The anime adaptation of Chainsaw Man has received rave reviews so far. The production value is top-notch and offers crisp animation, strong voice-acting performances, and all the supporting attention to detail that makes the anime feel like it has everything but its manga and already established lip service. Chainsaw Man Number of fans.
*While we do our best to avoid major spoilers, there are certain story beats we’ll hint at here. If you want to stay all Chainsaw Man spoiler-free, check back after you finish the season!*
If there’s one Achilles’ heel that the Chainsaw Man anime genre usually suffers from, it’s its clunky, sometimes unnecessary dialogue that bursts onto the screen. Exposition dumps, characters say everything that’s on their mind in the heat of battle, and awkward narration that’s meant to hold the viewer’s hand and guide them through the story, instead ends up pulling them out of the experience entirely.
Top Exposition problem in ChainSaw Man
The origin of the exposition problem comes from a few sources. The most obvious is the process of adaptation from one medium to another. Large text bubbles are welcome in manga because that’s the nature of the medium. Reading a lengthy speech in the middle of a battle sequence or as a means to break up particularly visually expansive pages is not derisive, but not expected. The problem arises when the source material is rendered into the anime medium. A balancing act ensues where the producers and creatives must maintain fidelity to the manga/source material versus making the story flow better as a cinematic work.
Another source of poor interpretation in anime comes from the original intended population for which it was written. Shōnen manga (and by extension its anime adaptation) is aimed at adolescent boys, emphasizing flashy battles and actions that make the young mind gnash their teeth. As a genre aimed at a younger audience, the heavy exposition and handholding makes sense. Kids sometimes need a story that’s clearly spelled out for them, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
We see this in super popular anime like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, an adapted manga that got flashed and then migrated to sennen (a step up in the demographic age group) in later issues. The first two story arcs of Jojo’s anime are full of information dumps and expository dialogue, as one would expect for a show aimed at a younger audience. Dragon Ball Z is also guilty of this, notorious for letting its characters utter blunt, convoluted dialogue in the moment explaining their thoughts and analyzing the events unfolding before them.
Chainsaw Man nips this practice in the bud. By every beat manga and anime’s rejection of baby-step viewers is elevated to a higher level by embracing a more mature demographic outside of Japan that consumes both manga and its anime counterparts. The manga is polished and aimed at a younger audience, but the content — at least to our more sensitive Western sensibilities — is much better suited to more mature viewers. Seeing the writing on the wall, MAPPA and its creative team decided to create an anime with the tone and format of a series intended for adults, as intended by manga creator Tatsuki Fujimoto.
The anime owes a lot of its sophisticated pacing/tone to the groundwork laid by its source material. Fujimoto creates according to the old axiom of storytelling: show, don’t tell. His sense of pacing is restrained, building tension and allowing scenes the time they need to play out naturally without convoluted exposition. Fujimoto’s instinctive eye for the cinematic favors beautifully detailed panels over rich text, morphing his work into a storyboard road map for animators.
Fujimoto’s characters are drawn with subtlety (literally and metaphorically), revealing themselves through nuance scattered like breadcrumbs over the course of the manga. Denji’s maturity is teased by his actions and inactions rather than overtly. Aki and Himeno dance their true love for each other as the romance of their story. The world and its players grow organically and the anime evolves as a result.
The most powerful example of Chainsaw Man was changed to show the saying in the first episode of its anime. Our introduction to this strange world of devils walking among men is conveyed with subtlety and a level of nuance that befits its mature viewers. Denji’s backstory isn’t told through lengthy internal dialogue, but through flashbacks. His enormous indebtedness is normalized into the narrative through the murmured conversation he has with Pochita.
Then, in the first minutes of the series, Denji retreats into a corner, picks up his adorable Devil’s Chainsaw, and goes to work on a giant Tomato Devil. He doesn’t explain that he’s the devil who sits there and represents humanity’s fear of tomatoes. He doesn’t explain his position as an aspiring devil hunter paying off his debts to the yakuza. He rips the cord and goes to work.
In a universe that arguably warrants a ton of explanation, Chainsaw Man resists the urge to spoon-feed the viewer the ins and outs of its world. Details of the Public Safety Organization were not obscured in the long-running diatribe by Makima, Aki or Himeno. Instead, we’re left to glean the finer details and mechanics of the devil hunting profession over the course of several episodes. Nuances unfold through Denji’s partnership with Aki and later Power, teased out in a natural tone that feels so organic.
When having internal dialogue, it fits the scene being used. Essential information is provided at moments when a character thinks or speaks aloud. In Episode 2, we’re introduced to the concept of a fiend, not through a long stand-off that breaks up a character’s exposition, but through a very brief conversation between Aki and Denji as they stand in the threshold of the room where the fiend is. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it gives the viewer confidence that every aspect of the plot can be temporarily unknown and the details pieced together as the story progresses.
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In an almost reflexive commentary on the anime’s problem of exposition, Denji’s internal monologue after killing the Fiend pokes fun at the problem. Instead of thinking seriously about the consequences of cutting off the head of a demon-possessed human, Denji gets into a passionate argument about wanting to touch a woman’s breasts. He doesn’t show any sense of his morality, his prowess as a Devil Hunter, the battle that just happened, or any of the typical consciousness that we can see in an anime’s main character. The moment is a hilarious, juvenile romp that tracks perfectly with Chainsaw Man’s stance on unnecessary exposition.
Perhaps most importantly, the battle scenes are not cut with exposition. As indicated above, although it serves a function in the written medium, nothing immediately pulls the anime viewer out of the action more than a character analyzing the events unfolding before them. In Denji’s first major fight against the Bat Devil (after the Zombie Devil’s one-sided killing), the two trade one-liners and brutal blows, never standing up against each other in full-blown conversations about who’s going to lose. WHO.
As the fight continues, Bat Devil uses a move that comes out of nowhere: a mouth cannon that destroys everything in its path with air. As the attack escalates, Denji doesn’t stop trying to explain it, nor does any other character. All that is left to the viewer is to accept and interpret. A lack of clarity not only keeps us in action but also honors our intelligence while allowing our minds to wander in new ways. If this talent is hidden in this Bat Devil, what other abilities is it hiding? What else can Denji do that we don’t know? What other unique battle tactics do devils have? Instead of simply stating the obvious for the audience, it piques interest and piques curiosity, forcing us to come back to learn more about this world in future episodes.
From time to time, the series disguises information in subtle and clever ways. Makima’s strange eyes were not attracted and analyzed by Denji. He is not making the link between Makima Devil or Fiend, the viewer. Aki’s sword is strangely not explained during the Eternity Devil arc, instead remaining a mystery to ponder for three more episodes until it’s finally used (and even then, the mechanics aren’t comprehensively laid out). Gunn Devil, the main antagonist looming in the backdrop throughout Season 1, is slowly revealed through spontaneous conversations and exchanges of missions that leave traces of his presence. Everything unfolds with nuance and a refreshing respect for the viewer’s intelligence and interests.
The culmination of Chainsaw Man’s dedication to allowing the story to unfold virtually exposition-free is a fully immersive anime experience. Building on the foundations laid by Fujimoto in his manga, it not only contains the mature themes that many glossy manga/anime do, but also infuses them with a spirituality and naturalness that mature audiences will love. Chainsaw Man deftly walks the line between fidelity to its source and translation to the medium of anime. It treats its fans with respect, allowing us to discover the world in our own time, making the connections we need.
Future anime should take note. This is how the manga should be written/adapted, and if Chainsaw Man’s reception is any indication, fans will agree.
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