“Chainsaw Man”—we can figure out what kind of series it is right from the title. A shounen action manga for teenage boys packed with gruesome fighting scenes, wicked villains, and of course, sexual innuendo.
The title doesn’t lie… well, at first. In the first few chapters, the series does come across as an edgy, gory, and easily digestible action story. However, beneath the surface lies an intricate tale with various symbolisms that hint at existent societal issues, which we only realize once diving in.
Among them, the most brilliant is “Chainsaw Man Darkness Devil” —the devil that represents primal fears, one that humans would rather kill themselves instead of facing it.
An Introduction To Chainsaw Man: Yearning For Normalty In Chaos
Written and illustrated by Tatsuji Fujimoto, Chainsaw Man made its debut on Weekly Shounen Jump in December 2018. Following was a sudden outburst: Within a few days, the series became phenomenal, creating countless discussions on social media, as well as forums like 4chan, Quora, and Reddit. In other words, it completely took over the manga community, even without any anime counterpart.
At its peak, Chainsaw Man’s milestone saw the volumes sell around 9.3 million copies. It even won the 66th Shogakukan Manga Award in the Shounen category – an impressive achievement for author Fujimoto who was only 28 years old at the time.
Why would I call all of this “a sudden outburst”, you might ask? Well, if you just look at the summary, you wouldn’t expect such a series to blow up so hard:
“Denji desires nothing more than to live a fulfilled, tranquil life with the girl he loves. But, this couldn’t be further from reality: To pay off his enormous debt, the boy is forced by the yakuza to become a demon hunter. As long as he can get his hands on some money, with the pet devil Pochita by his side, Denji is willing to go to any lengths.
Seeing that he is no longer useful, the Yakuza makes a contract with a demon to kill him off. In a stunning twist of fate, though, Pochita fuses with Denji’s corpse, granting him the abilities of a chainsaw demon. Now revived, Denji takes advantage of his new power to mercilessly dispatch his enemies and even turns parts of his body into chainsaws.
Along the way, he catches the attention of the official demon hunters who arrive at the scene and is given the opportunity to work as one of them. With the means to take on even the most formidable force, Denji will not rest until he reaches his humble teenage dreams.”
Right off the bat, Chainsaw Man seems like a typical shounen manga with the protagonist being a typical hero: He starts his journey as pathetic and hopeless but eventually grows with the guidance of his companions. “I can see all the stereotypes here, and I don’t like what I see” – that was my first thought about Fujimoto’s work.
The Brilliant Writing Of Chainsaw Man Darkness Devil
However, after the release of chapter 64, one particular panel went viral and piqued my curiosity.
Even as a stand-alone, the image is truly breathtaking. From gory details and the extraordinary use of lighting and blocking to the symbolism packed inside, it evokes an unimaginable sense of true awe and horror. At that moment, I knew there is more to Tatsuji Fujimoto’s manga than its synopsis.
Perhaps you know what I’m talking about: The iconic debut of “Chainsaw Man Darkness Devil”:
This moment came with a brilliant twist: In the universe of Chainsaw Man, the subconscious fears of human beings are embodied in devils. Everything we can be afraid of (including shark, blood, or even tomato) has a devil associated with it. The more a name is feared, the more powerful that devil becomes. Fujimoto builds up the dread surrounding the Gun Devil from the very beginning, a devil so strong that it can slaughter millions of people and then vanish in a few minutes. All of that hype and expectation hinted that he would be the final boss.
But everything changed with the Darkness Devil’s appearance. Unlike the fears of war, sickness, and loneliness, this one is tied to our instincts. Void-like darkness, be it from blackened tunnels or shaded caverns, has managed to stir up our apprehension ever since the beginning of time.
What people are afraid of is not the dark itself but the unknown, that which we can’t see, feel, understand, or predict. We can never escape that fear, so the Devil of Darkness has “never died once”, just as Pingtsi said.
Space is the primordial level of darkness, so you might say, the astronauts are the most powerful image of humanity braving the unknown. Yet, in Chainsaw Man Darkness Devil’s first appearance, we are presented with this hauntingly beautiful yet gut-wrenchingly cruel scene: Bisected astronauts posed in prayer, their guts strewn out in a bloody mess before them. All lined up in this long panel leading to the demon. Without any dialogue, it reminds us, loud and clear, that space is vast nothingness. Despite our technological developments, we are still powerless against the empty black abyss that engulfs our cosmos.
