OPINION: How Chainsaw Man Explores the Need for Genuine Connections
This article contains spoilers for the first season of the Chainsaw Man anime.
There’s a scene near the middle of Chainsaw Man where Himeno thinks back to a piece of advice she got from Kishibe: that the best Devil Hunters are the ones with a couple of screws loose. While Kishibe’s referring to people who aren’t afraid of devils, what we see is that the kind of people who last the longest are people who don’t have anything else.
The Devil Hunters we know best (Denji, Power, Aki and Himeno) all have one thing in common: they’ve lived deeply lonely lives and, consciously or not, seek to alleviate that by connecting with others.
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Denji’s life before joining Public Safety was, in a word, deprived. He lived alone in a tiny shack with no friends or family other than Pochita, perpetually on the edge of starvation. His only real human contact was with the Yakuza who didn’t even pretend to care about him or his well-being.
It makes sense, then, that he immediately latches on to Makima.
Though Denji might not describe it that way, Makima’s the first person to ever treat him like a human being, even if she’s obviously manipulating him from our perspective. It’s understandable for Denji to not pick up on this; he’s spent most of his life struggling to just survive with no room to learn about human connection. The Yakuza may have used him, but they were upfront about it and never pretended otherwise. Makima’s apparent kindness is completely different from anything else he had experienced.
Denji initially focuses on the sexual aspect, but you get the sense that it’s not just sex he’s after. There’s a reason he was so underwhelmed by Power letting him grope her yet fell head over heels for Makima. One was a purely transactional interaction with no emotion or passion behind it, while the other was, as far as Denji knows, a truly intimate moment between two people (it’s significant that Denji already had feelings for Makima, while his friendship with Power didn’t develop until later).
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What Denji really wants is intimacy, that feeling of closeness with another that he’s always been denied. And while he hasn’t fully grasped it, he’s already developing that with the other Devil Hunters. Working with Power to prank Aki, leaving the last apple for Aki in the hospital, his breakfast with Himeno, all of these are growing relationships that Denji never had before.
While Denji admits to himself that he doesn’t think he’d cry over losing anyone, that’s more a sign of his lack of experience with interpersonal relationships than evidence he doesn’t care. If he really didn’t care, he wouldn’t have talked Aki into their ball-kicking contest with Katana Man, after all. Denji might frame it as revenge for killing a pretty girl, but it’s really revenge for killing the first person to reach out to him as a friend, as well as a way to help his surviving friend avenge his partner.
We can see these growing relationships from the other side, too. Compare Power as she is in her flashbacks to the way she is at the end of the first season. She starts off half-feral, only interested in blood and violence. Then she meets Meowy, the first creature she actually grows to care for. You can see the heartbreak when the Bat Devil seemingly kills Meowy, and her happiness at just having her cat back.
Then in Denji, she has a new friend.
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Neither of them would likely admit to it, but they enjoy each other’s company and have real fun being all-around goofs together. They prank Aki, scheme to defeat Kishibe (with questionable results) and really seem to enjoy spending time together. By Episode 12 she’s even going out of her way to show off for him (not realizing he’s already left).
Power might not understand it, but it’s undeniable that she’s happier with others around her compared to her lonely life before.
Unlike the others, Aki had a happy family as a child before the Gun Devil ripped it all away. Since then, his life has been defined by one thing: avenging those he lost.
But that kind of revenge is a lonely path. It’s a path that leads to him sacrificing most of his lifespan for power and devoting everything he has left to obtaining his revenge.
Initially, his only real friend seems to be Himeno, and even then there’s a slight distance between them. Himeno wants to be something more than colleagues, but Aki’s so focused on his revenge that he doesn’t see it and never fully lets her into his life, only understanding the depth of her feelings when she gives her life to protect him.
But even with her gone, he’s not entirely alone. By the end of the season, he’s clearly grown fond of Denji and Power. The montage during the finale shows the three of them wandering through town, going shopping, making dinner, the kinds of things people do with friends.
It goes beyond any of his obligations as part of Public Safety.
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Things like indulging Power as she chases after a cat aren’t part of his job, they’re him spending time with his chaotic roommates by choice. He even goes along with Denji’s silly ball-kicking contest, something the serious and straight-laced Aki we first met never would have done. And Himeno’s still with him. When Sawatari has him cornered and almost dead, it’s memories of Himeno that give him the strength to keep fighting and exploit its weakness.
Even in death, Himeno’s there to back him up.
As for Himeno herself, while we don’t see as much of her background as the others, what we see in the present is someone who’s lost more people than anyone should. She’s lost more than her share of partners over the years and seems to just be waiting for her turn. She doesn’t care about the health problems her smoking could cause because she doesn’t expect to live long enough for it to matter.
In Aki, she sees someone who’s been through the same kind of loss as her without becoming numb to it. He’s still able to cry for the trainees he loses, and it’s telling that her last thoughts are hope that he’ll do the same for her.
Because even facing death, she finds meaning in the fact that someone out there will care that she’s gone.
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Out of all the main cast, she’s the only one who realizes what she really wants. She may die not long after, but it’s a death she accepts knowing that Aki will remember her and care that she’s gone. Aki acts tough and detached, but she knows that deep down, he cares deeply for the people around him, and takes solace in that.
Chainsaw Man is a show about a devil hunter who can turn his arms into chainsaws. It’s also a show about lost and lonely people gradually learning to open up and connect with others. Even in the early stages, it’s clear that our leads are growing closer and learning what real companionship is like. This is the beating heart underlying all of Chainsaw Man.
Watch Chainsaw Man on Crunchyroll now!
Skyler loves writing and chatting about anime, and is always ready to gush about the latest One Piece chapter. Read more of his work at his blog apieceofanime.com and follow him on Twitter at Videogamep3.