Although Tatsuki Fujimoto has now become a household name in the manga world with Chainsaw Man – currently being adapted by anime studio MAPPA to great success – the manga artist already had a long-running manga series, Fire Punch, which ran for eight volumes. However, like many manga artists, Fujimoto had produced a series of one-shots before jumping into the long-running format where they are able to showcase their art-styles. As the two-volume anthology collection of one-shot stories that Fujimoto wrote and illustrated, 17-21 covers four stories that the artist told during that age period in his life.
Beginning with “A Couple Clucking Chickens Were Kickin’ in the Schoolyard”, it tells the story of two high school students trying to survive their world that has been taken over by aliens. Naturally, they disguise themselves as chickens, of which the aliens are completely clueless about. From an artistic standpoint, this is the crudest of the four stories as all the characters, human and alien, are drawn in a style slightly above sketch. But a narrative standpoint, you can tell Fujimoto has a wild imagination that is darkly comedic, whilst never losing sight of presenting weighty themes, such as race issues.
The next two stories feel the closest to Chainsaw Man, not in terms of devilish content, but how it depicts adolescence in a humorous, if silly fashion. “Sasaki Has Stopped the Bullet” – Fujimoto’s personal favorite from this collection – is about the eponymous student having a crush on her teacher, whom he sees as a god, but when a gun-wielding man demands to have sex with the teacher due to failing in life, Sasaki steps up. Forty pages long, this particular story goes off in strange directions from silly comedy to outlandish sci-fi concepts, and yet it is rooted in what is motivating Sasaki and what he hopes to achieve later in life, no matter how outlandish.
Fujimoto is able to take a normal situation that we can all relate to and take it to strange tangents, which is what happens in “Love is Blind”. Ibuki, the student council president, wants to confess his love to Yuri as they walk together to their respected homes, only for some obstacles to get in the way, such as a robbery and an impending alien invasion. While that last bit may sound like a repeat from the first one-shot, how it gets resolved is one of the reasons why “Love is Blind” is the funniest of them all. The comedy is driven by Ibuki’s single-minded determination, no matter what outside forces will try to interfere – even his intense facial expressions bring out the laughs.
When we get the finale, “Shihaku”, this is where you can see the early signs of Fujimoto developing the style that we all know, as well as his black sense of humor in Chainsaw Man. Centering in the eponymous assassin, she has been assigned to kill the very person who hired her, which turns out to be more complicated than it turns out. From the quirky sensibilities of Shihaku herself (reminiscent of Power from Chainsaw Man), it feels like a precursor to what Fujimoto would eventually do, and even though not everyone was on board with them, the later one-shot titles he did in-between his flagship manga show a maturity and a craftsmanship that is worth checking out.
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