Just like everyone else I have been eagerly waiting for the anime adaptation of Chainsaw Man. This season is overflowing with amazing anime that I had been waiting for and that’s the only reason I haven’t been as focused on Chainsaw Man. Normally, this is all I would have been talking about for some time. But I would be lying if I didn’t say I had no reservations about this one.
Just for some context, you should know that I have read the entire Chainsaw Man public safety arc or the first 11 volumes of the manga. And I quite liked it even though it was a little tough to read at times. Moreover, unlike a lot of anime pessimists that tend to flood social media, I have a default optimistic outlook on anime adaptations. I generally prefer them to the manga and all the ones I was looking forward to that have come out recently, I have enjoyed a lot! Finally, I don’t dislike MAPPA as a studio. I remember a lot of fans grumbling when the anime was first announced because of MAPPA’s involvement but I actually like a lot of their productions on a technical level. They have done a few really great anime in my opinion.
So when you take all this into consideration, it’s actually really weird for me to be less than overenthusiastic about the Chainsaw Man anime. But you see, I thought, and still think, this might be a particularly challenging story to adapt.
Chainsaw Man is a very harsh tale. Not just in the simple fact that it can be brutal. It’s deeper than that. Of course, it is because Tatsuki Fujimoto is a deeply talented author, at least in my opinion. But he’s not always kind. I sometimes get the impression that he believes people can be crappy and that seeps into his work. He does however infuse some cautious optimism in there which makes his tales complex, layered and at times seemingly paradoxical but in my opinion, ultimately rewarding.
So Chainsaw Man, the way I read it, was a profound tale presented in simple terms and deceptively shallow tropes. A lot of the best parts were in what wasn’t said or shown. And I still don’t know how that’s going to translate to anime.
What I do know, is that the visuals are great. Devils in full colour are how they were meant to be. I personally am enjoying the use of CG in this show, it gives an uncomfortable uncanny quality to the camera work which fits the mood to a T. And this first episode had some of the most beautiful light I have seen in a long time. The visual atmosphere was palpable It really worked to elevate Fjimoto’s character designs.
And the framing was quite good as well. Look at this for instance:
These two screencaps are almost 30 seconds apart in the show. They are also separated by a series of images with completely different colour schemes and depth of field. While watching the anime itself, it’s almost impossible to really notice how the scene flows visually. But this is just one example of many. The show creates these images that melt into each other then peppers them throughout scenes creating a tapestry that makes the experience visually cohesive but not in an obvious way. I thought that was really cool.
However, the problem with Chainsaw Man is that you don’t want to make it look ridiculous or to dilute the horror with the action. Like I said, the manga is at times hard to read. There are scenes that are difficult to look at. But in the manga, those are single panels that just stay there and linger uncomfortably. When you animate it, you have to add images before and after, the risk of ruining the impact is very high. Already, as much as I liked the fight scene that was the birth of Chainsaw Man, it felt like a shonen action scene not like the desperate and breathless gauntlet that I had read in the manga. This feeling may dissipate with time, or it could get worse. But it’s hardly a deal breaker and I think the sheer strength of the visual atmosphere makes up for it.
One thing that works just as well is Denji. Denji is pivotal to the series. Obviously, he’s the main character and the titular one but it’s more than just that. Denji is the beating heart of the show, I guess Pochita is but they come as a set. If you don’t care about Denji, if you don’t worry about him and his future, then the emotional resonance of the entire series is kneecapped. There are other characters in the story. Some could argue better characters since Denji is sort of flat. But it’s Denji’s simple characterization that holds everything together. In a way, Denji is very childlike and that makes you want to protect him. Well me in any case. And that instinct made me connect very quickly and deeply to his tale. And this is the Denji I know and have come to love. It bodes very well for the rest of the season.
What I’m saying is this. I really liked this first episode. I think they did great. I’m not yet completely convinced they can handle some of the heavier subject matter that’s coming up but I am considerably more optimistic. And I can’t wait to find out!