Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #138 by Drew Barth
A Chainsaw Heart
It’s been a while since I last talked about manga, so let’s change that. In the early days of this blog/article/scream into the void I talked about Shonen Jump’s digital reader app and all of the content available there. It was around this time that I first spotted a series in its first couple chapters that seemed like it could be interesting: Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man. But, after reading those first couple chapters, I failed to keep up. This wasn’t any kind of mark against the manga’s quality, I was just busy with a new job. As the series ended back in January, I was able to catch back up.
Chainsaw Man is one of the most shonen series I’ve read since browsing through the first volume of Naruto in middle school. It’s the story of Denji, a sixteen year old, and his pet devil dog, Pochita. Denji needs to earn money to pay off his dead dad’s debt to the yakuza and the only way he can get cash quick is by killing the devils that have been popping up all over Japan. On a hunt, though, his heart is ripped out by a devil and Poochita jumps in to takes it place—thus creating a human-devil hybrid that has yet to be seen since devils started popping up. The titular Chainsaw Man proceeds to rip and tear his way through every devil put in front of him in the most bloody and violent way possible.
This violence is a mask. Fujimoto has crafted a shonen manga where the blood leaking from every page greases the gears of working class oppression. After becoming the Chainsaw Man, Denji is brought in to work for a governmental agency, the Public Safety Division, that hunts devils. For three meals a day and a place to sleep, he’ll jump into any suicidal situation as long as his boss, Makima, tells him to do so. When we’re not being treated to fights, we’re given the stories of what Denji and the other members of Public Safety deal with—insecurity of money and life, the ways in which their jobs grind them down into devil fodder, how many of them simply don’t have a future. But they have to accept it. For many of them, there is no other life outside of Public Safety except for homelessness and destitution. It is a job that leads them all along until they can’t go back to normal life.
What starts out as a particularly violent series about a kid trying to kill devils becomes a critique on the conditions of the working class in Japan. Fujimoto knows shonen well enough that he can draw in a reader with his splash pages of blood, but keeps them coming back for the ways in which his characters become more and more relatable as we see what their jobs do to them. We want to see a hero here win, not because we want to see a devil defeated, but because maybe this one will let them get what they want out of life.
Get excited. Get chained.