Chainsaw Man and its story of Denji who merged with his pet devil have left their mark. Tatsuki Fujimoto sensei’s work has reached the audience that it aptly should – both the anime and manga communities. The lines of Animanga creations that the fandom has witnessed for long have established a sort of standard line for understanding protagonists.

How Shonen Protagonists usually have many similarities

Shonen protagonists (of the shonen animanga series) usually have some similar characteristics.

  • Such characteristics usually include a giant banter for a dream or a goal to accomplish. Whether it be Naruto’s dream of being recognized by everybody or Goku’s wanting to become the strongest. They often have slightly developed but quite never fully focusing female love interests. (Deku and Uraraka, for one example.)
  • They also become the center stage for the story’s power mechanics (Luffy having the Gomu Gomu no Mi, Naruto having Kurama, Itadori being the host to Sukuna, etc.) Denji is one that fits such features while at the same time straying away from them.

In Chainsaw Man Denji copes with his trauma through the careful deployment of humor and cynicism. Here’s how –

Denji carefully ploys humor to cope with his own emptiness

Chainsaw Man Denji
Denji tells Hayakawa that he hugged Makima, courtesy of crunchyroll

For the uninitiated, Denji grew up impoverished. Ever since his father committed suicide and left him with a million in debt, he has worked with his pet devil to earn his bread. Growing up, all Denji ever had was a rundown storeroom.

  • Dumped into a barrage of broken appliances, items, and disposables, Denji lived dreaming of one day being richer. Perhaps not the richest in the world, for Denji didn’t quite grasp what that would be like.
  • All he wanted was to be together with his Pochita, have a decent meal, a good shelter, and a girlfriend to marry.

Denji’s willingness to eat a man’s half-smoked cigarette does not indicate his submissive nature

Denji pulls out the cigarette he didnt swallow

In Chainsaw Man Denji is a rug down from the symbolic corners of poverty slums. This truly shines on him. Made evident in Chainsaw Man Episode 1, Denji is challenged to eat his Yakuza boss’s driver’s half-smoked cigarette for a hundred yen.

  • Without showing any shame Denji jumps right away to do as he is tasked. Upon receiving the hundred yen from the Yakuza, Denji scorns his driving masters.
  • Looking down upon the very person whose cigarette he was just licking. It turns out he didn’t fully swallow the cigarette and only pretended to do so.

There are many things that can be drawn from here. Mainly that Denji does what he has to survive, but won’t do just anything. Denji looks down on the man driving away, although knowing he cannot directly say or do anything to the guy. Denji has accepted his harsh reality, where he is penned by his father’s debt. Yet Denji is a survivor, the one who climbs the hierarchy. He isn’t motivated for world dominion yet, but he isn’t weak.

Denji kicked Hayakawa in the balls to prove a point

Chainsaw Man Hayakawa Kicked in nuts
Denji kicks Hayakawa in the balls, snapped from Crunchyroll

This is made even more provident when he kicks his senior Hayakawa in the nuts. He doesn’t do it once, he does it some ten of times.

  • He does this in response to Hayakawa’s attack a few moments earlier. Hayakawa had initiated the bullying of his junior in an order to prove a point: that if Denji doesn’t have true resolve he should head home while he can.
  • After being kicked into a trash dump which Denji falls, symbolically showcasing the rug that Denji comes from – we see a smirk on his face. Almost as if telling him that he’s always belonged in the dumpsters, and this threat means nothing to him. Resolved, Denji hits a backing away Hayakawa in the back from behind.

Mind you he is not your usual shonen protagonist. He doesn’t give two crap about a men’s pride in battle and sh*t. Denji tells a run-down Hayakawa how this life that he finally has is all he ever wanted and no way in hell is he giving it up.

Chainsaw Man Episode 2 glimpses at the depth of Denji’s character

Denji throwed by Hayakawa
Hayakawa pins Denji against the window when Denji replies that he gave the devil a clean death, via crunchyroll

In Chainsaw Man Episode 2, When he first slices up the first devil he’s tasked to deal with, he simply slithers the devil’s head. He does this beyond the instructions given by his Senpai Hayakawa.

  • When questioned why Denji pulled such a move, Denji replies that he wanted to give the devil a quick death. Explaining that when he goes berserk in his devil mode he leaves a trail of a bloodbath.
  • Hayakawa quickly shudders into dismay, telling the protagonist how devils deserve no mercy. He mentions how everyone is risking their lives and that Denji is the only one taking this lightly.

At first, we feel compelled by Denji’s answer. We feel, oh there’s so much more to Denji than being a shallow despicable misery. He has deeper depths of understanding of pain, and suffering and can empathize. Instantly we are disillusioned when the hero reveals that his only goal was to make sure the porn magazines below do not get blood.

Concluding

Hayakawa and Denji in Episode 2
Hayakawa and Denji, via crunchyroll

Here’s what I mean – this is a facade. Denji actually did mean what he said. Part of how traumatized individuals cope with reality is through humor and sarcasm. When questioned, Denji blurted out the truth. But then to cope with the structured forces that have always been against him and his world (the society), Denji remarks a point of denial himself.

Denji’s second revelation to himself and the audience is his own way of coping with the structures of the world (the devil hunters) which will not tolerate an opinion of empathy towards Devils.


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Rhytham is a Philosophy graduate who founded a state-level organization that promotes anime and Japanese culture in his home state of Assam India. The org is named Assam Senpai Society. He is also an ardent writer, poet, musician, vocalist, graphic designer, and photoshop artist. He has worked on multiple state and national level conventions. Other than anime, catch him watching western series that really have in themselves the solidity to catch his attention.