Denji’s life is nothing short of heart-wrenching. Throughout the series of Chainsaw Man, we see how he is manipulated, betrayed, and treated like an animal as he fights for his life. Even when he can find joy in the midst of such turmoil, it is taken away from him. With all of that in mind, let’s discuss the depressing reality of Denji.
To say Denji had a bad childhood would be a tremendous understatement. Denji’s mother died when he was very young, so he never received motherly love. His father was a physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic. To make matters worse, he died when Denji was only five years old. He inherited nothing but a mountain of debt his father owed to the Yakuza.
It comes as no surprise Denji was actually the one who killed his father, as his father, in a drunken state, had attacked him and threatened his life. Due to the shock of his action, Denji lost all account of what had happened, locking it deep inside his mind.
However, the Yakuza lied to young Denji, saying his father died by suicide, in order to guarantee they could collect payment on that debt. From then on, Denji was forced to sell a few body parts like his left nut, just so he could put a dent in the amount of money that was owed.
Amidst the hopeless situation, Denji found a ray of hope upon a mortally wounded, dog-like chainsaw devil named Pochita. While most people would immediately try to kill a devil on sight, Denji was different. He gave Pochita his own blood so that he could heal his wound, eventually they became best friends. Despite the horrendous circumstances Denji could only find happiness with the ultimate outcasts, being a Devil.
On top of this new-found happiness, Denji was also able to start taking small, albeit life threatening, devil hunting jobs from the Yakuza because of Pochita’s chainsaw powers. The Yakuza treated him like he wasn’t even human, often calling him a dog. One could compare his situation to a dog that is left outside to rot and starve while being chained to a post, the chain and post being Denji’s debt.
Debt to the Yakuza:
Most of the money he made from killing devils went into this debt; he barely had enough to afford a slice of bread, which he would split with Pochita. Denji’s treatment of Pochita can be seen as the antithesis of the yakuza’s actions.
Instead of chaining Pochita to a post to work for him, Denji instead fed and became friends with the devil which became the reason for his salvation. His constant fight for survival left little room for dreams, other than eating jam on toast or having a girlfriend.
Everything changed when Denji encountered the Zombie Devil in chapter 1. He died in the most painful and brutal way one could think of, being ripped apart limb from limb and tossed into a dumpster after the fact. Pochita wanting him to live replaced Denji’s heart with its own body, and brought Denji back to life on the condition that he show Pochita his dream, which was to live a normal life.
Denji became a hybrid of sorts, keeping his consciousness and personality, while being fused with a devil and gaining devil powers. Once Denji came to, he proceeded to do to the Zombie Devil what it did to him, shredding it to pieces. This anomalous situation prompted Makima, a high-ranking public safety devil hunter, to find Denji.
Makima approached Denji under the guise of his unique condition being sought after by Public Safety, but her true intentions were much darker. The most depressing part of Denji’s reality is not his childhood or him being forced to hunt devils. It is how he managed to find joy in those things, only for Makima to destroy everything he holds dear.
Makima gave Denji an ultimatum: be killed by her, or become her pet while receiving necessities like food and shelter. Denji, acting purely out of self-preservation, agreed to being her dog, and he did so with no hesitation. It is already disheartening to see Denji, a sixteen-year-old boy, go through an amount of pain that no one should ever endure. To see him happily become someone’s property in exchange for the bare minimum to live shows how desperate his situation is.
Finding Joy In Hell:
As a hybrid with the ability to regenerate body parts, Denji was a frontliner and sometimes used as bait. Regardless, these missions gave Denji a sense of importance. In chapter 19, Denji even expressed how much fun he was having as he fought the Eternity Devil, comparing it to a dip in the pool. Denji’s teammates assumed he was insane, which shows how their lives were “easy” compared to his.
We learn more about how happy devil hunting made Denji after he meets Reze. Right before chapter 44, Reze asked Denji to run away with her. However, Denji said he couldn’t, and he told her about how he enjoyed his work, and he felt like he had a career goal. He was aware of the progress he had made by being a devil hunter, and he felt happy.
Denji could even find joy in what most would consider torture, For example, Kobeni. That made him an easy target for Makima. She preyed on his naivety by flirting with Denji, and it didn’t take long for him to become infatuated by her.
After Denji touched boobs for the first time, he felt like it wasn’t a big deal even though it was his dream. In chapter 12, Denji confided in Makima, worrying that every time he accomplished a goal, he’d realize he was happier during the chase. She responded by pulling his hand toward her ear, her mouth, and her breast. She completely took advantage of his vulnerable moment in order to gain his adoration.
