Would Chainsaw Man Have Been Popular in the Original Big Three Shonen Era?
Chainsaw Man, a classic manga by Tatsuki Fujimoto, has become a fixture in the shonen genre thanks in large part to the wildly successful anime adaptation of the same name. Strangely, Chainsaw Man is a product of its period since it is both a tried-and-true shonen action adventure and a hilarious deconstruction of what shonen is intended to be.
Today’s shonen manga and anime is more varied than ever, with works like Horimiya and Komi Can’t Communicate including elements of the shojo genre. It is now appropriate to play about with the formula and investigate what-ifs and deconstructions, as was done with Chainsaw Man, since Shonen has long ago established its contemporary voice. However, it would have been a mistake to do so while the shonen “big three” were at their peak.
Why Chainsaw Man Would Have Struggled Against the Original Big Three
Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, which debuted in 1997, Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, which debuted in 1999, and Tite Kubo’s Bleach, which completed the trio when it began serialisation in 2001, are retrospectively considered as the “traditional big three.” In terms of visibility, popularity, and more objectively, manga volume sales, these three shonen titans ruled the market at the time, even overshadowing other critically acclaimed series like Hunter x Hunter, D.Gray-Man, and Fullmetal Alchemist.
After previous series like Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Slam Dunk were concluded, these three titans helped define shonen during that time period, which ran from the late 1990s to the mid-2010s. With a few notable exceptions, the Shonen audience was a happy, vivacious group that valued camaraderie, competitive power structures, wholesome humour, and inspirational themes. Monkey D. Luffy and Edward Elric were powerful, morally upright characters at that period.
With storyline themes like severe gore and blood, a sombre tone of suffering and death, and undoubtedly antiheroes like the pervy Denji and his devilish sidekick Power, Chainsaw Man seeks to critique such things. Chainsaw Man is a joyful and welcome departure from the shonen formula for manga and anime fans now, but in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it would have clashed too much with the big three and their rivals.
Chainsaw Man would have seemed strangely out of place in those series, which established the bar and the tone for shonen. The main three’s greatest qualities would have been hotly contested and mocked, and shonen fans would not have approved of it. It would have been a situation where “Look around, Chainsaw Man! This is a time of optimism and joy!”
Why Chainsaw Man’s Ideas Had to Wait to Be Relevant
It is simply a matter of when, not if, shonen lovers want to read and watch Chainsaw Man since it has so much to give. When the big three were at their peak, shonen manga and anime tended to be a little more homogeneous and stayed loyal to the slogan “straightforward action and humour for males.” Titles like Komi Can’t Communicate and Chainsaw Man shown that shonen could successfully branch out and take concepts from shojo and seinen throughout time, particularly from the late 2010s.
While shonen may have done this in the past, it was during this more recent period that fans became used to shonen titles being more than just Dragon Ball imitations. In addition to borrowing gritty, grimier narrative aspects from seinen works like Chainsaw Man, Attack on Titan, and Jujutsu Kaisen, the demographic now has a foot in the shojo door, which may help explain shonen’s resurgence among female viewers. Though it greatly broadens what shonen may be, it does not weaken the fundamental concepts of the genre.
For a shonen deconstruction like Chainsaw Man, that setting is ideal. The post-Dragon Ball and post-Yu Yu Hakusho shonen genre has at this point solidified and found its voice among Millennial and older Gen Z fans, so that gives Chainsaw Man a starting point from which to dismantle. A punkish, against-the-grain shonen like Chainsaw Man was just what was required for satire, parody, and deconstruction tales.
Chainsaw Man is prepared to attack now that Millennial and Gen Z-style shonen has developed and established itself, replete with darker tones and cross-pollination with shojo and seinen. Nowadays, shonen may be nearly anything—all for the better—and Tatsuki Fujimoto made the most of this opportunity. One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach can now take a back seat and observe what their imaginative successors accomplish with the framework they set up years ago.
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