A Look Back at Tatsuki Fujimoto Of The Prophecy – This Week in Anime

Director Kiyotaka Oshiyama will adapt Tatsuki Fujimoto‘s Look Back manga into an anime film this year, so there’s no better time for TWIA to look back at the inimitable creators’ other one-shots.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.

Tatsuki Fujimoto‘s manga series are currently available in print from Viz Media and on the Viz Manga and Shonen Jump apps.


Allow me to be the first to welcome you, Lucas, to the hallowed annals of “This Week In Anime” history! We like to have fun here. Usually, we keep it pretty low-key. Bad anime jokes and all that. But since this is a special occasion, I figured we’d bring you aboard with a bang.


Hello Steve! Thank you so much for having me! I’m excited to be here, and I know what I’m doing.

Don’t worry, kid. As long as you stick with me and have opinions about anime, manga, and the miasma of discourse that perpetually wafts around them, you’ll do well. And you can trust me. This’ll be my seventh(?) year writing these things, and I have no freakin’ idea what I’m doing either.

Here’s hoping I make up for what I lack in TWIA experience with my wealth of hot takes around Tatsuki Fujimoto, the latest mangaka wunderkind, author of Chainsaw Man, and focus of this week’s discussion!
That’s right, the Chainsaw Man man himself is back in the news with the recent announcement that his one-shot Look Back will be getting the anime film treatment later this year.

And while we’ve previously dug into Fujimoto vis-a-vis the Chainsaw Man anime, we figured this would be an excellent opportunity to look at his work outside of that bloody blockbuster—namely his shorts, one-shots, and other odds and ends.
The CSM anime was a blockbuster (for better or worse…), and I first discovered Fujimoto when the CSM manga premiered in Jump way back in 2018. Outside of that hit, Fire Punch was his first long-form series, and Viz compiled his prior one-shots into two volumes titled Tatsuki Fujimoto Before Chainsaw Man: 17-21.

He also penned a couple of one-shots while Chainsaw Man was on hiatus. Beyond the inspiration for this discussion that you already mentioned, Fujimoto put out the equally stellar Goodbye, Eri and the oft-forgotten and delightfully meta Just Listen To The Song. Where do we want to dive in?
When in doubt, I go chronological. Both Before Chainsaw Man volumes are invaluable resources for peering into Fujimoto’s mind as a developing manga artist. Like you (and most other people, I reckon), I also found Fujimoto via CSM, and I was pretty quickly drawn into its quirks and devil-may-care attitude to pacing and plotting. However, these early works show how ingrained that idiosyncrasy is in his creative voice. I mean, just look at this.

A Couple of Clucking Chickens Were Still Kickin’ In The Schoolyard is such an incredible start to a manga career! While the art is rough (like the first chapter of the One-Punch Man webcomic rough), it so clearly understands the medium of manga, which has been a strength of Fujimoto’s throughout his entire bibliography.

It’s nonstop twists and grabbing imagery throughout, which, when you only have 40 pages to make an impact on a reader, is one way to make a one-shot stand out!
The gap between telling a story across dozens of volumes and in a single sitting is even larger than the difference in lengths would indicate. And on a technical level, his pages also have a lot to offer. Even a mostly silent and simple page like this one accomplishes a lot regarding pacing, setting-building, and tone.

Even rough art can work when the structural fundamentals are strong.
Absolutely! This one-shot also starts the trend of sibling dynamics and self-sacrifice being an emotional cornerstone of Fujimoto’s work.

Though his next one-shot, Sasaki Stopped a Bullet, would be the start of Fujimoto’s fast and loose approach to sex and romance in his writing…and a little bit of a step back in terms of art and framing in my opinion.

As he gets more comfortable drawing manga, you can see him starting to play around with form a bit more. In Clucking Chickens, he keeps everyone confined in their panels. In Sasaki, you can see the gunman breaking out of one in the above example. It’s a subtle effect but a good tool to have in one’s toolbox.

So many of his pet themes show up in these that it’s funny. Most of these shorts are very funny, albeit in Fujimoto’s usual askew manner, reveling in his characters’ immaturity and insecurities.

He keeps making the same manga over and over again, and it JUST. KEEPS. WORKING!
However, I gotta say Love is Blind is probably my favorite entry in the first Before CSM volume. It feels like the origin of the over-the-top comedy that makes CSM so endearing to me.

It’s also probably the most wholesome thing in his oeuvre. Just Fujimoto “yes, and”-ing the schoolmate confession trope until it involves a hostile alien invader getting swept up in the romance of the moment. Nothing profound here, but as an exercise in absurdity, it’s a good indicator of the lengths he’s willing to go to be as delightfully dumb as possible.

