‘Chainsaw Man’ review: the season’s wildest new anime reels you in with balletic brutality

This blood-spattered show about a kid who can turn any part of his body into a chainsaw is the most hyped freshman anime of 2022

No freshman anime in 2022 is coming in with as much hype as Chainsaw Man. Even in an absurdly stacked month that features the long-awaited return of Bleach alongside new seasons of My Hero Academia, Mob Psycho 100 and Spy x Family, this adaptation of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s bonkers manga has been dominating discourse on otaku social media. Much of the intrigue among the uninitiated simply has to do with its wild premise: a guy turns into a living chainsaw and hunts devils. But the full story is actually far weirder.

Chainsaw Man is set in a world where hellish creatures known as devils roam the Earth. The premiere introduces us to Denji, a teenager who lives in poverty with his adorable chainsaw-headed devil dog Pochita. Saddled with a mountain of debt thanks to his deadbeat dad, Denji resorts to selling his organs to survive. By day, he’s a part-time lumberjack, using Pochita to chop down trees for a little extra cash. By night, he works for his late father’s Yakuza creditors as a devil hunter, slaying and selling demon corpses on the black market.

The exhausted and depressed Denji dreams of a normal life, which in his mind consists of simple pleasures like hugging a girlfriend and spreading jam on the single slice of bread he eats in a day. But things get even worse for our downtrodden protagonist when he’s lured into a trap by his Yakuza boss and sliced to pieces by a devil-controlled zombie horde. As he dies, the faithful Pochita saves Denji’s life by possessing him – turning him into a half-human, half-devil entity who is able to transform any part of his body into a chainsaw.

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The birth of the titular Chainsaw Man is the first moment the anime revs up from sombre and melancholy into a glorious gore-fest. The climatic sequence where Denji gleefully eviscerates hundreds of zombies is a ballet of brutality that is also intensely cathartic – because it’s the first time in Denji’s life that he’s able to seize control. This is where MAPPA (the animation studio famed for Attack On Titan and Jujutsu Kaisen) once again excel at breathing life into monstrous manga illustrations. While the series mostly uses 2D hand-drawn animation, Chainsaw Man himself is animated using 3D CG during action scenes. He’s an otherworldly killing machine deliberately out of place with the rest of his environment.

When three government-sanctioned devil hunters discover the aftermath of Chainsaw Man’s carnage the following morning, their clinical and enigmatic leader Makima becomes fascinated with Denji. She offers him an ultimatum: either die at their hands as a devil, or work with them as a devil hunter. Enticed by the beautiful woman (who offers him a hug), the idea of a steady job and the promise of breakfast (butter and jam on bread), Denji tearfully accepts the offer.

So ends Chainsaw Man’s compelling premiere. No wonder this series is already the talk of the town – within 25 minutes, we’ve been introduced into a gritty yet fantastical world, felt for the simple and sympathetic Denji, gotten a taste of the violence, chaos and gnarliness to come, and been left to ponder a slew of interesting questions. Will Denji’s newfound power overtake his humanity? What’s up with Makima and her agency? Fujimoto’s manga is notorious for its swift escalation, so expect Chainsaw Man to get exponentially wilder going forward. We’re in for a blood-spattered roller coaster ride.

New episodes of Chainsaw Man drop weekly on Crunchyroll and Prime Video in various territories.

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