OP: 「KICK BACK」 (Kick Back) by Yonezu Kenshi
「犬とチェンソー」 (Inu to Chainsaw)
“Dog & Chainsaw”
Since it’s release in 2018, Chainsaw Man, like any successful WSJ publication has been garnering attention and following with each consecutive chapter. Even so, this one ended up slipping through the cracks for me, though I would be lying if I said I never heard anything about it. Whoever said criticisms echo louder than any compliments and praise was not wrong. As I scrolled through the net, some of the most common assessments were “The MC only wants to get laid and touch boobs!” “This story doesn’t make any sense!” “Not enough explanations!”
No doubt it’s hard to form a complete opinion with a single episode, but we can certainly conclude a few things. Perhaps you’ll want to join me in this ride as I try to figure out whether I agree or disagree with these voices above? Here’s what I found this week:
DENJI – A HYPERBOLE OF THE MALE CONDITION
Right off the bat, the author of Chainsaw Man goes through tremendous pains to establish Denji (Kikunosuke Toya) as the quintessential good, simple, honest man; he just wants to do honest work and get paid for his labor. His father? Died and left him with only debt and an ultimatum. A boy makes a deal with the devil in order to get out of said debt, which we later learn wasn’t even legitimate. A normal life? That’s just a dream for him––he’s probably just going to die before having a girlfriend (a fear that’s very relatable to an uncomfortably large percentage of the male population). Denji is a sort of tragic Tarantino character, really. I mean, at the beginning of this story he’s out a testicle, eye, and kidney. Life’s circumstances have robbed him of half his virility, half of his visual perception and half of his life force [the kidney is the storehouse of Jīng, the fundamental material building block of our physical existence and reproductive life force in Traditional Chinese Medicine]. Even so, he utters little complaint. He stays loyal to the relationship between labor and money. He doesn’t even suspect that his whole circumstance is really a con and he’s playing a losing game. His two aspirations in life, he thinks to himself in his shabby shack, are the luxury of jam on his bread and a date with a girl. A sexy date, you ask? A lecherous debacle? Not according this window into his thoughts. He wants to go on a date, play video games together, then fall asleep in a shared embrace. But even his daydreams are interrupted by a terminal disease and his debt literally knocking on his door: “time to go to work!”
The tragic thing is Denji doesn’t even aspire to be rich. He’s willing to do things like eat a cigarette for money in order to entertain people who continue to take advantage of his honesty. Not only do these people ask too much of him, they also cut down his payments with ridiculous management and interest fees. Even still, as Denji dies sliced up in a dumpster, he wonders if he’s been too greedy for wanting jam on his bread, for not appreciating what he already had. His only regret? Leaving his pet alone to fend for itself. It takes Denji being murdered, betrayed and chased out of his job by literal sellout zombies, for his gears to shift. It takes that much for him to go: “Alright, I’m just gonna do what I want. And I’ll kill you if you get in my way.” Denji tried to play the game in earnest; he cooperated with the system until the very end. He was deliberately duped by a rigged system and those who would gladly skim off the top of his labor without doing anything themselves [rememeber the management and administration fees that dwindled his paycheck from 400k to 70k], then died having never gotten anywhere he wanted to go.
A greedy devil who zombifies sellouts as a representation for the corporate work paradigm? Hilarious touch and very culturally relevant. The devil’s ‘employees’ are willing to trade their autonomy and even conscious cognition for a little power. Especially after the whole yakuza monologue when he tells Denji that even though he works for cheap and is as loyal as a dog, he can’t help but hate Denji’s ‘stench.’ They can’t stand the mirror of his honest labor and simple, straightforward ethic. In the end they can’t even continue to exploit him, because their own reflection is too repugnant.
It’s all so clearly a metaphor. Nothing is a mistake. At every turn Chainsaw Man makes a statement; none of it is literal. And it’s clear what the statement is so far. Whether the author had this in mind or not, Denji’s character is a hyperbole of the contemporary male condition.
A young Japanese man faces pressures from all sides; everyone wants a cheeky piece of his honest work; he takes on responsibilities which aren’t even his; he naively expects a fair relationship between value and pay; finding female intimacy is a struggle; he doesn’t have time to dream, and can’t get what he wants. But seeing as I found out Fujimoto Tatsuki (the author) majored in Fine Arts, specializing in Western painting, I find it hard to believe this commentary would be anything other than intentional.
If the amount of Western movie references in the OP (especially Tarantino ones) indicates anything, it only reinforces that this work is heavily metaphorical. The sad thing I notice is that the critical consumption of literature, art, and media is dying at an alarming rate. People want to be told what to think and for everything to be spelled out. And as the passive consumption of content rises due to the never ending cycle of supply and demand, we start to reap its tragic consequences as people shut off their brains and just log in ‘for the entertainment ride’. I think people are having a hard time looking beyond the face of things. And in Chainsaw Man’s case it’s not even that deep or that hidden. The author really makes things pretty easy. Even at the end when Denji becomes a physical manifestation of protracted violence, his face and appendages morphing into chainsaw blades, this expenditure of repressed aggression literally melts away when he’s enveloped in a nurturing female energy.
Did the CGI bother me? Yeah, but it doesn’t detract from the message being told through this narrative. It’s a compelling tale so far. I’m interested to see how this show will develop. I don’t particularly think it promises to be a masterpiece, in case anyone thought my analysis was pointing at that. But Chainsaw Man dwells a little darker like Jigokuraku and Dorohedoro which are series I really adore and that stand out with their uniqueness, so I’m curious about it.
ED 01: 「CHAINSAW BLOOD」 (Chainsaw Blood) by Vaundy
Special thanks to Choya for helping me out with the screencaps and post template for this!