My relationship with the Chainsaw Man manga is an unorthodox one. Currently, I’m reading and enjoying Part 2 of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s creation. But when it comes to Part 1, I’ve only read the first few chapters, the last two, and a bunch of Wiki entries.
As such, I watched the anime’s first episode, which adapts the manga’s first chapter, as someone who’s more than an anime-only viewer but also not a full-on Chainsaw Man reader. I didn’t feel the same level of hype that a proper fan of the manga would, but having experienced Fujimoto’s delicious mix of dark elements and surreal humour through Chainsaw Man Part 2, as well as the evocative panels of his Goodbye, Eri one-shot, I wasn’t completely devoid of expectations either. Chainsaw Man’s first episode certainly leaves the impression of being good, but it doesn’t have a special quality that pushes the show higher up my Fall 2022 anime watchlist.
Chainsaw Man’s world is one where grotesque creatures called Devils exist, and protagonist Denji lives in a world of debt, with little choice but to sell organs and kill Devils for the Yakuza to barely scrape by. We see him holed up in a shack telling the dog-like Chainsaw Devil Pochita, his only friend, and a Devil that’s cute instead of grotesque, about his dreams of having a lover and jam with bread. Eventually, Denji gains the ability to transform into Chainsaw Man and is discovered by Public Safety Devil Hunter Makima. Makima offers him the chance to become her “pet” — a chance to have jam with bread at last — or be put down like any other Devil. It’s a solid introduction, though the disposable nature of the Yakuza characters and Makima’s late arrival give it the feel of an appetizer rather than the first bite of a main course.
Chainsaw Man is certainly not bursting with sunshine and rainbows, but I was still surprised and a little conflicted when I saw how moody the anime looked in the trailers. The first episode takes this general aesthetic and leans further into the gloominess, with greyish, washed-out tones, and depressing lighting. We have bizarre entities like Chainsaw Man, Pochita, and the wonderful monstrosity that is the Tomato Devil, yet the mood is more akin to a crime drama.
Certainly, the emphasis on gloom in Episode 1 makes sense, given that we’re seeing Denji in a miserable state, and I acknowledge that there are brighter scenes both later in this episode and the trailers. Also, by no means do I think the show’s general aesthetic looks bad — quite the contrary, in fact, especially when combined with the episode’s strong scene composition. I just can’t help but find it strange that an action show with a chainsaw-headed protagonist has such a straightforwardly dark and serious tone instead of something punchier and more experimental-feeling. Having tasted some of the surrealness and humour in the manga, I wonder how those elements will fare in the anime.
Putting aside my feelings about the direction of the visuals, I still think that the visuals and animation pair well together to give Chainsaw Man’s premiere a strong sense of quality. The first episode’s key animation credits feature a number of names that caught my eye, like Kouki Fujimoto, Souta Yamazaki, Takuya Niinuma, Shun Enokido, Takahito Sakazume, Moaang, and Keisuke Kobayashi, in addition to action director Tatsuya Yoshihara, who gets top billing, and series director Ryuu Nakayama (who also directed and storyboarded this episode). My surface-level sakuga knowledge means that I’m mostly limited to dishing out their names and sakugabooru links instead of offering commentary on their output, so I’ll just say that this is an episode that moves nicely. Moments like Denji limping away from an enemy or Chainsaw Man getting thrown into an iron bar and causing a wave of dust to fall carry a pleasing sense of heft.
But despite the production quality of the episode, the climactic violent fight scene didn’t blow me away. It should’ve easily been the highlight of Episode 1, but the sight of Chainsaw Man hacking zombies apart somehow failed to stand out as much as the sombre mood of the preceding scenes. Even with that aforementioned and incredibly satisfying iron bar scene, the overall fight sequence gets overshadowed by Makima’s later arrival, which features more striking framing and lighting. I love it when non-action scenes are elevated like this, but I hope that future fight scenes will have more flourish, given this anime’s big action title status.
My overall thoughts on Chainsaw Man’s first episode are positive, but I can’t shake off the feeling that it leaves me a bit wanting. It’s strong and polished in a technical sense, but the visual style feels restrained given the outlandish elements and the sense of chaotic energy implied by the words “Chainsaw Man.” It’s supposed to be one of the action titles of the season, but even though the action here isn’t bad, it’s also not as memorable as the non-action scenes. The quality so far is already much better than what other adaptations get, and I’m looking forward to Fairouz Ai’s performance as Power. But for a show that has a bespoke ending song for each of its 12 episodes, I expected more from its visual identity.
Anime Trending received an early online screener for Chainsaw Man’s first episode courtesy of Crunchyroll. The show will premiere on Crunchyroll on October 11 at 9 AM PT.