Incidentally, his afterwords for all these works are also great succinct, dry humor exercises. I don’t think the copies on the Shonen Jump app have all of them, but Love is Blind came about because a Jump SQ. editor told him he took “31 pages to do what could be accomplished in 16″…so he went ahead and proved him right.

I don’t think anyone gets maimed, murdered, or nearly assaulted, so Love is Blind is far and away the most wholesome Fujimoto story! And I think his willingness to play around with genre and audience expectations is a big part of what makes his work such a critical and commercial hit.

Those author note inserts are a DELIGHT! The last afterword notes that the final one-shot in the first Before CSM book, Shikaku was written while Fujimoto had a 102-degree fever…which tracks as the story focuses on a sociopathic assassin falling in love with a suicidal vampire.

For me, that’s the strongest entry in the first volume. It may be the least ambitious out of all of them, but I think it ties together the most Fujimoto-isms in the most cohesive way. It’s about “bad” people finding a twisted solace in each other despite whatever society at large thinks of them. It’s also, importantly, hilarious.

Aw yeah, if there’s one thing Fujimoto likes, it’s sickos falling in love and sibling stories. And those aren’t always mutually exclusive! But it’ll be a bit before we get to Fire Punch

Shikaku feels the most like a precursor to CSM in terms of the tone and imagery of any of his works so far.

If “I love you…I’ll kill you…” doesn’t sum up half of the relationships in CSM, then I don’t know what does.

Volume two of Before Chainsaw Man also begins by vamping on that theme with Mermaid Rhapsody. It’s a sweet amphibious love story complicated a tad by pseudo-cannibalism.

Haha, even if Mermaid Rhapsody is the most forgettable of this volume to me, it drives home how Fujimoto keeps returning to romances that center on accepting a partner’s flaws and capacity for harm.

The violence that Shiju does to the protagonist, Toshihide, doesn’t feel like it represents straight-up abuse, though. Instead, it feels more like a metaphor for the baggage or ugliness that everyone has inside of them to some extent. It’s beautiful and almost feels like exploring a taboo part of personhood and relationships that we aren’t supposed to discuss.

That’s precisely what I love the most about Fujimoto. His preoccupation with misfits and societal outcasts is never about romanticizing them. Whether it’s intrinsic or inflicted upon the person, to be abnormal is to be in pain. I think he gets that hurt people are naturally drawn to each other, but he also gets that they have a larger capacity to both hurt and be hurt. Much of Fujimoto’s transgressiveness, I believe, can be ascribed to him wrestling honestly with that complexity—while never shying away from a weird punchline when the opportunity presents itself.

And speaking of taboo, weird, and transgressive; Woke-Up-As-A-Girl Syndrome is just straight-up TSF Monogatari, but much less cynical and with generally better politics.
This one doesn’t dig quite as deep into gender and identity as I’d like (it’s no Inside Mari), but I suppose you can only do so much in 50 pages. And this page, in particular, is a stone-cold Fujimoto classic.

Many such cases.
Yeah, this isn’t the gonna be the last exploration of gender and trans characters that seems well-intentioned but doesn’t quite land from Fujimoto. We also have to cover the biggest title in this volume, Nayuta of the Prophecy.

Omg, it’s Nayuta! Of the prophecy!

It’s funny that Fujimoto more or less beta-tested the Chainsaw Man part 2 starlet here, with plenty of connective thematic tissue between both works as well. But it’s not difficult to see why he loves her character enough to revive her in his most commercially successful enterprise.

The worldbuilding in Nayuta of the Prophecy also feels very much in line with Fire Punch and Chainsaw Man. There are a bunch of little fantastical elements sprinkled into a world that otherwise matches reality, like weird cats and multi-eyed pigs. Every weird element is introduced so casually that the reader is totally on board with the advanced weirdness at the story’s climax.

And, of course, at its heart is the warped familial love you’ll find in either of the stories, too. Though Nayuta prods especially hard at the idea of collective, systemic prejudice being the true trigger of the apocalypse.

Absolutely! This feels like Fujimoto’s first overtly political story, with similar social oppression being what Denji overcomes in the first chapter of CSM.

I’m a little torn on how I feel about hitting a younger sibling being the solution to Nayuta’s conflict. However, those siblings are still less problematic than the Sisters in Sisters, which opens with an older sister discovering that her younger sister made a nude painting of her without her consent.

