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What Happened to Chainsaw Man? Analysing the Anime Adaptation & the Aftermath

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On October 14, 2022, just two days after Chainsaw Man Episode 1 aired, its opening sequence achieved over 11 million views on YouTube. I, like everybody else, assumed we had now entered the great Chainsaw Man era.

Everyone expected that the smash-hit manga, whose adaptation had been anticipated for years, would now become an all-consuming anime series, following in the footsteps of other giants like Attack on Titan and Demon Slayer.

Wind the clock forward twelve months – nearly ten months since the first season’s finale – and not a single official word has been uttered since.

So, what on earth happened to an anime adaptation that was as certain a success as you could possibly find?

From struggling sales to under-fire directors, here’s a look at Chainsaw Man’s anime journey so far, and what it could mean for the series going forward.

The Big Gamble Behind the Chainsaw Man Adaptation

While an anime series based on a multi-award-winning manga series should be a sure-fire win, that doesn’t mean it comes without pressure. Reputations and finances were staked on the series, much more so than with most contemporary anime.

MAPPA has never been a studio to shy away from pressure, though. Having won plaudits for shows such as Attack on Titan and Jujutsu Kaisen, Chainsaw Man felt like a natural fit.

MAPPA’s immense growth as a studio over the last decade is in part due to taking on more work than they can handle, to the disdain of some. MAPPA took Attack on Titan and Vinland Saga from Wit Studio’s grasp and has been widely criticised for overworking animators.

Led by CEO Manabu Otsuka, the studio has a reputation built on incredible productions over the last few years. Now in charge of adapting one of the biggest new manga properties, they set their sights on challenging how anime series are financed: the production committee.

Animator Dormitory explains really well how most anime are financed (and why that’s a problem model). As a short explainer, anime are usually funded through small investments from all manner of companies – from studios to broadcasters and merchandisers – who all take a certain percentage of control and/or revenues.

Instead of following this model, MAPPA decided to fully fund the project with their own capital. While this offered more creative and marketing freedom than they could dream of, it also meant MAPPA really needed the series to work so they could make their money back.

Surely, banking on the success of a Chainsaw Man anime wouldn’t be a problem, right? Given the free thinking that went into some of the key staff selections, you would assume MAPPA felt the same way.

Ryuu Nakayama was a promising animation director behind the scenes at MAPPA, having worked on episodes of Jujutsu Kaisen. However, when it was announced he would be in charge of the Chainsaw Man adaptation as a debut series director, it raised some eyebrows.

Later, rookie voice actor Kikunosuke Toya would be given the starring role of Denji. The rest of the key staff was a mix of experienced hands and promising upstarts.

As a whole, the production was marketed as a glimpse at what could be the future of Japanese anime, led by the brightest up-and-coming talent. As Otsuka said in an interview with Crunchyroll:

"I really believe that Chainsaw Man is going to be a new chapter for MAPPA."

While there were some uncertain voices, many fans were delighted by MAPPA’s decisions when the main trailer dropped less than a month before the series' premiere.

Many of the most popular comments from the time spoke of the trailer showcasing how far anime had come. Pushed by a fervour of anticipation, the feeling that Chainsaw Man was about to start a new age of Japanese anime was tangible.

The Chainsaw Man Anime Arrives

Riding on an unprecedented wave of hype, the adaptation landed with a bang, smashing viewing records and getting tons of praise. Even the show’s CGI, a classic topic of debate, was largely accepted and enjoyed.

Then the weekly slog of an anime season arrived. Many fans continued to thoroughly enjoy the series, which constantly outranked competitors in popularity polls.

However, under the surface, cracks of criticism quickly started to appear.

In November, around the infamous three-episode mark, reports started emerging about loud discourse amongst Japanese fans against the Chainsaw Man anime. Director Ryuu Nakayama temporarily had to limit replies to his Tweets, such was the strength of feeling online.

It should be said that anime discourse has never been the most amicable of places, and when dealing with as big a fanbase as Chainsaw Man, criticism would have been expected.

Many of the complaints did have some merit, though. Supposedly inspired by Fujimoto’s cinematic inspirations, the Chainsaw Man anime was designed from the start to have a distinctly cinematic feel.

