them down. The friendlier demons offer contracts to humans in exchange of boons, usually to gain superpowers that would allow that person to hunt down worse demons.

We don’t know any of these details as we are dropped into this story to follow an orphan whose pet is a dog demon with a chainsaw sticking out of its head. This kid’s dad got in debt with the Yakuza but then died, so the Yakuza are forcing the son to pay off the debt through murdering demons that presumably have a bounty on their head.

I was already enjoying the somewhat sloppy, but very expressive art style, but when the inciting incident hit, I got why this series has become one of the most popular ones: our protagonist, now a teenager, [spoiler] gets betrayed by his Yakuza handlers, who have made a deal with a demon: they murder the protagonist along with his pet demon. They chop him in pieces and throw him in a dumpster. But the kid, while he was still alive, had made a contract with his pet demon: it was free to take over his body once he died. The sentient demonic dog liked the kid well enough, so he resurrects the protagonist, physically takes over his heart, and turns him into a devilman, a cross between a human and a devil [/spoiler].

The protagonist becomes one of those extremely common cases in Japanese fiction in which he rides both worlds: the common world of humans and the special, conceptual world of this story. Whenever he can pull the cord that hangs from a hole in his chest, he transforms into a devilman with chainsaws coming out of his head and arms; along with his unstable nature, that turns him into a proficient killer.

We are introduced to the broader setting through meeting so far the most important person of an organization that hunts down devils: a beautiful, mysterious, poised young woman called Makima. She embraces the protagonist as he was coming down from his murderous rage, the first kind gesture any human being had for him, so he agrees to become this woman’s “dog”, who’ll kill whoever she orders him to.

The protagonist is my kind of guy: illiterate, half-wild, worried mainly about figuring out whether or not he’ll get to eat and sleep soundly that day, eager to kill to satisfy the first woman who was kind to him, and solely driven by his need to fondle some boobs. His ridiculousness, short-sightedness and general lack of care for whatever big plots may be cooking contrast with the human cast around him. I found this guy refreshing; the tremendously driven protagonists of other series often seem to know from the get-go that they are getting involved in several-seasons-long plots that will involve killing increasingly tougher enemies.

We also meet a fast favorite “devilman” partner: an even wilder young woman who calls herself Power and is contracted to a Blood Demon, which gives her the ability to conjure weapons out of her own blood. She’s crass, impulsive, a pathological liar, has two horns sticking out of her head, refuses to flush the toilet, and is so far solely driven by her need to rescue her cat.

I’ve already read the first three volumes. I hadn’t gotten this hooked on a manga series in a while. It’s dark and brutal, yet consistently funny. The author throws you into increasingly deranged and convoluted circumstances that you live through along with the protagonist and the other characters you get to care about.

The worldbuilding and the protagonist’s role in it are suspiciously similar to ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’, another tremendously popular series, but ‘Chainsaw Man’ contains the kind of brutal grittiness that I wished the other series contained (I ended up dropping it because I couldn’t take it as seriously as it wanted). Even the protagonist’s handler, a demure loner contracted to a canid demon, is virtually identical to his counterpart in ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’. As far as I’m concerned, this series does everything better except that it lacks Nobara Kugisaki.

Some of the best animators in the world are already working on the anime adaptation of this series, which will surely become a hit:

Don’t Google anything about this series. The author isn’t afraid to make you care about his characters only to kill them brutally a short time later. You gotta admire that kind of shit.

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