Tatsuki Fujimoto has unquestionably built a name for himself in recent years. With Chainsaw Man’s global popularity and other critically lauded works like Goodbye, Eri, it’s good to see viewers fully recognize Fujimoto’s talents. But what about his previous works? Before Chainsaw Man is a collection of self-contained stories written by Fujimoto prior to the serialization of Chainsaw Man, and they show how he has polished his writing technique over the years.
As a writer and artist, I sincerely love Fujimoto. He’s one of the few contemporary mangakas capable of imbuing his works with a cinematic atmosphere and infusing a lot of passion into seemingly basic and unorthodox themes. It makes little difference whether those unusual beliefs are grounded in truth or the weirdly supernatural. I constantly find myself smiling as I walk away from his stories. This is most noticeable in the volume’s final two stories, “Nayuta of the Prophecy” and “Sisters.”
The former is about a young man who is responsible for his demon sister, whom the rest of the world despises owing to some obscure apocalyptic prophecy. The contrast between how the rest of the world sees this little girl who speaks in complete nonsense and how her brother tries to come to grips with the confusing feelings that such a circumstance brings him is interesting and, in the end, makes for an immensely touching story. You can see how this one-shot inspired some of the themes contained in Chainsaw Man – even the small girl’s look is evocative of a recent character in that serialization. However, there is a greater emphasis here on moving beyond our initial anxieties of the unknown and focusing on other connections we might create with the people we care about. It was quite satisfying to see the brother piece things together.
But you don’t need demons or world-ending stakes to convey that idea. Sometimes all you need is two sisters who can’t communicate with each other. Surprisingly, given its more grounded approach, I find the setup for “Sisters” a little tougher to believe, and a part of me was continually waiting for a twist at the conclusion. “Sisters” does, however, shine in its straightforwardness. A story about two sisters who repeatedly misunderstand each other but eventually discover some common ground doesn’t offer much room for captivating intrigue or unexpected twists. Nonetheless, realism and slightly more detailed art direction lent validity to the notion of “putting it all out there for the world to see.”
Speaking of art style, that was arguably the most noticeable aspect of the first narrative, “Mermaid Rhapsody.” It tells a straightforward, albeit unconventional, love story between a mermaid and a human in a world where the two species despise one other. I wouldn’t call it Romeo and Juliet, and I believe the story’s aims become jumbled by the conclusion. It’s difficult to know whether the story is attempting to be a plain romance, a coming-of-age drama about a youngster attempting to reconcile with his mother, or a societal statement on racism. Maybe it’s trying to be all three things at once, but the story lacks real estate and feels bloated while being only about 50 pages long. Nonetheless, “Mermaid Rhapsody” manages to portray a similar sense of heart through its art direction, with intriguing motifs and layouts that evoke a strong sense of loneliness and desire. I wouldn’t be shocked if the premise is based on some of the layouts drawn, and I’d say that the artwork alone is worth reading.
That leaves us with the book’s second narrative, “Woke-Up-as-a-Girl-Syndrome,” which is unquestionably the weakest of the four. Not only does the premise feel uninspired, but I was also left perplexed as to what the ultimate message was supposed to be. This is a gender-bending story in which it appears that it is common for people to wake up as a completely new gender, and there have been some discussions on how this may affect a person’s sexual orientation and brain chemistry. The plot is noisy, fast-paced, and, at its worst, oblivious to the realities of sexual attraction. This is the least enduring of the four stories in this collection. It nearly feels like the story is written as a comedy, but I didn’t chuckle at some of Fujimoto’s typical character outbursts here, and I also feel that the finale was supposed to evoke a similar joyful emotion between our two key characters. Unfortunately, “Woke-Up-as-a-Girl-Syndrome” was the least intriguing due to the limited page count and how everything was juggled.
Having said that, the final two stories in this book are worth the price of admission on their own. They are the perfect distillation of ideas in the majority of Fujimoto’s works, showcasing the remarkably down-to-earth character of his themes. “Mermaid Rhapsody” isn’t a horrible story; it’s just one that could’ve been better if given more room to develop its ideas, and while I didn’t think much of “Woke-Up-as-a-Girl-Syndrome,” having three decent-to-excellent stories for the price of this collection is still a nice value. If you like Chainsaw Man and are intrigued about Fujimoto’s other works, this is a volume you should add to your collection.