Content Warning: Contains discussions of mass shootings
There’s no doubt that Shonen Jump is in a transitional phase, and the herald of this new phase is one tragically realistic page from Chainsaw Man. Before Chainsaw Man returns for its second part in July, it’s important to look back at how important the manga is. The hit manga has always been transgressive, but one chapter took that to the next level.
Created by mangaka Tatsuki Fujimoto, Chainsaw Man tells the story of a young man named Denji who hunts devils as the powerful hero Chainsaw Man. In the series’ world, devils are creatures who become more powerful the more they are feared, with one of the most powerful devils being the Gun Devil. While most devils are at least a little threatening, the Gun Devil is arguably one of the worst. Before the manga’s events, many nations load up on guns to better fight devils. This caused gun crime to skyrocket, which further resulted in the Gun Devil gaining immense power. When the Gun Devil finally appeared, it was massive and basically unstoppable. It hit Japan for less than half of one minute and killed almost 60,000 people. The death toll was so massive that many of Denji’s fellow devil hunters are motivated by the need to exact revenge on the devil. Chainsaw Man deconstructs shonen manga like Naruto, but that’s taken to an extreme in one chapter. When the Gun Devil is finally unleashed, the sheer scale of its destruction is conveyed in a scene that changed shonen manga forever.
Chapter 76 of Chainsaw Man picks up after the Gun Devil was set upon Japan to kill Denji’s manipulative boss, Makima. The Gun Devil’s true form is far bigger than any other seen in the series up to that point and the scale of its devastation is breathtaking in the worst possible way. As bullets shred the Japanese countryside, the names of all its victims are listed on the page. The onslaught continues as the manga’s pages become dominated by the names of the monster’s victims. By the end of its six-second rampage, the Gun Devil claims a little more than 900 lives. Much like Akira’s famous destruction of Neo Tokyo, Chainsaw Man conveys an absolute unthinkable tragedy in a way that only manga can. Also much like Akira before it, this one scene is an absolute game-changer.
While Chainsaw Man was a manga masterpiece from its first page, it’s this chapter that truly broke the mold for just what can be portrayed in a Shonen Jump manga. Since shonen is a genre for males ten and up, that limits the kind of stories and themes that can typically be tackled. Naruto can portray the generational trauma of war, but it has to do so in a way that doesn’t clash with its nature as a fun adventure. One Piece can tackle inequality and the emotional toll of oppression, but it has to do so with layers of subtext. What makes this chapter of Chainsaw Man so heartrending is how little obfuscation there is. There is no mistaking the exact issue the manga is tackling, no way to ignore the direct commentary on a very real tragedy that many people are forced to live in the aftermath of.
By its nature as art, all manga is and always has been inherently political because all manga reflects the culture and society of its artists. With its masterful story-telling though, Chainsaw Man lays its themes bare and forces readers to confront and engage with them in a way that doesn’t feel like Fujimoto is lecturing the reader. Chainsaw Man is a game-changer in every sense of the word, and it’s no understatement to say that Shonen Jump can never be the same in its wake.
Next: The Real Origin of Chainsaw Man’s “He Just Like Me Fr” Meme Explained