This episode uses every tool in its disposal to take a story that mostly exists to set up future episodes to tell a story that is still absolutely riveting, from top to bottom, in the here and now.
Remember a couple of weeks, when I talked about the significance of all those little cinematic flourishes that MAPPA indulges in with this Chainsaw Man adaptation? Well, hold on to your butts, Chainsaw Children, because “KILL DENJI” is basically nothing but cinematic flourishes for a straight 24 minutes, and it is glorious. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the Eternity Devil Arc for a couple of reasons: For one, it’s the part of the manga I remember the least, so it’s been exciting to approach this material with the closest thing to fresh eyes as I’m liable to get for this show. Even more than that, though, is that I’ve been looking forward to seeing what the show would do with the parts of the arc that I did remember; namely, I have been waiting to see how the MAPPA crew flexed their muscles to squeeze every drop of humor, suspense, and despair they could from Special Division 4’s lovely little jaunt through the most cursed hotel in existence.
Here’s the thing about “KILL DENJI” that makes it such a great episode of television: It uses every tool in its disposal to take a story that mostly exists to set up all the exciting action that is coming in future episodes to tell a story that is still absolutely riveting, from top to bottom, in the here and now. On the surface, that seems like a difficult task indeed, since most of this episode consists of simply sitting around with the various crew members of SPD4 as they all contend with the fact that the extra-dimensional time pocket that they’ve been trapped in also happens to be located on the middle floor of some dingy two-star hotel, aka “the most mind-numbingly anonymous setting imaginable in which to slowly die of starvation and thirst.” Arai literally curls up into a ball and has himself a little panic attack; Aki distracts himself by wandering the endless and meaningless hallways of the Eternity Devil’s trap; Denji takes a nap; Power begins indulging in her fantasies of political conquest and world domination; Himeno tries her best to take control of an utterly FUBAR situation, and Kobeni… well, we’ll get to her.
It is, in short, one of those episodes that the more kinetically oriented fan-kids might describe as “The One Where Nothing Happens.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Through sheer force of cinematic willpower (not to mention the incredibly solid character writing that Tatsuki Fujimoto handed over on a silver platter), MAPPA makes every scene of this “uneventful” episode positively bristle with latent tension and/or comic energy. The constantly moving camera and strategically framed storyboards prevent any of the extensive dialogue exchanges from feeling forced or stilted. Subtle character animation and sound design ripped straight from a horror movie ensure that the audience and the characters can never let their guard down for long. The editing remains paced to razor-sharp perfection, so the comedic relief hits hard enough to relieve some of that built-up tension, only for the sudden arrival of the Eternity Demon’s slithering mass of limbs and maws to crank it right back up again.
Here’s a litmus test you can use to understand exactly what I mean: Watch this episode again, except on mute. Turn off the subtitles, too. I guarantee you that even a completely fresh viewer would be able to understand everything they needed to know about the plot of the episode, the characters’ motivations and reactions, and even the context of completely whackadoo breakdowns, like when Kobeni just completely loses her shit and decides that the best solution to all of their problems is to try and stab all of her coworkers. That Kobeni is only successful in maiming Aki, the one person that she definitely, under no circumstances should have stabbed in the guts, speaks to how well Chainsaw Man has begun to nail its particular balance of gore, dumbass comedy, and genuine pathos.
It’s funny as hell when Kobeni is standing there, bloody knife in hand, insisting that she totally isn’t to blame for the fact that everyone can suddenly get a clean look at Aki’s kidneys, because Kobeni is so cosmically terrible at literally everything she does that you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it. At the same time, we saw in Himeno’s tragicomic flashback that Aki is the partner that she has sworn never to lose, because the dummy was kind enough to stand up for her when she got slapped in the face. We see the mixture of grim devotion and adolescent annoyance in Denji’s face when he realizes that the son-of-a-bitch had to get all noble and save his ass, so now he has to chainsaw up the Eternity Devil’s guts in the hopes that he can maybe torture the unkillable demon into killing itself. Hell, you can even empathize with Kobeni, because while she might be the completely wrong person for this line of work, the poor girl doesn’t even want to be here herself, and I reckon a lot of regular folks would get a little stab-happy in such trying circumstances.
The point is, that the emotions of Chainsaw Man‘s cast run deep, and they feel real, even when (and sometimes especially when) those emotions are coming from a bunch of desperate idiots and/or their equally desperate boss-mommies and boss-daddies. Through a combination of excellently produced animation, great voice-acting, and stellar writing, Chainsaw Man has given us a cast of character’s that we really give a damn about, which means that we’ll shut our stupid traps and enjoy watching them do just about anything, and there won’t be a single second of it that feels like a waste.
Odds and Ends
• Power’s Playlist This week’s ED is set to “Dainō-tekina Rendezvous” by Kanaria, and I have to be honest with y’all, if I had a main nit to pick with this episode, it would be that this might be the weakest ending so far. The animation was nothing spectacular, and the song just didn’t do it for me.
• Kids Say the Denji-est Things! Lots of great options for best line of the episode this week, from Power’s declaration of her intent to win a Nobel Prize to Himeno casually announcing that she had to knock Kobeni out for drinking toilet water. Then there’s Denji’s perfect shit-eating grin in this shot right here, which easily earned the biggest laugh of the night from me.
• I lied when I said that the ED was the only nitpick I had with this ep, because I also have to admit that Arai really isn’t making much of a case for himself in this little ensemble we’ve got going on. He’s not competent or cool enough to stand side-by-side with Aki and Himeno, he isn’t brain-dead enough to match anti-wits with Denji and Power, and he isn’t comically miserable enough to outshine Kobeni. He’s just… there.
Chainsaw Man is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.