Imagine living in a world that is overrun by devils manifested from the collective fears of humans. You're dirt poor and live alone, so in order to get by you sell your kidney, your right eye and one of your testicles — but even that's not enough to pay off your debts and put food on the table. So, what do you do? You hunt devils for the yakuza, alongside your devil-turned-pet, Pochita, and dream of the day when you're finally able to enjoy some jam on toast in a warm and safe home with your girlfriend.
Welcome to Denji's life in Chainsaw Man, the compelling and brutal horror story written by Tatsuki Fujimoto, which recently surpassed 20 million copies in circulation, making it one of the best-selling manga series. If things sound bleak for Denji, well then, I'm sorry to tell you that our protagonist goes through hell (and back again). The yakuza betrays Denji, leaving him for dead until an old contract with Pochita — the Chainsaw Devil — transforms Denji into a hybrid being capable of generating chainsaws from his body parts. Yes, you read that right. He's the Chainsaw Man.
Undeterred by his newfound devil powers, Denji joins the Public Safety Division, a government-sanctioned team of Devil Hunters, whose leader, Makima, promises Denji a life free of poverty — but only if he does everything she says. Driven by his motivation to live a simple life (and the charms of the oh-so-attractive Makima), Denji becomes a Devil Hunter once again, alongside his colleagues Aki Hayakawa and Power.
Helmed by the legendary MAPPA studios, the anime adaptation of Chainsaw Man has already been dubbed "peak fiction" by fans thanks in part to its high-energy action scenes, unique characters, compelling story and genre bending (we're talking horror, comedy and lots of thrills).
To help us navigate the mind-bending world of Chainsaw Man, BuzzFeed spoke to the English dub cast — comprised of Ryan Colt Levy (Denji), Reagan Murdock (Aki Hayakawa), Suzie Yeung (Makima) and Sarah Wiedenheft (Power).
From what it's like behind the scenes in the voiceover booth to learning who's the most similar to their characters, here's everything we learned.
First of all, what drew you to the world of Chainsaw Man? Were you a fan of the manga beforehand or did you read the script and think, "Wow, this is something I need to be part of!"?
Ryan: I'm a huge, huge, huge fan of the manga. I’d read it literally four times over before auditioning was even on the table and dreamt of the day that I might be able to read for Denji, so this has been a total dream come true. What drew me to it? Well, ultimately, you see that cover [of the Chainsaw Man manga] and you're like "What is this?" Then, with the first chapter you're dealing with so many different flavours of emotion — from humour to tragedy and nuance. I hadn't seen anything that felt like a punch to the face in a long time — and I just had to be part of it.
Reagan: It was very new for me. When I got the audition materials, I knew that Chainsaw Man was popular, so I thought, "Well, they're probably going to choose somebody much more well-known than me. There's no way I'm going to get this, but I might as well give it a try." So, I started reading the manga and digging into these characters, especially Aki, and I thought, "Oh gosh, I really want to play him now." Despite all of the insanity that's going on in Chainsaw Man, the characters drive it and they're so human. They have these very relatable motivations and it's just wonderful seeing how much it's resonated with people.
Suzie: I don't think I was initially aware of it, but we [Suzie and Sarah] definitely saw Chainsaw Man all across the internet — especially Makima and Power. So there was something, but it wasn't until audition time that we were like, "Oh, that's the thing everybody is talking about." After booking the role, I think we both binged the manga before the show dropped and we were like, "I understand now. I see the light — or the darkness and everything in it, the chaos."
What scene was used for your character's audition and how did you stand out from all of the other voice actors?
Ryan: It was the scene where Denji is on the log speaking with Pochita and talking about his ambitions if he theoretically doesn't make it out of their current predicament. I remember getting the slides and it was written in a block paragraph kind of thing — and I was like, "Oh, I know what page this is from. I know exactly how this scene plays out emotionally." So, I'm not going to read it out like it's one thought, you know? I’m reading it like I'm talking to my dog that I love. I just knew who Denji was to me, emotionally in that space and that specific time, and I did my best to try and show what I think is a very layered and deep person who doesn't necessarily have the ability to express all of that as efficiently or eloquently as many others can because they have an education. So, Denji comes off as a bit more brash and left of centre than most, but no less deep — and I wanted to find a way to portray that.
Reagan: Most of Aki's audition was pulled from Episode 2. A lot of it was the alleyway scene before the big 'ding' [when Aki gets hit in the balls by Denji]. In that scene, there are so many different ways that Aki expresses what his internal thoughts are through his words, even though he has a very subdued and unexpressive way of speaking. So, for me, it was the trick of finding how to express those very layered thoughts with a very limited vocal tone.
Suzie: Makima's lines were pulled from the trailer. I didn't think too much about it — I saw a picture of her and thought she seemed to be very measured, so I thought to give it a go and send it [the audition tape] off. I don't really know how I stood out in comparison to the rest, but I'm super grateful that whatever it was Mike [McFarland, ADR/voice director for the English dub of Chainsaw Man] heard, it was fitting enough.
