This Chainsaw Man review contains spoilers.
Chainsaw Man Episode 1
Every year it seems like anime gets weirder, wilder, and more creative. There’s a natural tendency to keep moving forward that continues to push the medium to extreme places. This excess can function at the series’ surface level, but it’s also led to a trend where stylized expressions of magic, energy, or even violence can become powerful metaphors for the internal problems that consume us all. A lot of anime have pushed this idea to the extreme, but few are more ridiculous than Chainsaw Man, an anime where a mild-mannered teen named Denji transforms into a chainsaw-limbed God of destruction. In Chainsaw Man, this weapon’s engine revs loudly and body parts and viscera fly with reckless abandon, but the noise of this spectacle doesn’t drown out the heart and soul of the characters underneath.
The biggest fault against Chainsaw Man’s first episode is that it’s exactly that: a first episode. Chainsaw Man exposes audiences to a radical new universe of Devils, but “Dog & Chainsaw” is endemic of many extravagant anime premieres that hold back on answers and instead feast on spectacles. That being said, “Dog & Chainsaw” still accomplishes its goal and it contains flashes of brilliance, brutality, and creativity.
This premiere doesn’t attempt to bite off more than it can chew and it’s largely focused on Denji and his sordid lot in life. It’s not until the episode’s final seconds that Maki and the rest of Public Safety show up to complicate the story and introduce Denji to a whole new world of professional Devil Hunters. In fact, there’s a lot in common with the first episode of Chainsaw Man and the premieres of Devilman Crybaby or Tokyo Ghoul, two other dark anime where a beleaguered protagonist gets tempted over to a transformative world of evil. This is hardly a fresh anime trope, but hopefully Chainsaw Man manages to avoid the same pitfalls that held back these at-one-point similar seinen series.
On that note, Denji is a fairly generic anime protagonist–at least at this point–but he still stands out and earns the audience’s empathy. He manages to come across as relatable, despite the extremely morbid turn that his life takes. After everything that he’s experienced he just wants to pay off his father’s debt, balance the karmic scales, and live an incredibly basic life that consists of simple pleasures like a girlfriend who he can hug and play video games with. At no point does this premiere ever make the audience want to write Denji off, which is paramount to the success of this story.
“Dog & Chainsaw” largely wallows in Denji’s growing nihilism as the world continues to chew him up and spit him out. This premiere hammers in the dark nature of this world, but it’s not completely void of levity and silliness. Pochita, the adorable chainsaw dog, is a perpetual ray of sunshine who must be protected at all costs. He’s literally the secret weapon of the premiere and there’s already such a strong bond and chemistry that exists between him and Denji. It’s very clear that this dynamic is going to be the anime’s beating heart.
Anime audiences have become increasingly savvy over the different animation studios that bring their favorite series to life. MAPPA Studio (Jujutsu Kaisen, Kakegurui, Attack on Titan: The Final Season) has a prolific reputation where they push themselves so hard that fans are actually worried about their livelihoods. MAPPA and Tatsuki Fujimoto’s detailed manga artwork seemed like a sublime match and it’s encouraging to report that MAPPA doesn’t skimp in the slightest here. This first episode looks gorgeous, but there’s equally impressive sound design, especially when it comes to the vicious massacre in the final act when Denji’s Chainsaw Man form first reveals itself. Every screech, saw, and squelch is visceral.
Any concerns over MAPPA’s adaptation failing to match the extreme levels of violence that are present in the pages of the manga can safely be dismissed. “Dog & Chainsaw” is an incredibly gory premiere and the final act’s climax claims dozens of lives in the messiest means possible. It relishes and glorifies grisly moments that the manga otherwise dwells on with a certain passivity. It definitely feels as if these violent battles will be what audiences most talk about in Chainsaw Man, but thankfully that’s not all that the show has to offer.
Admittedly, this is a tight, sparse premiere that’s dense in atmosphere and action, but otherwise lacking in humor and other means of levity. That’s not necessarily mandatory at this point, but a slightly broader premiere would better show off what Chainsaw Man can really do. These are minor complaints over a first episode that for all intents and purposes is quite entertaining and looks to be the start of something great. Its engine is already screaming into overdrive. It just needs to make sure that it doesn’t prematurely run out of gas. Chainsaw Man is likely to become everyone’s next anime obsession, but it’s still a little early to crown it with this title.
The first episode of Chainsaw Man is available to stream on Crunchyroll now.