‘Chainsaw Man’ could be the next ‘attack on Titan’

In December 2018, manga artist Tatsuki Fujimoto published the first chapter of chainsaw man, a modern twist on the figurative deal with the devil, in Japan’s Weekly Shonen Jump. A few years in the running, chainsaw man tops bestseller lists and sold out volumes around the world. It was the rare manga series that built up a significant readership in the US even before it was adapted into an anime series, which usually boosts book sales. But the anime would indeed no longer follow after that. In late 2020, acclaimed studio MAPPA announced its plans to adapt chainsaw man in a television series. The earliest trailer was an extraordinarily stark and blood-stained showcase of some of the most notable animations of its generation. These first impressions lingered for over a year with no premiere date confirmed as the manga series wrapped up its first storyline (known as the Public Safety Saga) and took a hiatus. The hype for chainsaw man snowed to a critical mass.

This week, the anime finally arrived, premiering Tuesday and simulcasting in the US exclusively through Crunchyroll. The chainsaw man anime is part of the wider subculture success story of the past decade: a resurgence of big-budget action anime (after a drought that began in the late 2000s to early 2010s) and an explosion in the international manga readership . In the US, it’s still secondary to comic book culture, but it’s now commonplace in bookstores, checkout counters, and streaming services. Today there is no shortage of vibrant Battle Shonen series –demon slayer, My Hero Academia, Jujutsu Kaisen, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure—with huge crossover interest in both the anime adaptation and the original manga. chainsaw man is the culmination of a long effort to popularize anime and manga in the US. Attack on Titan.

The first episode of chainsaw man, as in the first chapter of the manga, follows a scruffy young man named Denji as he wanders the countryside with his strange puppy, Pochita, a “dog” who is actually a devil with a chainsaw sticking out of his forehead and a pull cord for a tail. Denji is missing his right eye. He is also hungry. When his father died, Denji inherited a crippling debt to the yakuza. Now Denji and Pochita live together in a darkened hut and live on bits of white bread; Denji dreams of the day when they can afford to eat bread and jam. Meanwhile, Denji and Pochita cut down trees, hunt other devils – who have migrated to Earth using the power of human fears – and sell Denji’s replaceable organs to support themselves. “Sold one of my nuts,” Denji says, for just under $700.

The situation is getting worse. Forging a new alliance with a devil, the yakuza leave Denji for dead in a dumpster at the site of a massive ambush. This should be the end for Denji. But then, shockingly, Pochita speaks. He offers to revive Denji. “I’ll give you my heart,” Pochita says. “Show me your dreams in return.” Gratefully, Denji merges with Pochita, becoming something of a devil himself. He is reborn in the dumpster with a pull cord dangling from his chest and chainsaws from his arms and forehead. Denji slaughters the ambush and his followers. He has recovered his lost organs and now the devil dog is his beating heart. Pochita was the chainsaw devil. Denji is the chainsaw man.

The series premiere is a panel-by-panel adaptation of the first chapter of the manga. It’s just a glimpse of the show’s potential — the series premiere is the only season one episode to pre-screen for critics — but MAPPA’s art and animation are as gorgeous as fans could have hoped. The next chapters of chainsaw man introduce the Public Safety Devil Hunters, a government agency, and settle the central conflict between devils and humans. Shonen some formations in battle manga is more esoteric and heavier than others; chainsaw man takes advantage of the stark, sentimental pitch in the opening chapter. Denji is a starving boy who can only hope that one day he will hug a girl. Pochita saves Denji from death and Public Safety saves Denji from poverty. This is all before the author, Fujimoto, even begins to explain the underlying mythology of chainsaw man. It’s about as accessible as these things get, while also being relatively mature in its characterizations and storytelling – not to mention the hyper-violence.

The takeover of the chainsaw man anime is a coup for MAPPA and Crunchyroll. Last year, Sony bought Crunchyroll for $1.18 billion from AT&T’s WarnerMedia in an effort to gain more control over the global anime market. Crunchyroll competes with Netflix, even though the two services build very different libraries. Netflix streams a wide variety of content that happens to have a decent selection of anime, while Crunchyroll exclusively streams anime. Netflix licenses and produces a lot of popular anime, and the high-profile launches in recent years have many fans suspect chainsaw man would premiere on Netflix in the US. But Netflix doesn’t do simulcasts, so Crunchyroll still has the competitive edge on blockbuster series premieres.

Nine years ago, Crunchyroll and Hulu premiered Attack on Titan in the US, which turned out to be the biggest anime series of the past decade. chainsaw man is yet another competitive milestone for Crunchyroll, although Hulu will also be streaming the first season with a delay, and the series could hit Netflix at a later date. Crunchyroll is a service with 120 million registered users, but only 5 million paid subscribers who get unlimited access to the titles. Netflix has more than 220 million paid subscribers worldwide. Crunchyroll is ultimately a streaming service for a subculture, and chainsaw man will show us how big that subculture can get.

‘s anime adaptation chainsaw man arrives not long after the manga series returned from hiatus and began its second storyline. There is a lot of momentum behind Denji. Regardless of where his story is spread, the anime seems willing to take him over the top.

Leave a Comment