Directed by Masato Nakazono and Takeshi Satō, “Mission Start” doesn’t capture the same frenzied energy or blanket heartache of the past few episodes. Still, it manages to build upon what we’ve come to know of the characters, making their stories and actions hit with greater significance because we now understand what motivates them.
Despite the tragedy in Denji and Power’s stories, Aki has quickly become the most evident heart of the series, despite the rigid affectation he’s introduced with. A straight-laced rule follower, initially Aki acts as the one to level the chaos that the two put in his care tend to drag behind them – it’s his (delightful looking) morning routine that’s left in shambles once the other two are let loose inside his home. And yet, while he may not be put through the physical ringer that Denji and Power might’ve been suffering for the past two episodes as their trained with little regard for their lives, Aki is still paying the ultimate price. In the first stages of grief for his friend and partner, the acceptance stage for the grief of his own, severed life, he’s offered not a life vest to stay afloat, but rather, a grenade to burrow himself with into the belly of the beast. His has, and always will be, a suicide mission. It’s just now, after his recent meeting with the Future Devil, he’s been given ammunition.
Aki is a devastating character. From watching his caffeinated bliss be tarnished, the harrowing backstory that would lead him on his current path, the death of his friend, and now, the further compromising of his soul. It would be jarring to see the differences in tone between Aki’s scenes and those of Denji and Powers if not for the clear-cut path we see leading them to each other, as all three grow increasingly pliable, molded into weapons meant for impact rather than durability. There’s humor in the training sequences because Denji doesn’t know any better and still believes his life has been majorly upgraded since joining the Devil Hunters. Through and through he is a believable 16-year-old who is as easy to fall in step with authority if promised affection and care as he is fallible to the narcissism and brutality of others in positions of power who know more – have seen endlessly more.
It’s a shame that the episode wasn’t more evenly split between the two narratives before rushing into the third act as Special Division 4 raids a branch of the yakuza who are affiliated with the Gun Devil. With so much story to set up and barrel through this episode feels like one of the only of the season to lack in keeping the energy up, due to pacing and sporadic character moments – it’s easy to forget Denji is even at the raid by the end of the episode. Regardless, something is satisfying about seeing Chainsaw Man, in all its gore-raddled glory, still, find itself nestled safely into the narrative beats of all great shonen. We’re getting our training arc and a fight where characters learn both what they lack and the foe they’ll be striving to overcome, it’s just that the stakes are significant and potential losses devastating.
Even the choppier bits of storytelling can’t numb viewers to Aki’s story though, which starts with The Future Devil giving him his power without asking for anything in return. As the Devil tells him, seeing his death alone will be enough as it’s supposed to be magnificent. And by the episode’s end, we’re already worried that the spectacular demise he’s been plagued with is upon us, as he’s overwhelmed by a reanimated Ghost Devil turned against him and Sawatari. In the final moments, as Aki is being held in a chokehold, his prospects hang in dire limbo.
It’s been the first time that as someone who hasn’t read the source material the episode’s cliffhanger left with it the desire to read ahead. It’s a testament to the writers how much we care about these characters. It would be so easy for MAPPA to deliver on high-octane visuals and spectacle and call it a day but instead they capture the wounds that litter these characters – physical and mental – and manage to telegraph them into the action set pieces. It’s what makes Chainsaw Man one of the best anime of 2022.
Another excellent EP was well delivered by Queen Bee who fans might recognize from their lead singers work on this year’s Inu-Oh or series such as Dororo.
Featured Image Courtesy of MAPPA/Crunchyroll