The overwhelming horror of the Darkness Devil
“The astronauts are praying without legs, as a way of spitting on humanity’s hope to explore the infinite darkness that’s space”, Redditor N8theSCP notes, “There is no progress, the prayers are in vain, and to venture is a hopeless pursuit. That’s the Darkness Devil’s reply.”
A disturbingly dark take, but it actually makes sense.
The prayer pose makes us contemplate the most. To a majority of readers, it represents our submission to the power of darkness. The bravest men this world can produce, those who were willing to venture off into the void of space, eventually bow down to the unknown.
Or perhaps it could be more specific. Although there hasn’t been any official statement, fans of the manga suggest that the astronauts’ prayer pose might refer to a grievous event in human history: The Apollo 1 accident. In a picture, the three crew members of this spacecraft were shown jokingly praying to the miniature of the capsule in which they intended to land on the Moon. All of them were found dead in a cockpit fire just a few months later. The tragedy brought on by a failed space shuttle test evokes all of humanity’s fears associated with space – the idea of being surrounded by endless darkness, being left alone, and being struck down in an attempt to reach a void that will ultimately consume everything.
Either way, through this panel, the author sends out a powerful message that the horrors hiding in the dark should not be taken lightly. “The way he thoroughly conveys the Darkness Devil’s fearsome nature without any dialogue makes a perfect example of ‘show, don’t tell’ – a cinematic truism we don’t often see in anime and manga. Fujimoto is truly special.” – Quora user Rudy concludes.
Other Things That Make Chainsaw Man A Wild Ride
Ironically, “Chainsaw Man Darkness Devil” is just a minor antagonist. You are not reading it wrong: Though being overpowered, he only appears in three chapters (64 – 66) of the series. With this one single image, though, the author has established him as one of the most terrifying villains in the manga world.
But the astronaut panel isn’t the only thing people know about Chainsaw Man. Indeed, the theme of organizations VS monsters has been overused for the last few years. Some of them, such as Attack On Titan or Jujutsu Kaisen, become cult classics, but manga readers gradually got tired of the cliché trope. They desire something more original, thus giving room for boundary challengers like Spy X Family or The Promised Neverland to rise in popularity. In this new wave of shounen manga where genres are being blended, and borders are being pushed, of course, we couldn’t imagine how Chainsaw Man would see tremendous success.
But it does, for many reasons.
The Unexpected Deconstruction
Despite having a synopsis that couldn’t be more cliché, if you join a random Chainsaw Man community and ask why they worship the series so much, you will get tons of comments like this:
Weird, original, and random—that’s what every College Life says about Chainsaw Man. In the world of manga and anime, where you can find plenty of stories about demons and those who slay them, Tatsuji Fujimoto found a way to make it all feel new, unique, and refreshing. And how did he do it? By deconstructing the core elements that form a typical protagonist.
“When a genre is deconstructed, all of its essential components are played straight, without shying away from any unpleasant consequences and/or causes of these features. It is not solely done to denote how unpleasant a genre or trope is, but to break away from the clichés and stock themes said genre or trope has acquired.” – Genre Deconstruction
All the typical shounen characteristics you can name might be found in Denji: A large appetite, a lack of social skills, a very simple mind, and a lack of intelligence. Usually, these traits are given to a character for nothing other than comedic relief. Although Chainsaw Man does take advantage of these eccentricities to make the plot more captivating, what makes it stand out is the feasible justification for their existence.
The reason behind these tropes lies in Denji’s background. He is always hungry because, throughout his childhood, the boy had to eat garbage to survive. Denji is socially awkward, but that’s understandable given his upbringing. His failure to read social cues isn’t a quirky thing that makes him stand out from other characters, rather, it often places him in circumstances that perpetuate his suffering.
Even Denji’s simple mind is portrayed in the same painfully realistic light: He didn’t go to school, and his living condition does not allow him to think complexly. Finally, just like any shounen heroes, Chainsaw Man’s protagonist indeed has a burning determination, but that doesn’t come from a noble or abstract goal. Denji longs for nothing more than simple, trivial, and rather foolish things, but they are things he never gets hold of in his life.
