Many fans of manga have likely heard of the latest craze about Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man. These books have everything spanning from action, mystery, to a bit of gore, and a fleshed-out world of monsters and superpowers.
What sets this manga apart from others is its protagonist, an orphaned devil hunter named Denji. Like many who have come before him, such as Naruto and Monkey D. Luffy, Denji is a wisecracking outcast who above all wants to be the best at what he does. However, when one dives into his backstory and motivations, it’s clear he’s distinct from other manga protagonists.
Unlike Naruto or Luffy who, while lonely and odd both had some sort of human connection and people they could turn towards, Chainsaw Man’s Denji had no found family or mentor figure.
After his father’s death, he inherited all of his debts from the Yakuza. Being very young, Denji had no way to possibly repay that debt until he met the chainsaw devil, Pochita. This dog with a chainsaw nose befriends Denji and allows him to use his nose as a weapon for devil hunting.
Although he lacked any human connection, it is this friendship with Pochita that causes Denji to come back from the dead, merging with his companion and becoming the titular Chainsaw Man, a devil-human hybrid.
Because of his powers, he is picked up by the Department of Public Safety and blackmailed into becoming a part of their devil-fighting team. It is here that the difference between Denji and the rest of society is most highlighted.
Denji Vs. Humanity
Everyone else in the Department has specific goals and motivations for being a part of this devil-fighting organization, save for Denji. Having had a childhood of homelessness, he’s satisfied just to have a place to live and food to eat.
This shocks his teammates because his dreams seem very shallow with flimsy motivations. Denji’s team leader, Aki, initially wants him to quit because of this explaining “The only [devil hunters] still alive are those who have strong conviction.”
His team mates see him as incredibly naive and confusing until he transforms into the Chainsaw Man. The sudden shift from goofy to incredibly violent, and seeming to relish in it, further separates him from other people.
In the beginning, the closest Denji gets to a real goal is wanting to touch a girl’s boobs. Continually, he seeks simple things that most people take for granted.
Truth be told, Denji is also extremely awkward in most social situations because he has no context to draw from. He eats sloppily, falls asleep in weird places, and blatantly refused to shake someone’s hand because he didn’t want to touch it.
Denji is an outcast but appears to not care at all about his inability to fit in. However, later events in the series reveal that he is very troubled by this.
It is these circumstances that make Denji such a fascinating and relatable character. He is a boy stuck between two walls; part devil, part human, but not fully either; wanting to be a part of society, while also shunning it; being treated as an adult by his peers, but in reality, a teenager.
Even the art follows this pattern. When Denji is human, he’s drawn like a human puppy, with a softer face and highlighted canines, but is given harsh angles and intense poses when he’s fighting in his devil form.
His erratic and antisocial behavior is due to the internal contradictions that plague him. He seems stuck and like he can’t win unless he is a mindless drone doing what he’s told. In addition, he has no family or typical childhood to draw from and find answers.
Many millennials can relate to this feeling. The American dream narrative says that this generation should be able to succeed like those who came before, but reality shows them being priced out of schooling, and housing, and unable to find gainful employment. At the same time, millennials are told that they are lazy and want handouts.
They too are stuck between two contrasting ideas and this state is emotionally devastating. Like Denji, frequently it feels like there is no answer to these problems except to follow the status quo because at least, at the end of the day, one is fed and has something.
Chainsaw Man has managed to create a character that taps deeply into the emotional baggage held by many today. While, on the surface, it seems like another blood-drenched action manga, Denji gives the series a heartfelt spark that moves it beyond the genre.
This author feels safe to say that these comics are among the best being currently written and should grace the bookshelves of everyone. Through Denji, perhaps one can find a little solace.