I’ll murderize that devil.
Yes, murderize. This line is an example of some of the fantastic dialogue from volume one of Chainsaw Man, a popular recent manga serialized in Shonen Jump magazine. And I’m not even being facetious—while this series doesn’t break new ground in its initial chapters when it comes its plot of half-demons and bloody battles involving a specialized police force, Chainsaw Man does add an unexpected layer of discourse that’s sometimes heartfelt and often hilarious, promising a manga that could outdo it’s kin in the demon hunting world.
The speaker of much of the offbeat dialogue is Denji, a young man who destroys demons to pay off his deceased father’s debt to the yakuza, assisted by a cute dog-like creature named Pochita. When he runs into a situation that’s more than he can handle, Denji is given an second opportunity to live, and more than that, a chance for the life he’s always hoped for. A destitute and suffering boy, Denji doesn’t desire riches or power—he just wants a normal life, one in which he can satiate his basic desires for things like food and sexual satisfaction. And Makima, a Public Safety Devil Hunter, give him that chance in return for use of his now unusual half-demon, half-human powers (which turn him into the titular Chainsaw Man), and for his strict and utmost obedience.
The story of a soul who in transformed into a demon-like creature and then becomes involved with a government entity that eliminates demons has been tread before in other series, most notably through Tokyo Ghoul. In fact, Chainsaw Man seems to be filling the hole left when that mega-hit concluded, but as mentioned earlier, it brings with it a very different attitude to go along with the gore and mystery of that earlier series. Denji is a fun protagonist, a crude Ichigo Kurosaki, in a way—confident and strong while also empathetic and kind. And he’s joined by a cast of interesting characters from the outset—Makima is scary and sensual, but even more captivating are his rival / supervisor, the intense Aki, and a character who may or may not be one-off in Power, a beautiful and quirky demon who is paired with Denji as another exception in the demon hunting agency. Her case is the first in this series, and ends volume one on a cliffhanger.
Chainsaw Man is bursting with an addictive energy. It moves quickly but efficiently, introducing scenarios and characters and letting the action do the talking, while quietly revealing motivations a bit at a time. There’s a lot of blood and gore, as expected, but the artistry to it is better described as nice and sharp over grotesque (though perhaps that will change when an anime version, which is undoubtedly coming, applies red in place of the dark ink); meanwhile, the creatures so far have featured interesting designs, incorporating human elements into inhuman monsters. Mangaka Tatsuki Fujimoto doesn’t shy away from featuring many enemies and background characters in volume one, feeding this frenetic action, while only leaking bits and pieces of what appears to be critical information to us. Most wondrous is what Makima’s plans are for Denji and about the setting of this world—an alternate universe where people are well aware of demons, and which also appears to be in the midst of the Cold War, though apparently set in modern times.
The combining of those two strengths—strong writing with high energy artwork—are what gives me hope that this could be the next great shonen franchise. It’s too early to tell, of course, but I’m excited at the potential here. At the very least, I can say this: Chainsaw wielding characters and demon hunting stories have rarely been so funny (and so good).