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.

Review: ‘The Science of Storytelling’ by Will Storr

From time to time I post on Goodreads the reviews of books I’ve read, and some of those reviews may be suitable to appear in my personal blog or whatever this WordPress site is. I merely copy-pasted this text from that other site, but you might get something out of reading it (I doubt it).

Four and a half stars.

I used to be obsessed with reading books about writing techniques, surely because I believed there was a correlation between learning the right techniques and me being able to avoid having to work full-time at some office. After reality proved that hope to be a delusion (reality tends to do shit like that), I stopped reading such kinds of books for a while.

In any case, I learned I could classify them into three categories:

1) Those that don’t believe in rules and that want to inspire you to write. They love expressions like “writer’s block” as the reason why you can’t push scenes out. I found such books mostly useless, but I guess they help those who want to brute-force their way into writing a novel. Or at the very least, the kind words contained in such books comfort those writers as they inevitably end up stuck in a ditch.

2) Those that have studied many stories that worked, and have synthesized sets of rules or suggestions so you can build your own stories. They range from Campbell’s mythical stuff to random fiction writers of which I had never heard, but that have produced useful lists that probably improve your stories.

3) Those that realize that human brains are organic machines that respond in somewhat predictable, researchable ways to stimuli, so if a writer wants to capture the reader’s attention, surprise them or in general affect them reliably, there might be scientific studies out there that suggest how to do so. My favorite of this category might be Lisa Cron’s ‘Wired for Story’, but I can’t recall any other at the moment.

Although you can’t go wrong with many books of the second category, I prefer the latter. This book I’m reviewing contains plenty of references to scientific studies or to books on popular science to justify its conclusions.

In general, the author advocates for the following:

-One’s stories should be built around a main character’s fatal flaw. The book says plenty of interesting stuff about how to build those fatal flaws (the author calls them ‘sacred flaws’) and how they should affect the story.
-An inciting incident should kick off the story with unexpected change tailored to a main character’s fatal flaw, which causes that person to react in unexpected ways.
-The plot’s main goal should be a result of that main character’s reaction to the inciting incident.
-Instead of going on about acts like most books that get into plotting, the author considers that you should focus on figuring out different stages of that main character’s development, in which he or she is a “different” person.
-The story’s ending should answer definitely whether or not that main character has outgrown his or her fatal flaw, or if it has grown ten times worse.
-Character growth shouldn’t be limited to the main character. The writer should explore how the interactions between all the main characters cause them to grow (this is a contrast with other books that suggest that the rest of the cast should remain steadfast to avoid stepping on the main character’s journey of growth).
-Likely other stuff I can’t remember.

I would have rated the book five stars if some of its points didn’t get repetitive. For example, it brings up studies that show that our ancient brains make our decisions for us, and the parts of our brains that evolved later mostly make up a story of what has bubbled up to its department, the same way it tries to build a coherent narrative out of dreams. In general we just delude ourselves into thinking that we hold certain beliefs (religious, political, tastes, and about the people we love) for logical reasons. We are little else than filthy monkeys with delusions of grandeur, whose tribal impulses, that have changed little in millions of years, will inevitably fuck us all up. Such monkey-brained loons shouldn’t be trusted with the fate of thousands or millions, and to be honest we likely shouldn’t be writing books either.