Devilman Anime Review
US Release By
2 50-minute episodes
Global warming is beginning to thaw the ice caps, and rising sea levels aren't the only nasty side-effect--there are some immortal demons that have been trapped in the polar ice for the past few millennia, and they're none too happy about the situation. And, of course, their prey of choice are human beings. Enter Akira, one of those average, everyday anime high school students (well, except for the fact that his parents died under mysterious circumstances while spelunking at the south pole). When Akira's friend Ryo shows up and tells Akira about the unsuspecting world's impending demon problem, Akira decides to take a crack at joining with a demon himself. In theory, a pure young man should be able to control the demon's consciousness and harness its power to fight the rest of its kin, but will it really be that easy? If it is, then Devilman will be the one force standing between the people of earth and demon anarchy.
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Devilman is more demonic carnage from the master of gore and sleaze, Go Nagai. True to form, this '80s remake of the classic TV show is loaded with bloody demon fighting action, naked demons, and enough spilled guts to fill a dump truck. The opening episode is slow and totally ignores the main character's personality in favor of setting up a bloodbath, but the rest of the series perks up considerably with surprisingly sympathetic characters and loads of fine looking action--one thing Devilman does not do is show its age. The stiff, strangely written dub does make the lack of a sub a liability, though, since there's just enough character that you might even care.
Devilman does not rise above its demon-happy splatterfest roots, but within that genre it's surprisingly well done, loaded with the requisite gore and action, and even has enough creativity to keep somewhat more discerning viewers interested.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Ah, more demonic carnage from the master of gore (or sleaze, depending on the series), Go Nagai. True to form, this darker '80s remake of the classic '70s action show is more faithful to Nagai's manga version, with heaping helpings of bloody demon fightin' action, a lot of nudity (male and female, for once), and enough spilled guts to fill a dump truck. It also has some rough spots and starts off with some rather unsettling writing (of the wrong sort), but by and large Devilman ended up being better than I was expecting, at least among gory action movies.
Devilman starts out a little slowly, and although the level of tension is pretty high, nothing really happens until toward the end of the first episode. Plot-wise, that episode also botches Akira's moral dilemma (or rather lack thereof): the grim task of merging with a demon to save the earth has an air of tragedy to it, but the method used to get there is completely out of character. Skip the rest of the paragraph if you hate spoilers, but I just can't see a sweet, rabbit-protecting high school student looking at a room full of unsuspecting ne'r-do-wells who are about to be possessed by demons and then killed (by him, if all goes as planned), and having his only concern be whether he'll really be able to beat them all. His friend's insane drive and the general idea of the Black Sabbath cast as a loser punk party are both fine, but Akira's nonchalance makes no sense.
After the weak start, though, things pick up a lot; the story gets moving, the characters are reasonably interesting and sympathetic enough (always Go Nagai's strength, especially by the standards of gore flicks), and there's lots and lots of action. Well, saying that the story gets moving is a little misleading--there really isn't any story to speak of, but at least there's a lot going on, and it's generally exciting.
Keeping the action exciting is something that Devilman does surprisingly well; series like this usually aren't very interesting aside from the action because there's no real tension, and even during the fights you rarely get the feeling that the hero is trying very hard. In this case, though, some of the horror movie-inspired suspense scenes are tense and almost scary (not really, but way more than I was expecting), and I actually believed that Devilman could have lost a fight. It's a rare occasion that I feel attached enough to the hero in ultraviolent anime to care at all about the outcome of a fight, and this was one of those occasions.
None of that is to say that Devilman is anything impressive story-wise, just better than most of its kin. It's also not to say that there isn't a high cheese-factor; as usual, women always get attacked while bathing, the demons try to sound deep, and everything and everyone gets ripped into little bloody chunks in the end. (On the other hand, for those who appreciate tasteful tastelessness, the gore and nudity are plenty gratuitous without seeming to be in particularly poor taste.) I do appreciate the amusing social tie-ins; aside from the unforeseen side-effect of global warming, there is some pseudo-deep talk about man's natural predators (who'd have thought that demon invasion would be the cure to Japan's overpopulation woes?).
