The Recent Chapters of the ‘Chainsaw Man’ Manga Have All Been Masterpieces
At this point, the brilliance of MAPPA’s anime adaptation of Chainsaw Man might be better chronicled in pop culture media than Tatsuki Fujimoto’s manga original, if only because more people watch anime than read manga. But if you agree that Chainsaw Man is arguably one of the best anime, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Chainsaw Man is also arguably one of the best manga. And in the last month or so, Fujimoto has made that abundantly clear. (I’ll keep this spoiler-free up front.)
Kicking off at chapter 122, the current thread of Chainsaw Man has been consistently jaw-dropping. There has been stunning art and brilliant layout composition. There’s been genuine horror. There have been profound revelations about trauma. There have been moments that made me break out laughing, and stay laughing long after the panel was over. There have been chainsaw motorcycles.
In other words, these chapters have showcased the Chainsaw Man-iest aspects of Chainsaw Man in quick succession. And in so doing, they’ve solidified Chainsaw Man as one of my favorite pieces of all media. All of it. I can think of no series able to demonstrate an empathetic understanding of trauma and hardship, and then cut the tension with such absurd humor that it almost feels underhanded. But it isn’t. Even at its most absurd, or when its world is the most cruel (anime watchers, just you wait), Chainsaw Man‘s beating heart is always there. Which is hard to pull off.
Denji is, of course, the key. These chapters have also made me feel comfortable fully owning the opinion that Denji’s one of the best protagonists in all of shounen. Rather like my beloved Monkey D. Luffy, Denji is, at his core, an empathetic person, but operates by giving zero shits. Which makes his reactions absurd and delightfully unpredictable. In the most emotionally intense moments of these chapters, Denji swoops in at just the right moment to cut that heaviness with a knife. And it’s a damn clean cut.
But we’ve exhausted the part of this article where I can keep talking without going into specifics. Because there’s one page I really need to talk about.
A profound understanding of trauma and PTSD
Spoilers for chapters 122-130 ahead. Also, warning for potentially triggering discussions about PTSD and animal abuse.
Throughout Part 2, we’ve learned about Asa’s past as we got to know her. But in chapter 123, we are told what happens to her cat, Crambon. After losing her parents to a devil attack, partially kinda-sorta not-really because Asa saved Crambon, Asa lands at a kind of orphanage. Asa is a recluse, chilling inside with Crambon while the other kids are out playing. The head of the orphanage convinces Asa to part with Crambon, because Crambon might be happier at her friend’s place with other cats. But she doesn’t take Crambon to a cat haven. She drowns Crambon in the river. Out of jealousy.
Let me be clear: this woman is the most evil character in all of Chainsaw Man. She makes the Gun Devil and the millions of resultant deaths look like a pony. (You can make a pretty good argument that the Gun Devil has no concept of a conscience, actually.)
I perhaps feel very strongly about this because I know exactly how Asa felt about that cat. When you go through trauma as a child, pets can be your lifeline. The relatively simple, loving relationship between you and your pet becomes the healthiest relationship you have. And when you’re dealing with PTSD, you need that love. Bad. It was very easy for me to put myself in Asa’s shoes here, and imagining some lady drowning my childhood cat was nothing short of hellish. Which feels like an understatement, honestly. No wonder Asa’s freaking out.
Which leads us to this page from chapter 124. We need to talk about this page. Because it fucked. Me. Up.
Whether Asa’s trust issues resulted from the Crambon Incident or beforehand, Fujimoto here presents a possible outcome of Childhood PTSD that took me ten years of therapy to puzzle out. We live in a society that is incredibly “either/or.” I figured having “trust issues” must mean I was afraid of companionship, not solitude. To realize that it was both took real work.
I say this to underscore the point that this isn’t the kind of discussion brought on by someone using trauma as a cheap trick. You do not see this delicate, intimate takeaway popping up all the time in media. This is the kind of difficult, nuanced revelation that comes from someone with a deep, empathetic understanding of PTSD. Honestly, I think there will be people who read this page and discover this about themselves. It’s the kind of idea nobody tells you and isn’t “out there” enough.
The genius of Denji
And so, cue Denji to cut the tension. Just two chapters later, Denji gets hit with the same attack that makes you relive your trauma. Heartbreakingly, we see what Denji’s trauma is: the worst moments from Part 1. But after the gravitas of Asa’s struggle, if Denji also bent here, Chainsaw Man would risk becoming “trauma porn.” There’s absolutely such a thing as “too much.” Tatsuki Fujimoto knows this. So instead, Denji reacts in the dumbest, funniest way possible:
This panel felt like an instantaneous release of pressure. From the point of view of someone with PTSD bracing for more tear-jerker panels, you could even say it felt like expecting a gut punch and instead receiving a delightful tchotchke. Because media that truly understands trauma also knows that continually going for the gut punch isn’t actually in service of people dealing with trauma.
A similar pattern plays out in chapter 127. Denji saves Asa, but Asa has resolved to die. The conversation which follows has all the hallmarks of struggles with depression and trauma. Asa assumes that no one can understand how she feels because “no one has it worse than me.” But Denji replies in a way which, very Denji-ish language and all, was genuinely moving: “You know life isn’t all bad, but day in, day out, all you can remember is the bad stuff, and the disasters keep pilin’ up like a hamburger made of crap, right?” Asa asks how Denji got over it, and he empathically replies that he’s not.
Like Denji getting hit with the trauma attack, you can feel a tightening emotional swell at this point. Just as Denji says he can make it through because has something to live for. Asa (foolishly?) asks what it is. The reply? “SEX! I WANNA HAVE SEX!”
(Asa’s reply in turn is perfect: “EWW!!”)
This is the brilliance of Chainsaw Man. It’s a world with a lot of cruelty and a hefty helping of horror. As a result, the characters are all struggling. In this way, the series provides an exaggerated mirror to reflect the daily struggles of so many in the real world. But what makes watching that pain play out palatable, and deeply memorable as a series, is Chainsaw Man‘s refusal to take itself fully seriously and its open embrace of absurd humor. We can get a chainsaw motorcycle, or an ass-ogle in the middle of a very tense scene, because why the hell not?
And, you guys? Sex is, like, super beautiful.
(Featured image: Tatsuki Fujimoto / Shounen Jump)
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