How would you rate episode 9 of
Chainsaw Man ?
Community score: 4.6
Horror is one of the genres that struggles the most in the medium of animation, Japanese or otherwise, because there’s often simply too large a gulf between the artificiality of a two-dimensional image and the intimate, visceral responses needed to get a viewer’s stomach to truly tie itself into knots. Fear is perhaps the oldest and most animal of all emotional responses; before joy, love, hope, or wonder, there had to have been fear, or else the earliest life forms would never have survived. It’s a matter of pure instinct, a lot of the time, and for as malleable and flawed as the human brain is, you have to work pretty hard to trick it into activating that fight-or-flight response when all you’ve got to work with are a bunch of paper drawings and some flickering lights.
What makes “From Kyoto” such a treat is that it managed to scare me a little. I’m not going to pretend that it’s some masterclass in bone-rattling, jump-out-of-your-skin horror, but the episode’s vibes still managed to get under my skin in a way that animation rarely does. What’s even more interesting is that all that horror has almost nothing to do with the crazy murder devil made mostly out of bloody swords or the hideous snake thing that his partner Sawatari used to wipe Himeno off the face of the Earth last week. No, instead, Chainsaw Man can evoke dread and horror with little more than a wry smile, a whispered name, and a deceptively simple twist of the hands.
Okay, I guess there’s also a metric shit-ton of blood and exploding human carcasses, but you get my point. The bodies getting crushed, squeezed, and popped like so many gore-filled water balloons are not themselves the source of the horror; they’re just the visual punchline to the world’s scariest joke, the kind of grim prank that has exactly one person in the world laughing while everyone else can only scream in confusion and terror.
Man, who would have thought that Makima would share so much in common with Art the Clown?
Before we get to that, though, we probably need to spread the kudos around to the rest of the episode’s drama and action spectacle, which is—big surprise, here—supremely and good. Did any of you watching this show honestly think I would come here and complain about the Chainsaw Man v. Katana Man battle or Kobeni’s sudden transformation into a shockingly competent renderer of human-ish flesh? Hell no. Even if the choreography and animation weren’t sufficiently on-point enough to make me go “Duuuuude” every five seconds, I’d still give this episode top marks simply for the scene where Katana Man picks up Denji’s vivisected torso by the handle on his Chainsaw Head. The very first moment I laid my eyes on Chainsaw Man, I said out loud to nobody in particular, “We had better get a scene where some gnarly looking devil motherfucker grabs Chainsaw Man by that handle on his head!” My faith was not unfounded. The Idiot God of Vrooooooms and Brrrrrrrrrs hath delivered his bounty upon his, his chainless flock. Praise be.
That said, it is impossible to deny that the star of the episode is the recently deceased and even more recently de-deceased Makima, who makes it very clear to literally anyone with eyes to see and ears to listen (but not too close) that she is One-Hundred-Percent Not to Be Fucked With™. Her manipulative and somewhat ominously guarded tendencies have been on display since the very first episodes of the series, but “From Kyoto” pushes Makima far past the edge of “Decently Shady Nick Fury Type” and straight into “Pants-Crappingly Scary Death Wizard” territory.
It’s one thing to immediately come back from a fatal case of skull perforation and wreak terrible vengeance on the fools who even dared to aim a gun in your general direction; who among us hasn’t fantasized about John Wick-ing our worst nemeses with such brutal theatricality? It’s another thing altogether, however, to then casually and calmly recruit two baker’s dozen of oblivious prison inmates to use as ritualistic sacrifices to whatever insane Devil you made a contract with to receive the power of Remotely Transforming Any Poor Son-of-a-Bitch Whose Name You Have Into The Human Equivalent of a Mentos-Filled Coke Bottle. What Devil would that even be, anyways? Is Makima in league with Large Marge from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure?
Whatever the source of Makima’s terrifying power, the result is clear: These Gun Devil goons have underestimated their foes, and our few surviving Devil Hunters have clearly underestimated their boss. Madoka, at least, is wise enough to get out while the getting is good, but not before asking his former superior how much of this attack she had predicted in advance, considering how she is now conveniently being put in charge of every Special Division in Tokyo (or what’s left of them, at least). Makima refuses to answer a civilian, which is awfully telling.
That’s not the scary part, though. The scary part, the little detail that makes the “horror” portion of this horror-action-comedy hybrid hit so hard this week, is that little smile of hers. Nothing fazes her, whether she’s covered in blood and bit of her own brains, or quietly slaughtering dozens of assailants and prisoners. Despite everything that’s happened over the last two weeks—or worse yet, because of it all—Makima is just so damned pleased with herself. Himeno is gone, Denji’s been cut in two, and just as many Devil Hunters died today as anyone else, and Makima just can’t help herself. She smiles, and she smiles, and she smiles.
• Power’s Playlist I loved the animation we got for this week’s ED, seeing as I’m a total sucker for the red-black-white color combination, and I can’t help but appreciate all of the work that went into animating all of those intestines. Aimer‘s “Deep Down” is a pretty killer track, too.
• Kids Say the Denji-est Things! Once again, our boy Denji is ever so slightly overshadowed by the equally deranged weirdos he keeps company with. The line of the week has to go to poor, traumatized Kobeni’s earnest “I’m sorry I tried to kill you the other day.” (In all seriousness, no matter how much well-deserved shit that Kobeni gets for being kind of hilariously pathetic, Karin Takahashi did an incredible job capturing the character’s fraught emotional state this week).
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James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.