A bold move from Fujimoto, I’d have to say, and it proved successful. The deconstruction makes the world of Chainsaw Man a lot darker than other series of the same genre. At the same time, though, it grants his work a sense of uniqueness you won’t find in other manga, adds layers of depth to the series, and contributes to the authenticity of the characters. The moment you realize it, you will know that there’s more to the story than the synopsis.
A Protagonist Like No Other
With that, you can see another thing that makes Chainsaw Man outstanding: Its protagonist is brutally consistent.
From the start until the end, Denji – our “hero” – sticks with one single ideology: Ignorance is bliss. He might be stupid, but that doesn’t always put him at a disadvantage. Most of the time, idiocy is Denji’s greatest strength.
Because he doesn’t understand the rules, he doesn’t fall into the psychological trap the others try to set up. When the “dolls” Santa Clause attempt to lure him by pleading and crying like the real people they once were, he keeps wielding his chainsaws and never for a moment questions the morality of what he is doing. Remorse for himself, let alone others, was never a useful card in the game of survival – that’s a harsh truth we never see in other shounen heroes.
This is the same reason Denji falls into Makima’s grasp and becomes the only one to get away from it. He follows her without hesitation, serves her without a doubt, and accepts all of her orders without question. Hence, when Makima pulls the rug she places down from under his feet, he doesn’t struggle so long with the moral complexities of killing the girl that has been everything to him. He puts an end to her life, chops her up into pieces, and eats her without a second thought.
Well, yes, it’s beyond pathetic. Denji might be the worst MC you have ever seen in a shounen, but such an approach solidifies him as a realistic product of his environment instead of a wish-fulfillment for the audience. Creating a character like this requires some actual guts and talent.
The “No Plot Armor” Rule
Fujimoto does a great job fleshing characters out just enough to make you care about them… before he does the deed and kills them off. The series is riddled with gore, surrealism, and, of course, death.
If you have yet to pick up Chainsaw Man, I’d have to warn you: No character is safe in this series. The mangaka does not let up when it comes to killing someone for the sake of a good story.
Okay, so, this is not exactly a manga for the faint of heart. Nonetheless, it never feels like somebody dies just to die or is written off abruptly. All the deaths have purposes, and once you realize that, you will appreciate Fujimoto’s willingness to go there: After all, this is a story about devil hunters. They are supposed to lead a short and bloody life. By portraying how the shadow of death longs for everyone, as readers, we can truly feel the atmosphere. The Devils are not an empty threat.
The Gritty Art Style
As you go through the manga, you will find yourself jumping back and forth between large, gory panels and speech bubble-driven panels that depict daily life. Either way, Fujimoto maintains a sketchy, “unpolished” art style that works well with the overall tone of the story.
Let’s take a look at this page, for example:
In comparison, this one is just a few pages after:
See the difference? The first one shows a simple conversation between the protagonist and Pochita – arguably the most simplified character in the series thus far. You can find plenty of similar pages in the Chainsaw Man manga, subject-to-subject sequences with blank backdrops and talking heads. Each panel is flat, save for one-dimensional shadows and screen tones.
In contrast, we have the battle sequences like that featured on the second page. The shadows are darker here, all the environment and objects are filled, and the onomatopoeia pops up. That’s how Tatsuya Fujimoto characterizes chaos. He goes to great lengths, even uses both greyscale screen tones and cross-hatching, to add depth and flare to each panel.
Though tonally opposite, these pages stick with Fujimoto’s “unpolished” style. His artwork is rough and emotional, “like a controlled madness”. This suits the unconventional style of Chainsaw Man perfectly and deviates it from the current manga norm of clean-cut, uniform lines, as we can see in Naruto or Assassination Classroom.
Subverting The Shounen Tropes
In the end, despite being a story I didn’t expect to get attached to, Chainsaw Man turns out to be a chaotic journey packed with surprises. Unlike most action manga that aim to present spectacular fight scenes, the underlying philosophical spark in Fujimoto’s work makes it resonate with readers.
This can be seen clearly through the image of Chainsaw Man Darkness Devil. The way it opens up to many interpretations proves that the manga has what it takes to re-defy its usual genre tropes.
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