Sarah: The audition lines for Power were from Episode 2 where she's talking about her cat, Meowy, and how she hates humans and that she also hates devils too, because they stole her freaking cat. I ended up reading parts of the manga and I also referenced the Japanese trailer to see what they did. I did a few takes and thought I was going in the right direction, so I gave it another go and just went for complete chaos in the reads.
What was the process like in deciding the voice for your characters? Did you riff off the Japanese voices, was it a directorial decision or did it come down to what you could uniquely bring to the character?
Ryan: Every actor is going to make that personal choice about who the character is to them — and then when you get in the booth and get to work with Mike, our amazing director, it's a total collaborative partnership. He's cast us because he trusts us and what we're going to do with the characters. We all work to make this thing special because we don't want to walk out of the booth at the end of the day thinking that we could have done more. We want to leave and feel like we got to do what we wanted with that space and hopefully, people will be happy with it.
BuzzFeed: On that, Ryan — there are a bunch of scenes with Denji brutally screaming, maniacally laughing and just being this absolute beast of a character. How do you prepare to film a scene like that and what was the reaction like in the room when recording it?
Ryan: I screamed a lot in hardcore bands and stuff as a kid so I learned how to do it to a threshold and understand my physicality where I can’t hurt myself. Mike takes good care of me — he doesn't make me do 10 takes of a single scene. If it's a big fight sequence, we may split that over a few days because he'll be like, "You know, you're going to 11 here; let's have you rest a bit, so that we can come back and hit it again fresh." Then, there's also the reaction, which is my favourite. There's something called a talkback button, which Mike will hit from his booth so that he can give me a note or whatever, and I can usually hear him laughing. Like, even before he hits the talkback button, I can hear him laughing so hard. There's usually a cackle of approval if I do something crazy or some zany sound. Sometimes it’s really fun because Mike's direction will be like, "Give me this, but make it even more disgusting. Make it more feral, make it grosser."
BuzzFeed: Going beast mode!
Ryan: Yeah, exactly! When we were doing the first episode, we called it 'werewolf berserk mode'.
BuzzFeed: Suzie, I've seen people compare Makima’s voice to an AI machine and I have to agree. It's calm and soothing, but at the same time, it's also too perfect and makes it feel like there’s an ulterior motive to Makima's words. How did you come up with that voice?
Suzie: Makima comes across as AI because she's just so pristine. She doesn't really talk like how a normal human would, you know? She's a little bit too perfect. She's also very cold and calculated, but in terms of her tone, there's also a little bit of softness to it. There are very minute changes to her voice depending on where she wants to go. If she wants someone to do something, there’s a little bit of sing-song-y-ness to it, which deviates from the AI flatness. I think you’ll discover that if you listen to how she portrays herself.
BuzzFeed: Sarah, I love what you’ve done with Power’s voice. I definitely feel the chaotic energy and I love the demonic laughing that you do. As someone who is outside of the acting industry, how do you get into a character like that?
Suzie: It's just Sarah in real life actually. [Laughs]
Sarah: I make sure that it's very much a belly laugh. Most of the time when I’m laughing, it's like that and you just project even more. If you have any demons like I do, you'll be able to get them all out when you do that. It'll feel very refreshing.
While I love all the badass action sequences, one of my favourite scenes in Chainsaw Man so far is when Aki's domestic peace is interrupted by Power and Denji's chaotic, sibling-like energy. In saying that, what similarities do you share with your respective characters — or are you polar opposites?
Reagan: In terms of domesticity, having my life together and everything being really clean — absolutely not. There are some ways I relate to Aki though, especially as someone with a lot of emotional walls and with a history of not wanting to let people in. I'm a very introverted person. Aki feels like he has control over his own life through his interactions with his living space — and that's a really fascinating thing. To see that very rudely interrupted by both Denji and Power, it's kind of a microcosm of the journey that, if he wants to be a healthier person, he's going to have to take.
Ryan: I definitely feel like I connect with Denji in a lot of ways. He's such a relatable character because he's so open and raw and his feelings are worn on his sleeve. I’ve always been a major optimist in people, in scenarios and in whatever comes our way, and there is a resilience I share with him too. I’ve been through plenty of hardships and a lot of the time it’s just been, "Just make it to tomorrow, just make it to tomorrow". There is also an enthusiasm for the littlest of things — like I get excited about little things all of the time, so I think I share Denji's joy for something as simple as a good piece of toast.
Suzie: I would say I would like to be more like Makima. I would like to be more put together, well-enunciated and confident. During the actual [recording] session, I flub a lot and I'm like ,"Oh, my mouth cannot say these words correctly." I joke that I'm a little bit more like Aki — he's kind of like Makima in that he takes himself very seriously, but actually, he's just really insecure and sad inside. [Laughs] So I'm more like Aki in that respect — he's calm, but he gets riled up.
