Anime Review: Devilman OVA (A.G.E #2)

Written by MARTZ

Just in time for Halloween, MARTZ looks back at the insanely violent “Devilman” OVA in the 2nd Anime Genesis Editorial!

Go Nagai is a man of many talents: He has written mecha, horror, erotic comedies, action, slice-of-life – the man has damn near done everything. But then, what would you expect from a man who’s been involved in the manga industry for nearly 45 years and one of the people who practically gave birth to the juggernaut known as Shonen Jump. The man has caused controversy over his erotic and often violent imagery in his earliest work: Harenchi Gakuen, he revolutionized the idea of a mech being piloted by a hero in Mazinger Z, and jump-started what would later become the “magical girl” genre with Cutey Honey. In other words, the man is truly a living legend and an inspiration to many in both anime and manga, and is still the prime example of a man who truly lives around his work (at one time, he was creating five weekly manga publications at the same time, a feat only a few other artists have achieved).

But with all of his accomplishments, Go Nagai still considers Devilman his greatest work: The story of a young boy possessed by a demon fighting the hordes of hell became an instant hit in Japan during its first run in 1972, thanks to its depictions of extreme gore and violence and its apocalyptic setting. Its run lasted for 53 chapters and released in five volumes, as well as spawning spin-off manga “Shin Devilman” (where the same story took place during different time periods, including one chapter featuring a young Adolf Hitler) and a one-shot manga depicting the moments before the initial manga’s finale.

The manga also paved the way for a Devilman TV series during the same year, and was heavily toned-down for younger audiences with a monster-of-the-week aesthetic attached, making it more akin to Marvel’s hilariously-dated 1967 Spider-Man cartoons rather than Nagai’s original vision. But despite the differences, the show still proved quite popular, running for 39 episodes. The “real” Devilman wouldn’t appear on TV screens for another fifteen years: The day after Halloween, 1987…

And that’s what we’ll be looking at on this edition of A.G.E: The two-episode Devilman OVA – to date, the only Devilman animation to see release in America and the UK (though interestingly, the TV show was broadcast during 1984…in Italy). These two episodes would take more inspiration from the original source material, whilst acting as more of an origin-story rather than a retread of the manga’s storyline.

 

This particular anime is also something very special to me, as this was one of my favourites growing-up during the Sci-Fi channel’s midnight anime timeslot several years back. When I first saw it, I was mesmerized. Even the VHS I recorded it on eventually wore-out because I had watched it so much, and during the next eight or nine years I hadn’t seen it, I would still remember it fondly, if just because gore and tits were the height of awesome for me in anime back in those days. Well, having watched it on DVD recently, it’s time to see if this relic from my childhood still holds-up nearly a decade later.

Directed by Tsutomu Iida (Assistant director for Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Key Animation for Lupin III: The Legend of the Gold of Babylon) and co-written with Go Nagai himself, episode 1 a.k.a “The Birth” follows Akira Fudo, a somewhat timid teenager whose parents go missing after a business trip to the Arctic, leaving Akira to stay with his childhood friend Miki. It starts out innocently enough, with Akira dealing with his new surroundings at a new school. However, things start to go sour as he’s attacked by a group of street thugs and fails to properly stand-up for himself.

After a bit of fixing-up thanks to Miki’s assistance, they both head home. Their trip is interrupted by Ryo, an old friend from Akira’s old school who now lives as a demon hunter after bizarre consequences involving his father’s sanity and eventual suicide. Believed to be the work of demons, Ryo escorts Akira to a small abandoned mansion in the middle of nowhere: believed to be the resting spot of vicious hellspawn.

After various references to Dante Alighieri’s ‘The Divine Comedy’, it’s discovered that Satan’s minions were encapsulated in ice for many centuries but have now recently escaped due to the effects of global warming and (coincidentally) their release as a result of Akira’s parents. Shortly thereafter, the two encounter many of these fabled demons and are forced to retreat the mansion, luring their pursuers and eventually killing them by some desperate means (One involving a car and the other a shotgun). The two then return to the mansion with Ryo explaining the only real method to kill demons is to be demons themselves.

This leads them to the mansions attic…an underground nightclub. Yes, seriously.

