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Chainsaw Man is one of the most popular manga series in recent years and for good reason: it has a fun premise, subverts a lot of expectations, the Devils are fascinating creatures, and the story, while very dark, can have some really poignant moments. There is material for a lot of analysis regarding this series but the focus of this article is on an interesting theme: that of wanting.
Most of Chainsaw Man’s premise and even its battle system rely on what the characters want. That could be fairly obvious in any story but it’s those desires that drive these characters; everybody wants something and it leads to many horrific situations because they don’t know when to stop. The first part of the manga is certainly like this and the protagonist, Denji, is the physical embodiment of the theme of wanting and ending up burned because of it.
Denji and His Goals
When the Chainsaw Man anime by MAPPA came out, Denji was initially regarded by newcomers as a kid with superficial goals and without a good bone in his entire being. And while he is not exactly a heroic character or the most morally righteous, it’s important to understand how his actions stem from a lack of carefree wanting in his life.
By all accounts, Denji was a slave for most of his life. He had an abusive father and had to carry the latter’s debt during most of his youth, working as a Devil Hunter and selling body parts to make do. He never went to school, Pochita was his only friend, never understood what feeling attracted to girls properly was, and overall was just a messed up kid who didn’t know anything about life.
Then Makima shows up.
It’s through Makima and Pochita’s help that Denji begins to want and this is how he falls into the former’s web. Makima was nice to him and gave him food, and Denji accepted to become her “dog”, which meant doing a lot of risky missions and putting his life on the line for someone who viewed him as disposable. His desires are simple: a home, food, and being with a girl but the story continuously punishes him for that.
He is willing to sacrifice his independence in the third act of the first act to Makima, practically handing the latter what she wanted on a silver platter, but he gains a bit of control over his life when he rejects his most basic desires. Denji ends up killing Makima, going against what his heart and basic instincts wanted, because it was the right thing and what she deserved.
Himeno, Aki, and Deals With The Devil
The entire battle system in Chainsaw Man, which relies on humans making deals with Devils to gain special abilities, is centered around the desire to want something. Sure, anime characters always want to get stronger for X and Y, but the difference here is that this is going to extreme lengths, even offering your lifespan, to get a bit of extra power.
Himeno and Aki are probably the most traditionally human characters of the part 1 cast and they are a good example of wanting something and that desire destroying them. They are broken individuals who have endured so much loss that they can’t back away from their role as Devil Hunters… so they press forward, wanting to do more, and failing to accomplish anything, as painful as it is to read.
The truth is that Himeno wants Aki to have a peaceful life, which is why she keeps him from using the sword that reduces his lifespan. Aki wants to get revenge, first for his family and later for Himeno, and constantly gives more and more in the quest for vengeance, only to end up sacrificing the little remains of his life and the connections he had built with Denji and Power.
It could be argued that is a sense of duty as well but, ultimately, both characters were too deep into their own wants and that was what killed them. Himeno didn’t leave the profession because he wanted Aki to stop being a Devil Hunter; if the latter had accepted, perhaps Himeno would have followed suit. On the other hand, if Aki had stopped wanting revenge, he would have had a chance to avoid Makima’s insanity.
Makima and Controlling The Want
Makima is a psychopath. Don’t listen to the Makima fanboys and the Makima simps. She’s crazy. Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s proceed.
In many ways, Makima represents the risk of wanting something to unhealthy extremes. She makes sure that everybody pays for wanting something as she herself desires something: to be with Chainsaw Man and control the world for what she considers to be “peace”. It is a good representation of not knowing when to stop and making sure that you always get your way, which is why she behaves the way she does.
Religions often show the Devil as tempting and offering people what they always wanted, with Makima playing a very good allegory to that. She offers Denji everything he wants and then manipulates him during most of the part, with the protagonist only breaking free and killing her the moment he manages to ignore what he wants the most: to be with Makima.
Makima controls people because she understands that everybody wants something. Most of the main cast is manipulated by her because she knows what they desire and plays around with their emotions until they are no longer useful. This is shown in the way she handled the likes of Aki and Power, much to Denji’s disgrace.
In fact, it could be argued that the entire Chainsaw Man part 1 story started the moment Denji met her and began to want something. And then the tragedies (and chainsaws) began.