I had a similar expression until it became clear that the story was a metaphor for overcoming jealousy and loving people unconditionally.
Ah, but Fujimoto wouldn’t be Fujimoto if he didn’t take you there by the most outlandish, possibly nightmarish route possible. It’s also the most direct antecedent to Look Back‘s quieter (and less nude) musings on what it means to be an artist. Look Back even echoes some of the panel compositions in Sisters.

Sisters walked so Look Back could run!

Fujimoto has also firmly settled into that sketchy, lived-in, artistic style that we all know and love by this point.

Yeah, it fits the authentic messiness of the stories he likes to tell. I wouldn’t want to imagine his manga with “cleaner” artwork when they already have so much character. In fact, given the quality of this 4-koma, I think he should start drawing like a fourth-grader more often.

I love how it reads like a quintessentially Fujimoto-esque comic strip, too. It warped punchlines and all. I would not be surprised if this were adapted from an actual comic he drew at that age.

Haha, the heart censoring the kiss in the 4-koma gets me every time. It is very in line with what a kid would draw…and also probably covers up that she had no idea how to draw people kissing.

Dear readers, if you thought Chainsaw Man was rough and unhinged, then check out Fire Punch. Then, you will appreciate how much Fujimoto has reined himself in for CSM.

Who needs a plot when you have big feelings about society and the human condition and a novel set up to explore them!? Not Fujimoto while writing Fire Punch that’s who!

Look Back is practically the polar opposite of Fire Punch, too. While it has the requisite “pinch of fantasy” that Fujimoto needs to add to all of his stories, it’s the most grounded in reality of his major works.

I couldn’t agree more, and in many ways, it feels like the perfect chaser to the first part of Chainsaw Man. While Fujimoto’s love of film is well documented and referenced frequently in his longer-form work, all of his work thus far has shown his deep appreciation for manga. Even his earliest one-shots show that he’s spent a lot of time thinking about how to convey a story through this medium best.

It makes sense that Look Back would explore the process of two people becoming better at creating manga and art more broadly.

Yeah, at its best, it’s a raw, honest, and cathartic look at the fuel that drives any artist. Love of the craft. Jealousy towards those better at the craft. Frustration with the craft. Jubilation from the craft. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions told quite beautifully. And “beautifully” is an adverb I’d seldom ascribe to anything that flows out of Fujimoto’s pen, so you should know I’m serious when I use it here.

Oh god, not to mention that it’s also a kind of public grieving over the Kyoto Animation arson attack.

And, even as it takes on all of these weighty and human themes, it still manages to be hilarious! Like…

I kind of want to read Shark Kick!
It’s gratuitously autobiographical, enhancing its impact when you’re like me and find Fujimoto a fascinating artist. The Kyoto Animation arson parallels especially hit hard at the time. However, Fujimoto revised some of the manga’s dialogue after publication. It’s hard to speculate on the impetus behind either of those decisions—writing it that way and then removing it—but I’m glad the version on the Shonen Jump app remains unchanged. Like, there are horrors in the real world that make a person seriously question what good can be done with dumb little drawings.

I’m glad you bring up the autobiographical feel of Look Back, because that carries into Goodbye, Eri, and Just Listen To The Song. Both feel like Fujimoto is dealing with his newfound success in CSM. To me, they read as him not being used to his work being placed under this level of scrutiny or people drawing unintended meaning from his writing.

Sometimes, the Gun Devil is just a dude made out of guns!

Goodbye, Eri especially feels like a response to Look Back. It’s a clever way of peeling back the inevitable editorialization that goes into dramatizing a piece of your own life for art’s sake while proving that you can never peel that editorialization back. A piece of art—a manga, a film, a documentary about vampires—necessarily exists separately from the reality that spawned it. That reality informs it, but it can never perfectly superimpose itself over reality. By the same turn, an artist can never completely isolate themselves from reality or their work.

And if you can never perfectly capture the intricacies of life or divorce your own biases from those depictions, you might as well make it fun or add a touch of the supernatural! This is probably the strongest throughline in Fujimoto’s work we’ve covered today.

Agreed! I can understand how some readers might find these recent, more metatextual works navel-gazey and indulgent. Still, I’ll start complaining once Fujimoto stops finding interesting ways to explore those ideas. He’s one of my favorite contemporary mangaka, and I can’t wait to see how Kiyotaka Oshiyama translates Look Back into movie form. I’m sure Fujimoto can’t wait either. If I know one thing about that man, he loves the cinema. And if I know a second thing about that man, he loves telling us how much he loves the cinema.

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