Apparently – according to Ryo – nightclubs are the modern equivalent to an ancient demon rite, where human bodies are absorbed by the unknown. Sure enough, clubbers start to go crazy and all matter of fist fights occur (with “The Show Must Go On” by Anthem playing in the background for some bizarre reason). Eventually things start to get worse, as everybody in the room begins to mutate, as does Akira. However, unlike the others, Akira manages to harness the demon under his own willpower and becomes the entity known as Devilman.

He then kills everything. The End.

  

OK, I might as well say it; episode one is 85% boring and 99.9% dumb. In all my years of watching anime, the whole notion of a nightclub under a mansion in the middle of nowhere to summon demons is possibly one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen (and this is coming from someone who managed to sit through all of “Adventure Duo”). Along with some clumsy exposition and frequent ramblings from Ryo, this episode is a hard one to recommend. In fact, if I had to recommend anything, it’s just to watch the last ten minutes, if only because there’s actually stuff happening of any real note and Akira finally grows a pair upon becoming Devilman near the end. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Episode 2 however, is a completely different story. Given the title “Demon Bird”, the episode starts with a confrontation between Akira (now a trash-talking badass completely in contrast to his previous self)  and a turtle-shaped demon known as Jinmen, who’s shell consists of the faces of humans he’s eaten (one of which is Akira’s own mother). After some mind games and some overwrought justification about why Jinmen killing people is OK (Demon’s are apparently humanity’s “natural” predators whilst Devilman killing demons is regarded as straight-up murder), Akira transforms into Devilman and destroys Jinmen, freeing the soul of his deceased mother in the process. This whole fight is just an introduction to the carnage that awaits and all happens within the first ten minutes.

Next demon introduction comes in the form of Shirenu a.k.a the Demon Bird, who decides to attack Akira at his own home (Miki’s family house to be exact). From here, everything goes crazy. A water demon attacks Miki in the bath, a clay-like demon traps her parents in their own walls and Akira goes around killing more things. After which Devilman encounters Shirenu in a one-on-one dual…one which lasts for a good half an hour.

That says it all, really. Apart from a few added events during their epic confrontation (including a bizarre fusion between Shirenu and a demon shaped like a rhino), the rest is what you’d expect: Blood, blood and more blood…maybe a couple of decapitations for good measure.

 

Compared to the previous episode, there’s very little in the way of plot. Instead, as a way to make it up for the unrelenting boredom that is episode 1, this one ticks the boxes for almost every man-marketed action show you can think of: Badass lead character? Check. Gore? Check. Cute, naked girls? Check. Terrible one-liners? Check. All of the previous in the same scene together? Yeah, I guess that’s in, too. It makes for some worthwhile entertainment and almost completely negates the first episode entirely. In fact, I’d only bother watching this one of the two. Yes, the origins of Devilman and the resurrected fiends sound important, but considering the content of the later episode, and the absurd story of the former, it’s just not worth it. And even when the second episode is clearly the better of the two, both episodes share many of the same issues, many as a result of Manga Entertainment.

You see, when Manga Ent. secured the rights to Devilman in the early 1990’s, they had started to form a pretty nasty reputation of releasing overly-violent, over-sexualized titles with often laughable production values, only made worse by Manga’s often half-hearted localization attempts. Devilman somehow finds itself right in the middle. Yes, it is VERY violent, and it does have its fair-share of full-screen nudity; however, the actual production of the show really isn’t too bad. For as much gore as there is on-screen, it’s pretty well-animated, and many of the demon designs do look as nasty and grotesque as satanic hell-spawn should. This works well for the show’s fight sequences, emphasizing every drop of blood shed on-screen whenever a limb is ripped clean-off. It’s visceral – and maybe a bit overkill – but it certainly grabs your attention.

Other sequences however…don’t look so great. The human character designs are pretty basic (even more-so in the first episode), with Miki herself looking like a grown-up (and frequently more naked) Kiki from Miyazaki’s classic movie of the same name. Animation outside the fights also looks dated, with many wide and panning shots featuring next-to-no animation to speak of. Considering some of these last for seconds at a time, you can tell that the production studios were saving their cash for the more important pieces, but failed to find ways of hiding it.

