If you keep up with Shonen Jump — or with the contemporary manga scene in general really, especially in the action-horror genre — you’ve probably heard of Chainsaw Man. What you might not know (I didn’t) is that Chainsaw Man isn’t the first series Tatsuki Fujimoto had published in Jump. It was preceded by Fire Punch — a post-apocalyptic series set in a world that has entirely frozen over, and where certain people possess supernatural powers called Blessings. The protagonist, Agni, possesses the Blessing of regeneration; he is struck by the flames of a Blessed whose power is that anything he ignites can’t be put out, and will continue to burn until it runs out of fuel. Agni regenerates as quickly as he burns, meaning he’s perpetually on fire without ever being able to die. This is exactly as unpleasant as it sounds.
Full warning: if you’re considering checking out Fire Punch, please be aware that it contains cannibalism, (consensual) sibling incest, rape, underage rape, rape resulting in pregnancy, discussion of bestiality, torture, amputation, slavery, general violence and gore, and human immolation. Just, constant immolation. Probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten too. This is not a pleasant series and I could not in good conscience recommend it.
With that out of the way, though, let’s talk about Togata, a 300+ year-old regenerative Blessed and aspiring director who wants to make a film about Agni’s mission of revenge against the man who burned him. It’s hard to know what pronouns to use for Togata, though I’ll be going with he/him — for the majority of his presence in the series, he appears to be a woman. One of his first appearances in the manga shows him naked and female-bodied. He uses the first-person pronoun “watashi,” which is gender-neutral in polite conversation and feminine (or at least feminine-leaning) in casual — and Togata is very foulmouthed, making “watashi” quite feminine by contrast. People use she/her pronouns and feminine terminology to refer to him. In fact, I wound up double-checking my sources that he was trans partway through because there was nothing to support the idea up until that point.
Then a Blessed with the power to see into people’s hearts tells Agni that he can’t trust Togata, who has been lying to him about being a woman, and is really a man in a woman’s body.¹ Togata does not take this well.
The explanation, when Togata finally gives it, is that yes, Togata is a trans man. He says he has “a man’s brain in a woman’s body” and suffers from severe body dysphoria — however, his regeneration prevents him from getting gender reassignment surgery, so he sees no choice but to live as a woman in the hopes that maybe if he just tries hard enough, he’ll stop feeling this way.
One can’t help but think, even if Togata can’t get surgery, surely there’s some other way for him to live as a man. Hormones might not be available in the post-apocalypse, but binders aren’t hard to make. 300 years is a lot of time to practice carrying oneself like a man. Togata just…doesn’t see it as an option. “The male Togata wouldn’t have survived in this world,” he tells Agni. The world of Fire Punch might be deeply misogynistic, but in light of that, it’s still better to be seen as a woman — a terrifying, immortal woman — from the jump than to have that revealed later. He can’t afford to show weakness; he can’t afford to have cracks. So he lies to himself. And it doesn’t work.
This is the sort of portrayal of transness I would automatically be less suspicious of were it not written by a cis man, to be perfectly honest. It’s absolutely fascinating and very real — this is 100% a thing people do, especially those who grew up in environments not accepting of transness. It’s also interesting to see a version of the “trans deceiver” trope where what’s outed is not their birth gender, but the gender with which they identify, especially as it reinforces the idea that transness is something inherent and unchangeable. Togata might have spent hundreds of years trying to convince himself that he’s a woman — that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a man. There are no real flaws in the portrayal.
It’s just so bleak.
To be fair, Fire Punch is a deeply bleak series as a whole — you read that list of content warnings. Togata actually avoids the majority of that (other than the violence, because absolutely no one manages to avoid the violence.) He certainly doesn’t go through anything worse than anyone else. But transgender angst is still overplayed and it still feels bad, both because it hits so hard personally speaking and because it’s entirely self-inflicted. There’s a moment where Agni says Togata is what he’d imagine a big sister to be like, before catching himself and saying “brother would be more appropriate,” and the hopelessness and resignation on Togata’s face when he says “sister is fine” is brutal.
It’s also worth noting that Togata is an absolute bastard, like most people in Fire Punch who aren’t hopelessly naïve. One of the first things we see him do is encourage a group of soldiers to rape a young girl while he films so it’ll be more cathartic for the viewer when they’re killed. He initially has little to no regard for Agni as a person, thoughtlessly manipulating him for the sake of crafting a satisfying narrative. I imagine a lot of this has to do with him being centuries old. Certain things, like empathy, get left behind. None of Togata’s casual sociopathy is ever linked to his transness though, and while he’s accused of being a liar, he’s lying to himself more than anyone else.
In fact, he even sacrifices himself to save Agni in the end, shortly after their discussion regarding his gender. I can’t say I love the timing, but at least it’s a noble end, especially for this series — he gets to go out on his own terms, like the hero in one of his beloved action movies. Incidentally, Togata’s desire to become a man is implicitly linked to his desire to save someone like the hero in a movie — however, considering that someone literally looks inside his soul and sees that he’s a man, I’m inclined not to read this as him only wanting to be a man to fit some sort of role or something like that. Everyone realizes they’re trans in different ways — finding a (gendered) role you admire and want to embody isn’t an unusual one.
So, how to improve representation. It might be helpful to foreshadow Togata’s gender even a little — the reveal absolutely comes out of nowhere, to the point where I have to wonder how far in advance it was planned. Other than that, I don’t think there’s much to change. Representation doesn’t have to be positive or happy or aspirational to be good, however one wants to define “good” in this context.
Overall, Fire Punch is intriguing, albeit deeply unpleasant and messy as hell — I can’t say I’d recommend it, per say, but I did keep reading even after Togata died. If you’re just interested in reading the stuff about Togata’s gender, though, it’s mostly in chapters 40 and 41, which don’t have any objectional material otherwise. The manga is available to read on the Shonen Jump app, but you’ll need an account.
Personally, though, I’d stick to Chainsaw Man.
¹ – In the English translation, he refers to Togata with she/her pronouns through this scene, which reads very oddly; in the original Japanese, he doesn’t use pronouns.