However, through the well-defined and more grounded style of animation, the series lost the eccentricity and messiness for which Fujimoto was just as renowned.

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You could argue that capturing Fujimoto’s eccentricity in animation isn’t really possible, but that didn’t stop fans reacting to what they saw as a toned-down version of the series.

The stylistic choices of MAPPA’s animation formed the basis for growing criticism of the series, culminating in a petition for the series to be restarted with a different director gathering momentum in December.

Still, it was only a loud minority who felt dissatisfied. According to the Reddit karma calculator Anime Karma List, Chainsaw Man’s final episode was the show’s sixth most popular, after the opening three episodes and episodes 8 and 9.

That’s an incredible score given how few people reach the end of anime seasons – for comparison, the finale of Hell’s Paradise ranked 11th out of its 13 episodes – and suggests many fans continued to watch the series until the end.

The final episode included a teaser of things to come featuring Reze, a key character in the next part of the story. At this point, despite criticism, a second season of Chainsaw Man felt like only a matter of time. Now, it’s not so clear.

The Aftermath of Chainsaw Man’s Adaptation: Questions and Rumors

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For a lot of big anime, the next season is usually announced right after the conclusion of the last. Demon Slayer announced season 4 straight after season 3’s final episode, while Spy x Family – which concluded in the same month as Chainsaw Man – announced season 2 before season 1 had even finished.

Pretty much everyone expected Chainsaw Man to follow suit. Yet, no season 2 announcement has arrived. In fact, nothing arrived. No compilations, no teasers, nothing to even suggest an announcement could arrive soon.

In the void of news, fans started to clamour for explanations.

In February, less than two months after the premiere, news started emerging about Chainsaw Man’s Blu-ray copies struggling to sell.

While how much of a failure the hard copy sales were is still widely debated, MAPPA CEO Otsuka later admitted to wishing the series sold better and feeling unsatisfied, while also saying the series was a financial success.

Remember, without the financial safety net of a production committee, the importance of being able to drive sales from multiple channels was even greater for MAPPA.

Unlike on shows such as Jujutsu Kaisen, which the CEO admitted was likely to make a bigger impact, MAPPA had to foot Chainsaw Man’s bill.

What’s Next for the Chainsaw Man Anime?

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There has been a ton of rumours throughout 2023 regarding where the anime might go next. From director changes to Demon Slayer-style movie adaptations, there’s not a single grain that the rumour mill has left untouched.

Right now, it’s not easy to work out what MAPPA could do next with Chainsaw Man. Mainly, that’s not due to criticism but because there are so many potential options, and all of them will create an amazing reaction from the fans they’ll be banking on returning.

It’s easy to argue that the first season of Chainsaw Man wasn’t as great an adaptation as it could have been. However, the source material is as popular as ever.

There’s no doubt that when Chainsaw Man does return to the anime scene, it will be the biggest show in town. The main question, then, isn’t ‘if’, but ‘how’.

In what form Chainsaw Man returns is the big question MAPPA will be trying to answer, if they haven’t already. As far as I can see, there are three main options: a second season, a movie, or a reboot.

The second season would be the easiest option, but the fact it’s not been announced yet suggests something about this doesn’t sit quite right with MAPPA.

Whether due to financial or creative concerns, it’s clear MAPPA has doubts over this option; if a second season was belatedly announced, that might raise more eyebrows.

A movie release as part of a wider Chainsaw Man strategy would make a lot of sense. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 was a huge success, both financially and for the franchise, which is now making waves as season 2 airs.

Demon Slayer’s Mugen Train proved you can have a movie release that sits between anime seasons, and Chainsaw Man’s Reze arc could follow suit.

A final nuclear option could be to reboot the entire series, but this would be incredibly risky. Most successful reboots, such as Fullmetal Alchemist, happen many years after the original series has concluded.

If Chainsaw Man starts again from the beginning in 2024 or 2025, you worry how many of the original fans would flock back to watch the same story again.

That being said, if there was ever going to be an anime studio that wanted to try something as madcap as starting a series from the beginning, it might be MAPPA.

No matter what happens, one thing’s for sure: we’ve not heard the last of this story.

For more articles like this, take a look at our Anime, Chainsaw Man, and Originals pages.