The first episode of Chainsaw Man is an unambiguous success. Produced by studio MAPPA and directed by Jujutsu Kaisen alum Ryū Nakayama, the 12-episode anime adaptation of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s breakout action-horror manga sets the tone of the series perfectly with its beautiful animation, brisk pacing, and ultra-violent action.
The latter quality is on full display in the climax of the series’ first episode, “Dog & Chainsaw.” In the premiere’s first showdown, Denji transforms into the human-Devil hybrid Chainsaw Man in order to face off against the show’s first major adversary, the Zombie Devil.
This will be par for the course. Lifting from the manga, the series takes place in an alternate 1997, where humanity is preyed upon by a race of supernatural creatures known as Devils. The exact origin of Devils is unknown, though what is known is that these monsters are manifestations of negative feelings and emotions shared across the collective human subconscious, similar to the phenomenon of “Curses” in Jujutsu Kaisen.
At the beginning of the episode, we see Denji and his pet Chainsaw Devil dog Pochita hunt down a Tomato Devil before briefly cutting away to the aftermath of the encounter, with Denji standing triumphantly atop the creature’s giant corpse awaiting orders from his yakuza boss. It’s not until the last third of the episode, after Denji is betrayed by his yakuza employers in exchange for a contract with the so-called Zombie Devil promising power, that we get to see Denji fully cut loose to rip and tear into action.
After being dogpiled by a horde of zombified masses, Denji transforms into his Chainsaw Man form for the first time — a bare-chested, yellow-eyed combatant with chainsaw blades protruding from his forehead and arms like a Hellraiser Cenobite crossed with a Home Depot hardware aisle. After a momentary pause, Denji wastes no time leaping into action, darting past the Zombie Devil’s defensive line of droning masses and propelling himself forward to pierce the Devil’s skull with his head-mounted chainsaw and arm blades.
There are as many noteworthy fight sequences in anime as there are drops of water in the ocean. From Hiroyuki Okiura and Mitsuo Iso’s work on the blistering shootout between Motoko Kusanagi and the spider-tank in 1995’s Ghost in the Shell to pretty much every action sequence in Cowboy Bebop and My Hero Academia Yutaka Nakamura has ever put his hands on, the common trait shared by almost if not every great anime fight is solid animation direction and skillful key animators entrusted with the time, resources, and expressive freedom to cut loose and really put their own signature flair in a scene.
Director Ryū Nakamura, animation producer Keisuke Seshimo, and action director Tatsuya Yoshihara have assembled capable animators for the task of bringing Chainsaw Man to life, the majority of whom have either previously worked on Jujutsu Kaisen and Jujutsu Kaisen 0 or anime series and films like One Punch Man, Fire Force, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc, and the Kizumonogatari film trilogy. From start to finish, the climax of Chainsaw Man’s debut episode is an exemplary feat of craftsmanship made possible only through solid production and careful planning that enables these artists and animators to do what they do best — make dope shit.
One of the standout shots of the entire fight, and one which can be briefly glimpsed in the third trailer for the series, is when the Zombie Devil, in a fit of pain-induced desperation, grabs Chainsaw Man with one of his entrail tentacles to fling him across the room and smash into a nearby concert support beam. It’s a remarkable, dynamic sequence made possible through skillful key animation combined with impressive 3D camera mapping. The scene as a whole is stunning when seen in action, and hints at even more impressive sequences like it to come throughout the rest of the season.