Sarah: I resonate with Power's gremlin-type energy and also her love for cats.
In Episode 3, Makima talks about the strength of devils in relation to how much fear they can generate. She gives the example of a coffee devil, something mundane, being much weaker than say a car devil, which people associate with accidents and death. What sort of devil would terrify you most in the Chainsaw Man universe?
Suzie: For sure, the cockroach devil. It would inspire so much fear because it can survive a nuclear war. It can shoot out eggs and just be the most disgusting thing ever.
BuzzFeed: Have you come across flying cockroaches? We have them in Australia.
Suzie and Sarah: OH MY GOD, NO?!?!?!?
Sarah: Stop, I’m going to cry. You think it doesn't get worse and it does.
Suzie: Can you just imagine the cockroach devil being one of the strongest devils in existence? It can fly, it's humongous and it lays eggs! Horrifying.
Ryan: The homework devil.
BuzzFeed: I can relate to that. It's like having that recurring nightmare of an essay or assignment being due when it's been years since you've graduated.
Ryan: There's never been a scarier nightmare for me than when I had the most visceral dream of being in high school and I had been skipping my math class every day. It was the last day of school and my math teacher was leaning on the doorway, saying,"Oh hello, guess who’s not graduating?" I was like "NOOOOOOO!" and then I wake up in a cold sweat.
Reagan: For me, it's the failure devil...the expectations devil.
BuzzFeed: Kind of like an imposter syndrome devil. That would it be it for me.
Ryan: The imposter syndrome devil is a beast. We gotta slay that bastard.
BuzzFeed: I’m calling up Denji right now to tell him "Boy, do I have a devil for you to slay."
Denji describes his "ultimate toast" as having strawberry jam, plum jam, orange marmalade, butter, honey and cinnamon. Personally, I think this is a monstrous mess, but what's your version of "ultimate toast"?
Ryan: I genuinely am so tempted to try it because I love a good piece of toast with some jam and butter. I like all of the ingredients individually, so I'm willing to have a little bit of sensory overload and give it a whirl. I'm weird though, I like cream cheese and jam as a nice little savoury-sweet combo. As a kid, I got turned onto sardines on toast, with a little bit of olive oil and some onions. It is stinky though — like you're eating this sandwich and brushing your teeth afterwards or you're not seeing anybody for days, but it’s delicious and I don't care how weird that sounds.
Reagan: Let's get some butter on there, I'll do a little blackcurrant jam, some melon, I might even throw in a little bit of cinnamon and let's be pretentious and say some ume. Just layer on all of these different fruits and see what comes out. It might be horrible, but it’ll be a heck of a ride.
Suzie: I would make the ultimate California toast with avocado, smoked salmon and eggs because I love savoury stuff.
Sarah: Mine is almond butter with every type of berry, banana and honey and cinnamon on top.
What’s been your favourite scene or line that you’ve filmed so far for Chainsaw Man?
Sarah: Definitely when Power becomes the terrible roommate and says, "I am the type that seldom flushes their faeces." That's an iconic line.
Ryan: I loved that scene! It's so funny because in just one line you're like, "I understand who all of the characters are." I'm torn between Aki and Denji's scene in the alleyway and Denji's scene with Power at the soda machines because that turn is just so fun and so silly and instantly everyone is like, "I get it, I get this guy."
Reagan: My favourite so far has been the scene in the hospital where Aki is making the bunny apple slices for Denji. Denji has killed one devil by himself and he almost killed two, so Aki has to confront the fact that this guy — who he looks down on — is really good at what Aki does. He's trying to put this leash on Denji and treat him like a child. You get this little bunny treat if you do what I say and Denji says "Thanks, no."
Ryan: I said I'll think about it. [Laughs]
BuzzFeed: And I love in that scene how Aki places the apples just slightly out of reach for Denji.
Ryan: Yeah, just to remind him that Aki's got the power.
Suzie: I can't remember the exact phrasing, but it's when Makima and Denji are in the car and she says something like, "Only say yes or woof. I don't need dogs who say no."
BuzzFeed: Yes! And then you have Denji slurping up the udon afterwards and actually saying "Woof!"
Suzie: Oh, that was so funny — especially since I got to react to when Ryan did it. Sometimes when actors record before you, you get to hear them. So, I was saying my line, "Say ah!" and then I heard him go "AARF!" and I was like "Oh my gooooooood!" It was so funny and cute.
Lastly, what's something that you can tease for us about upcoming Chainsaw Man episodes?
Sarah: I think y'all are going to be super excited. The continuation from the last episode, it's great.
BuzzFeed: If you had to sum it up with emojis, what would you use?
Sarah: I would say oranges and the disappointed face with the eyebrow raised 🍊🤨.
Suzie: For me, it's the face peeking out of the hands . It's going to be spicy.
Note: Some answers were edited for length and/or clarity.