Story/Art: Tatsuki Fujimoto
Translation/Adaptation: Amanda Haley
What They Say:
Alien invasions, high school romances, and even bloody vampire action—all this and more awaits in four compelling short stories that reveal the starting point of Tatsuki Fujimoto, the twisted mastermind behind “Chainsaw Man.”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the title of the book is officially “17-21,” Viz has given it the headline “Tatsuki Fujimoto Before Chainsaw Man.” I’m not entirely sure why the book has been given this title. At first, I assumed it was because the short stories were published between 2017 and 2021, yet notes from the author revels that the first short story was published in 2011. There is a chance that the title refers to the fact that each story ranges somewhere from 17 to 21 pages each story. I’m such a nerd that I actually spent some time counting pages in this book. Since the first chapter was about 35 pages long, that shot that theory down. It wasn’t until I got to the end where it was confirmed that there were all written and drawn by Fujimoto between the ages of 17 and 21. So, with the mystery of the title out of the way, let’s discuss the stories themselves.
“A Couple Clucking Chickens Were Still Kickin’ in the Schoolyard”
The first story is “A Couple Clucking Chickens Were Still Kickin’ in the Schoolyard” (and boy am I glad that keyboards have the Ctrl+C option). The storyline involves a planet Earth that has been taken over by aliens. The aliens ate all of the humans and have since taken over the school, however, two humans still survive thanks to disguising themselves as a couple of chickens. The ending of ” A Couple Clucking Chickens Were Still Kickin’ in the Schoolyard” is surprising and bleak, yet overall the story is amateurish. However, you have to start somewhere.
“Sasaki Stopped a Bullet”
In his notes, Fujimoto singles “Sasaki Stopped a Bullet” as his favorite one-shot. I’m not sure I personally agree, though I will admit that this is the most bonkers story in the book. The story involves a young student that has a crush on his teacher, who he believes to be a god. During a lesson, a dirty man with a gun breaks into the classroom and demands to have sex with the teacher in exchange for not harming the students. While the teacher agrees to these terms, Sasaki stands up and defends her, saying that two people should not have sex unless they are in love.
When the man shoots at him, Sasaki (as the title suggests) stops the bullet with his hand. He then claims to be from the future and tells the man what his future holds. Is it real? Honestly, it’s hard to say. If there is an issue with this story it’s that it may try to tackle too many topics at once. I didn’t even get into the subplot about Sasaki wanting to become an astronaut because he believes his father is living on the moon. It seems like maybe an extra chapter or two would have helped this story, but even more so than the previous story we are getting glimpses of the twisted storytelling Fujimoto is capable of.
“Love is Blind”
Although this is the simplest of all the stories in the book, “Love is Blind” may be my favorite because it highlights Fujimoto’s ability to take a straightforward concept and drag it to a point of absurdity while managing to not make the whole thing completely ridiculous. The only way this rises above the concept of a teenage boy wanting to confess love for his classmate is for it to do something truly unexpected. Without spoiling too much, let me say that the payoff had me laughing my butt off and was truly creative.
In this final story, we have the kind of craziness that would eventually go on to define what kind of author Fujimoto was: someone who comes up with batshit crazy ideas and runs with them like there’s no tomorrow. Shinkaku is the name of a 17-year-old girl. When she was younger, she liked to pull spider legs off of spiders for fun (a hobby that freaked her parents out so much they slapped her a lot). Now that she is on the cusp of adulthood she has become a famous assassin, and she is hired by a vampire who wants her to kill him (he’s lived so long he is bored with life).
This short has everything that would make his series “Chainsaw Man” so memorable: gory violence, sexual images, a concept that is out of left field, and just enough heart to make you find the whole thing weirdly charming. Although I think most of us agree that we are more than happy with “Chainsaw Man,” if that hadn’t happened, I think “Shinkaku” might have made for a compelling ongoing series.
Tatsuki Fujimoto is enjoying the kind of success few manga authors rarely enjoy. As a result, it’s great to return to his early works and see how he refined his style and writing before he hit made it big with “Chainsaw Man.” As with most of these collections, some stories work better than others, however for those who want more Fujimoto goodness, “17-21” is an easy collection to recommend (even for those who may not be following “Chainsaw Man”).
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: B
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: January 17, 2023
This review was done with a review copy provided by the publisher. We are grateful for their continued support.