But the worst offender would have to be Manga’s English dub. Whilst it’s no surprise considering the year of its production (1994 according to the ending credits), it’s clear that Manga never had any other intention but to fit in as much stupid, cheesy and often foul-mouthed dialogue as possible. Whilst we’re not exactly talking “Garzey’s Wing” here (God forbid if I ever write an A.G.E article about that one), this particular OVA does have its compilation of bad lines. WARNING: THE FOLLOWING VIDEO IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

It’s also obvious just by listening to the show’s dub that the whole thing was recorded somewhere in the middle of London. Many of the voice actors involved only went on to do other Manga dubs (namely crap like Mad Bull 34, the Manga dub to Megazone 23 and the dense mecha OVA Dangaioh), and the person behind the translated script was clearly an Englishman. Where else can you hear American/Canadian voice actors saying words like “knackered”, “bloody hell”, “rubbish” and “knickers” outside of a British production (Oh, and hey Manga, in anime we call them “panties”; get your facts right). It also doesn’t help that Devilman himself sounds like he’s got a sharp object stuck in his throat and that Ryo is so wooden that he out-does an entire tree – but as far as their dubs go, it’s not really any worse – or better – than any of their other efforts done around that time. But for some reason, Manga seemed to be very proud of their work. Why?

Well, I actually own a copy of the DVD they released in 2000 and for reasons I can’t fathom…there’s no sub option.

Yes, an anime DVD that only comes with a dub…and as we established, a bad one at that. Unfortunately, because of that I can’t talk about the original Japanese audio, because it’s simply nowhere on the disc. It’s a shame, but it’s not totally unexpected. First, it was one of Manga’s first DVD releases during a time when DVD’s were only just starting to gain momentum against the dying VHS format.

Second, the DVD was clearly rushed-out so they could squeeze some last-minute sales before their license expired, which further explains the terrible video quality; obviously taken from an old tape master (Japan’s DVD release was three years later with a noticeably better transfer). If you’re a purist with interest in watching the show, find a well-encoded fansub or buy a physical copy of the Japanese version, it’s easily the better option.

 

Since the OVA’s however, what else has become of Devilman? Well, like many of Go Nagai’s other franchises, he’s seen his fair share of resurgences. Most recently would be the live-action movie released in 2004, directed by late director Hiroyuki Nasu (of which it was his final movie). Released in America just a couple of years ago, the movie was critically panned by critics due to lifeless “acting” a non-sensical storyline and terrible CGI. There’s probably a reason why it’s never been released over here, then.

But before that monstrosity, Devilman also saw an alternate retelling known as “Devilman Lady”, a what-if scenario if the main protagonist was a woman. Released in 1997, the manga followed Jun Fudo as she transforms into a devil whilst being sexually assaulted by a gang of demons, causing her soul to transform as a result of the ordeal. A 26-episode anime would be released a year later, with ADV films licensing and renaming the show to the less ridiculous-sounding “Devil Lady” in 2003.

Devilman’s Akira also featured in an episode of Go Nagai’s New Cutey Honey OVA, with a brief cameo by Shirenu during the show’s second opening sequence. Akira’s character was only marginally toned-down compared to the original Devilman manga and whilst he doesn’t transform his character is virtually identical.

Now with that all said, let’s finally get back to the point. Would I recommend the OVA? Honestly? No. Unless you love gore and only intend to watch the second episode for a laugh, then yes. Was it worth the ridiculous amount of money I paid for the DVD? Hell yes.

Maybe it’s just the nostalgia talking, but to me, Devilman is still a lot of fun to watch, even if it’s no longer the brilliant bloodbath I once thought it was. Complaints about the dub aside, I still love the incredibly bad acting and poorly-written dialogue. It’s one of those “so-bad-it’s-good” moments that gives the show a much-appreciated sense of humor. Sure, the first episode is terrible and makes very little sense, but the second episode makes up for that several times over, if only because it delivers what most really wanted from the show. I know a few of you would have read this with no intention on watching this show and for that I can’t blame you…but for me, watching this again is like visiting an old friend…

…and his name…

…was DEVILMAN.

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