Demon City Shinjuku Anime Review
Makai Toshi Shinjuku
Demon City Shinjuku
US Release By
Demonic Horror Action
Fifteen tears ago, the evil sorcerer Rebi Rah made a pact with the demons of the underworld--if they would give him power, he would give them the world! Shinjuku was devastated by the power of the underworld and in the years following the disaster became known as the Monster City, inhabited by few and avoided by all others. Now Rebi Rah's plans to open the gate to the demon world are almost complete. Master Rai, keeper of the mystical art of nempo, chooses Kyoya Izayoi, whose father was killed trying to stop Rebi Rah fifteen years ago, to go forth and slay the evil sorcerer. Accompanied by the President's beautiful daughter Sayaka, Kyoya must survive the hazards of the Monster City and master the power of nempo within him to kill Rebi Rah before the whole world is doomed forever!
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Demon City Shinjuku (or Monster City, as it's known in the UK and Australia) is yet another horror action film by master of the genre Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Neither his best known nor his most controversial work, it has all the usual touches--dark but clean and detailed Madhouse animation, tough characters with attitudes and really evil bad guys, but seems to lack that extra sparkle (and sexually charged horror) which can really make Kawajiri's anime stand out. The story is hokey and the action less plentiful, less gory, and less impressive that you'd hope, but there are still enough cool scenes, settings, and twists to keep things interesting.
Demon City Shinjuku may not be Kawajiri's best work, but this film is still worth a look, especially if you're looking for an entry-level demonic horror/action film.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Demon City Shinjuku (or Monster City as it is known in the U.K and Australia, which is how I will refer to it from now on) is another demonic action anime by the well-known Yoshiaki Kawajiri. The film is neither his best known nor his most controversial work but is merely a simple little project he created in the early nineties after his better known Wicked City. It has all the usual touches--dark but clean and detailed Madhouse animation, tough characters with attitudes and really evil bad guys, but seems to lack that extra sparkle which can really make Kawajiri's anime sing (or scream in agony as the case may be). Oh don't get me wrong, Monster City may not be Kawajiri's best work, but remember that Kawajiri's best is (at least in my opinion) near the top of the industry, only a little behind Miyazaki, Oshii and Otomo. Either way, this film is still worth a look, especially if you're looking for an entry-level demonic horror/action film.
The movie gets off to quite a good start with a decent duel between Kyoya's father and Rebi Rah, followed by the devastation of Shinjuku. After the start it quiets down for a bit (not counting the attack on the President) until Sayaka enters the city and so on. In fact, the film appears to follow a vague pattern--exciting action scene followed by more slow, talky section, with action scenes almost never leading into each other. This isn't a problem if you don't dwell on it and it didn't bother me.
However, no matter which way you look at it the story of Monster City is pretty hokey. Certain aspects of the plot are fairly contrived--let's see, Master Rai sends amateur Kyoya into the Monster City to kill the most powerful sorcerer in the world, who his own father was unable to defeat, because he has to stay and protect the President? The audience doesn't care what happens to the President, despite Rai's protestations about how important he is, because he has practically no bearing on the story (he looks and sounds like a butler anyway). And watching Kyoya throw himself wholeheartedly into his quest virtually without a complaint after spending two whole scenes convincing various people that he wasn't interested was more than a little implausible to say the least. On top of that, nempo is a rather uninteresting and unoriginal power anyway.
The plot comes in clear stages--enter city, tussle with thugs, get information, fight Earth Demon, fight Water Demon etc--but fortunately these stages move along fairly well, saving the story from being entirely predictable. The mood in the city itself is initially appropriately oppressive and sinister, but unfortunately there aren't enough of Kawajiri's trademark shocks in here. When Sayaka approaches the food cart I thought "Okay, that's far too normal a thing to find in a creepy place like this," but alas, the shifty looking guy being served at it was just a thug, not a demon. Well, score one for originality (it's rarely a good thing if you can guess what's going to happen at the first clue) but it resulted in an encounter only about a fraction as exciting as it could have been. I would have happily watched a more predictable but also more exciting demon battle. You should be prepared to be disappointed at the missed opportunities for cool action in this film--not all the time, not even often, just at rather irritating times. (On a side note, I think this must be the only anime where a female human sacrifice does not have all of her clothes removed.)
