Chainsaw Man lets Kobeni fail, and that’s why it’s great anime

With the airing of the season 1 finale, today marks the final Chainsaw Man Tuesday of the year. Although our squad of dirtbag main characters have been through a lot through the 12 short episodes of the series, none of them have suffered as much as Kobeni Higashiyama.

Chainsaw Man is the story of Denji, a down on his luck teenage boy who, up until a few weeks ago, thought he’d die without ever touching a boob. For the time being, he’s merged with the Chainsaw Devil and has been employed under threat of death by the Japanese government to fight other devils. Denji is a main character, and while a lot of terrible things have already happened to him, there’s at least the pretense that he will learn from it.

Kobeni Higashiyama is not a main character. She’s a fellow devil hunter alongside Denji, but she doesn’t have his powers of the Chainsaw Devil — at least, none she can share or wield at the moment. In fact, she doesn’t seem to have any powers at all. Kobeni spends most of her time screaming and crying when faced with the ultraviolence Denji becomes accustomed to. If Denji’s journey is of discovering what modern life is all about, Kobeni’s life is a slapstick routine. She’s already trapped in the rat race. She doesn’t want to be there, but she doesn’t have a choice. Her parents told her she needed to make money to send her brother to college, and she had a choice between being a devil hunter or a sex worker.

Although I feel bad for Kobeni and the unending stream of misery she experiences, having her around in Chainsaw Man is like having a character from a Coen brothers movie in my stylish, hyper-violent anime. She’s sort of like Brad Pitt’s character in Burn After Reading, in that she has no idea what’s going on and is constantly in great danger, or like Barton Fink, in that she mostly makes the wrong choices and is constantly, inexplicably wet with sweat, tears, or some mixture of both. Unlike her fellow devil hunters, she can’t even keep her cool upon seeing the eldritch terrors she’s supposed to fight. She reacts like any regular schmuck would; screaming, crying, and begging for mercy.

What’s most hilarious about Kobeni’s suffering to me is she doesn’t even get to die. As her colleagues drop like flies around her, Kobeni, for whatever reason, remains alive. By the time this season ends, almost every one of the devil hunters Kobeni knows have been killed. But not Kobeni. Though she longs for the sweet embrace of death, she instead has the privilege of waltzing up to the season’s final confrontation, and gets blood splattered on her face for her trouble. When her fellow devil hunter Aki asks her why she’s still doing this job, she answers bonuses are coming up soon.

What Denji learns about throughout Chainsaw Man is the mundanity of the modern world. Things that seemed magical, almost mythological to him before becoming a devil hunter, like touching breasts and hanging out with girls, turn out to not be as life-changing as he assumed. But while Denji might be on a journey of self-actualization, most of us watching are like Kobeni. Nothing special happens to us. The universe does not bend itself toward ushering along our personal development. We all just have to keep going to our shitty jobs until they kill us, or we get our bonuses. Kobeni may be handier with a knife at the end of the season than the start, but no grand destiny awaits her. With her luck, she’ll never die.

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