Thank you, YouTube algorithm, for gracing me with a video diving into the Chainsaw Man author’s first series and why I should read it. Based upon how few people have even read this series, I doubt I would’ve ever come across it myself, unless I decided to look up the author myself one day. But barely anybody seems to acknowledge his other works (not even a “from the author of [blank]”), thus I assumed this was his first go-round. I’m overjoyed to be wrong on that one, Fire Punch potentially ranking above Chainsaw Man for me as I type this. It’s complicated, though.
That aforementioned video had prepared me for a pretty grimdark tale, except I still somehow got more than I bargained for. For any potential readers of this series, be aware that any attempt at slapping “content warnings” on it would wind up with something along these lines.
To begin with, our main character is a child with regenerative abilities who feeds his town primarily with his own flesh. There’s an ice age on and so resources, food particularly, are scarce, meaning it’s either cannibalism or death. Plenty choose death, too, taking that over succumbing to eating human flesh. When another group comes across his town and finds out they’re cannibals, they torch the place, including our main character and his sister, with a flame that will burn until there’s no fuel left for it to feed upon. His sister’s regeneration isn’t strong enough to survive, but he somehow manages to cling on to life, becoming like the Human Torch, only with never-ending pain as he’s now cursed to live a life in which he’s forever burning alive.
Need I remind you this is just the initial set-up for our main character, the one who inevitably becomes the titular “Fire Punch”? That this is nothing compared to a lot of what follows? Okay, now that I’ve set expectations for what kind of story this is going to be, let me explain the first time it caught me off guard. See, when the villains of the story talked of taking the children as hostages/slaves to use for their own deviant pleasures, it all felt pretty boilerplate. That’s pretty standard behavior for sadistic villains in stories like these. I was prepared for it, just wondering when we’d rip that band-aid off, so to speak. Then the moment came and somehow it became their dogs, not them, that were going to be doing the deed, and I immediately understood I had to recalibrate my expectations.
Please understand, however, that this series is also not without its levity. I don’t know what it is about Fujimoto, but he has a preternatural knack for keeping readers from dwelling on gruesome moments for too long. While he also knows how to plumb the depths of emotion as well as anybody else, more often than not he’s buoying the story with well-timed humor. Were it not for that, these books would be a dreadful slog. Any attempt by me to give you a blow-by-blow of the main plot beats would, at best, make it sound absolutely depressing. And I want you to believe me when I say it’s honestly not.
Fire Punch tackles a wealth of dark, potentially triggering, subject matter, its characters all undergo massive amounts of trauma, and Fujimoto grapples with plenty of touchy subjects; that being said, it doesn’t ever dip into the realm of something like torture porn, as it feels like these things are all a means to a planned end, that he’s using them to say something. Am I altogether certain what he’s trying to say some of the times, or do I think that planned end lives up to all that comes prior? The answer to both questions is a resounding no.
When I said Fire Punch potentially ranks above Chainsaw Man, that lack of certainty comes as a result of the final two volumes when things go most off the rails. I was wondering throughout the entirety of the series how Fujimoto could possibly bring this story home. It didn’t feel to me like there was any easy way of tying things up with a neat little bow, and the actual ending sure as hell didn’t contradict that. Despite all the supernatural elements throughout the series, it’s in those final two volumes that he introduces the most out-there stuff. And I waver between being okay with it because the situations it puts our characters in allow for quality character beats and development and thinking it’s just too nutso. Like, I know it’s cliche to ask, but did he just resort to some variety of drug trip to break writers block and come up with this conclusion? I’d believe that in a heartbeat.
Mostly, though, it’s the final volume that left a weird taste in my mouth. I still don’t know how it sits with me. I lean towards it being the only volume I legitimately dislike, as it leans heavily into the less savory aspects of the story, to put it simply. It’s mostly a bunch of those more questionable moments placed alongside the bizarre as hell set-up that Fujimoto chose to bring this story home. Even so, I think I could potentially be swayed into coming around on it in time. It’s just… I think I need other people’s help in figuring out what the fresh hell that all was. Who knows, maybe it’s like Men where, despite being initially put off by the ending, I later realized it was more thought out than I’d given it credit for (though I still maintain that we didn’t need the one part of that movie’s conclusion to repeat so many times). The problem is, I don’t know if I’ll be able to find as much analysis of the series as I did of Men, and so I might be destined to remain forever confused about what exactly he was going for.
Regardless, those first six volumes positively knock it out of the park, enough to make me forgive the (perceived) missteps of the conclusion. Like Chainsaw Man, it was that awesome blend Fujimoto seems to do best, giving you equal doses of humor, emotion, action, and sheer what-the-fuckery. Only this time a little more mature. Or at least not as much like the product of a teenage boy’s mind. There was one woman who did her fighting in only a bikini because… reasons… but she had a man joining her who was dressed only in tighty whities, so equal opportunity nudity! A marked improvement on the very male-gazey Chainsaw Man. Oh, and there’s even transgender representation, if that’s a plus for anybody. I wish he’d grappled with it a little more, but it was still nice to see the inclusion. Lastly, there’s my favorite character, the film-obsessed Togata who we come to learn is the one chronicling the story of “Fire Punch” with her film camera. All her movies were burned up, and she needed something to take her mind off her increasingly boring existence as another extremely powerful regenerative human, so this was just the spark (pun intended) she needed to get out of that slump. Like Chainsaw Man’s Power after her, she’s a bit of a loose cannon. Unlike Power, however, she’s cool and calculated, and her story winds up being as affecting as almost anyone’s in Fire Punch. Give me a spin-off with the early years of Togata, pretty please. We don’t get nearly enough of her, Fujimoto.
So, if you’re not put off by more salacious subject matter, and don’t mind being taken for a dark, twisted, and crazy ride, you can’t do much better than Fire Punch. I don’t know what you’ll make of the ending. I still don’t even know for sure what I make of it. But it’s all worth a read, at the very least. And if you read it, maybe then I’ll have somebody else I can actually discuss that nutso ending with!