The characters in Monster City vary widely. Kyoya is a standard Kawajiri action hero, which is just a standard anime hero who swears, complains and thinks about sex more than usual. He describes Sayaka pretty accurately when he calls her a "crazy, dumb girl"--some of her actions (going into the city alone, trying to negotiate with demons) seem totally random or naive and, like Chris in Kawajiri's earlier "Lensman," she all but has a placard around her neck with "love interest" written on it as soon as she appears on screen. On top of this she possesses a terrible (and unconvincing) British accent.
Street kid Chibi has a pretty interesting design and character, but he also has a surprisingly low voice for someone his age, a godawful Mexican accent and a highly colorful vocabulary. Rai is a little old man with a big nose and a standard "old master" voice, but that's all. As mentioned earlier, in any other anime the President would be employed as a butler by a rich girl with a basement full of powersuits. Rebi Rah is pretty fair, both in design and voice, if unoriginal in character. Kyoya's father Genichirou is packing some serious facial hair, but has little impact on the movie apart from getting killed.
Finally there is one character who goes a long way towards redeeming the film's character mix--Mephisto. His design is one of Kawajiri's best, his voice is the type you just love to listen to, despite the Transylvanian accent, and he even gets some good action as well. If only he had some more screen time or a more clearly defined personality. He's supposed to be an enigma, but I wouldn't mind knowing a little more about exactly who he is.
The animation is excellent as always, the same lovely, hard-edged, clearly drawn cels that most of us know and (presumably) love, providing for some cool battles. The three demon servants of Rebi Rah are a great mix. The Earth Demon is a classic Kawajiri design--six legs, a huge claw hand and a second mouth in its stomach--and provides the movie's best battle before they finally destroy the sod. Water Demon is a creative concept and the setting for the battle is good, but the fight itself is disappointing owing to a lack of mood music and a wussy conclusion. Finally, the Serpent Demon should be familiar to anyone who's seen a more sexually-charged demon horror (like Wicked City), but it all resolves pretty tamely. Still, the fight is cool, if brief, and the ending is much more interesting and creative than against Water Demon.
Although violent, none of the fights are really gory (this is not Urotsukidoji, or even Ninja Scroll) and shouldn't disturb anyone even moderately resistant to violence. But some more common "low-level" demons would have gone a long way towards livening up the action around Shinjuku. The city just doesn't seem as dangerous as it could have been, a bit of a let-down for a supposed Hell On Earth.
There are a few other good scenes in the film. The dead park in the center of the devastation is exceptionally eerie and the confrontation with the lost souls there is just as gripping as the main demon battles. The resolution and the "rain of souls" makes for a beautiful and touching scene while it lasts (weren't expecting that were you?). Unfortunately (I keep using that word to start my sentences) the final confrontation doesn't live up to expectations. It starts out pretty good and the red pattern which appears over Shinjuku really raises the tension. Just when you think it's all over but the shouting the director lands a good surprise (about dang time too!) and we prepare for round two. Unfortunately, "round two" is total rubbish. If you hate "one hit battles" the you're sure to hate this. Bang, it's over. Oh well. Time to go home.
More and more often these days my reviews seem to give the impression that I hate the anime I watch, but the point is that I've spent a long time describing what's wrong with Monster City. There is still plenty to enjoy in this film. When it was all over I found I quite liked it, despite a somewhat clunky plot and a few irritating wasted opportunities for bonus coolness. It isn't top-of-the-line stuff but, as I said at the beginning, it makes an excellent choice for those looking for an easy introduction to the demonic horror genre. A new dark world opens before you... Dare you step in?
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Wicked City, Urotsukidoji, Shuten Doji etc, are all in the same vein, but be warned--this is much simpler and MUCH more tame.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a 1982 novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi. In addition to this OVA adaptation, there was a two-volume manga adaptation with art by Shinichi Hosama published in 2002. The manga version was available in English from ADV Manga.
The anime adaptation was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, well known for demonic horror movies such as Wicked City.
US DVD Review
USM's hybrid DVD throws in some trailers as a bonus, and that's pretty much it.
Eastern Star's DVD doesn't boast of anything additional.
Appropriately rated 13-up by USM.
Violence: 3 - Demon violence, but tame by comparison with the standard.
Nudity: 2 - The Serpent Demon and a very brief abortive rape attempt.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - The same two scenes and some loose sexual references.
Language: 3 - Free exercising of the right to have a potty mouth.