After Himeno, a devil hunter he worked with, kissed Denji and threw up in his mouth in chapter 21 (which, unfortunately, is a spectacle that will be forever etched into my memory), he felt pretty upset since it was his first kiss. Addressing the dog analogy, this is a flagrant “dogs eat vomit” joke if I’ve ever seen one. When he confided in Makima, she responded by putting her used loli-pop in his mouth, framing it as his first indirect kiss. Most people would not take kindly to this, but dogs don’t mind eating a human’s trash.
Denji’s New Family:
The manipulation tactics that we have explained so far are only surface-level. In order to understand the depth of Denji’s depressing reality, we must understand why Makima is manipulating him and how she gave him a sliver of happiness, only to shatter his dreams for her own desire. It began and ended with Aki and Power.
Aki Hayawaka became a devil hunter so he could destroy the gun devil after it killed his brother. Power was the blood devil fiend. Things were rocky at first, as the three had personalities that clashed. However, they eventually learned to coexist as they overcame challenging missions together, forming a deep bond. Aki was like an older brother to Denji and Power, and he was willing to give up his dream of killing the Gun Devil to protect them. Power was like Denji’s little sister, and he went as far as turning down a trip with Makima so he could take care of Power in chapter 71. The three became inseparable, and it made me so happy for Denji.
Aki and Power’s Death:
Denji was finally living his dream. He had a family, and he was able to live comfortably. Furthermore, he began to mature mentally and emotionally, since he had the energy to self reflect. To see what happened next in chapters 75-81 was, to say the least, shocking and devastating.
Simply put, Makima began by turning Aki into a Gun Devil fiend and sending him to attack Denji. Denji was forced to either kill Aki or let millions of people die. It’s hard to imagine how Denji must have felt. It was clear that the confidence he gradually built in himself had dissipated to nothing after Aki’s death. That led to him deciding he would no longer think for himself, opting to become Makima’s obedient dog.
To Makima, this was perfect, it allowed her to tear what little hope Denji had left into pieces. Makima ordered Denji to open the door to Power after admitting she would kill her. Denji being the dog he was now, opened the door, and in an instant:
Power’s entire torso was obliterated, killing the only family Denji had left at this point. After doing all of this, Makima reveals that Denji was the one who killed his father.
This was too much for Denji to handle. Everything he cared about had just been destroyed. That, combined with his repressed childhood trauma being recalled, left him in a stupor. He was so shocked by what had happened to him, he had to ask Makima if he was dreaming. She continued to kick him while he was down, saying he was to blame for everything. She convinced him that he did not ever deserve to live a normal life. In doing so, she crushed Denji’s dream, breaking the contract he made with Pochita.
It is so easy to describe what happened to Denji, but it is almost impossible to properly convey the emotions that were invoked. To watch Denji work so hard to improve himself after coming from nothing, just to have it taken away in an instant, feels incredibly frustrating and depressing. It is hard not to react with shock, all while holding back the urge to cry. Denji was someone who would always stand out from his teammates. He never showed signs of sadness during his journey, so seeing him break down was particularly hard to read.
The Bigger Picture:
It is important to put into perspective what Makima put Denji through. Many of us know how it feels to be betrayed by someone we thought we could trust. For some, it can be difficult to allow any new bonds to form after that.
Many of us also understand how it feels to grieve. It can take years to get to a point where the person you lost is no longer on your mind at all times.
Denji had to experience both at the same time, and some readers may even understand what that is like.
He will never be able to forget what happened to him. Even after Makima is killed several chapters later, he must be the one to take care of her reincarnation, Nayuta. She is there to serve as a constant reminder of the harm inflicted on him.
Denji and Makima are the Same:
What is ironic, and in a way, frustrating, is the dichotomy between Denji and Makima. They both want a relationship where they were treated as equals. The whole reason Makima pursued Chainsaw Man makes sense if you consider this. It is explicitly stated by Pochita in chapter 97 that the Control Devil always wanted to have a family. If you think back to chapter 39, both Makima and Denji cried when they watched the movie no one else understood. Someone from the Chainsaw Man community even pointed out how the characters in the movie were hugging as equals.
The Control Devil pursued this dream while hurting an innocent person. Even after that, it got everything it hoped for: a family. Denji, on the other hand, had to suffer the consequences of Makima’s actions and bear all responsibility. Denji deserved far better, and I can only hope things look up for him in the future.