Coming back to the gore, and considering that this is an older splatterfest series, the action is easily two steps above the norm--lots and lots of it, and a minimum of still-frame or cheap animation cop-outs. And just because the action is voluminous doesn't mean it isn't well done--the fight choreography is fast and surprisingly interesting. There are even a few flashes of creativity; the way that the superhuman battlers get around normal houses is a nice touch (Devilman clearing out an extra-large hole in the celling so as not to hurt the human he's carrying). Some of the bizarre things possessed household objects do are properly unsettling, too.
The gore also stands above the pack--this is Go Nagai, and he hasn't earned his popularity for nothing. The detail and relish with which the flying blood and viscera are executed is worthy of merit (not to mention on par with much newer animation), and there's even a touch of artistic flair to it. Along the same lines, a couple of long (and completely gratuitous) scenes of life in prehistoric, demon infested times stand out as bizarre but creative in a sick-nature-show sort of way.
The acting in Manga's English dub (their DVD was sadly dub-only), unfortunately, doesn't do much for the legitimacy of the story or its seriousness. Though the actual acting is passable, this has the feel of an older dub in the worst way--stiff dialogue and exaggerated voices, and the writing is downright strange. The dialogue sounds British (words like "knickers" for underwear and "plaster" for a bandage), but none of the actors are British (though there is a demon with a Southern accent), making for some weird moments. The music, a less-memorable soundtrack by Kenji Kawai, is sparse and on par with other older OAVs; orchestral but overblown.
In all, Devilman does not rise above its demon-happy splatterfest roots, but within that genre it's surprisingly well done, and even has enough creativity to keep somewhat more discerning viewers interested. One thing it doesn't do is show it's age; this is vintage animation that can hold its own with anything new. Don't even think about it if you don't like gore and action, but there's more than enough of both of those things to keep almost anybody happy.
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Aside from the parallel series Devil Lady, has a lot in common with Shuten Douji (the Star Hand Kid), another of Go Nagai's works. Also a little bit like the infamous Urotsukidouji if that weren't... well, what it is. Say, I just noticed that "Douji" ("boy/kid") is in both of those titles... I wonder if it's just a coincidence...
Notes and Trivia
This two-volume series is composed of Devilman: Book of Birth (Devilman: Tanjou Hen; デビルマン 誕生編) and Devilman: Book of the Demon Bird Sirene (Devilman: Youchou Shireenu Hen; デビルマン 妖鳥死麗濡編), released three years later.
One of Go Nagai's earlier productions, the classic 1972 Devilman was a direct spin-off of his more adult Demon Lord Dante manga (which also got an anime adaptation nearly three decades later) into a more mass-market TV show. The show was produced alongside a manga by Nagai; the manga adaptation, in addition to having a significantly different story, is both violent and darker than the TV version, eventually culminating in a bleak, apocalyptic climax.
The two OVAs of this remake are more faithful to the manga version in terms of content, although they only cover a part of the story. A third OVA, Amon: The Apocalypse of Devilman, was produced about a decade later, and could be considered the conclusion of this series, since it covers the end of the story.
There was also a CG-heavy live-action Devilman movie produced in 2004.
The much less well-known (and much more controversial) Violence Jack manga (there's also a short anime adaptation) is a sort-of-sequel to Devilman.
Go Nagai, for those unfamiliar, is the famed creator of such dubious classics as Cutey Honey, Devilman, and Kekko Kamen, as well as more family-friendly fare like the original mecha pilot show Mazinger Z.
Appropos of nothing, Devilman is the second anime I've seen this month that makes reference to Dante's Inferno (Sol Bianca: The Legacy was the other).
US DVD Review
The DVD isn't bad, but there are a couple of major omissions. The video transfer is decent and the English audio is actually full Dolby 5.1 (though not terribly well separated). Unfortunately, there is no subtitle/caption track, and there is no Japanese audio (I have no idea why that would be missing). The menus (which seemed a bit glitchy) provide access to a chapter index, some previews, and a bio on Go Nagai.
Very, very gory (though most of the gore is demon-derived), and has lots of nudity (also largely demon-derived), plus generally foul language. Would easily be 16-up, if not worse on account of the sheer volume.
Violence: 4 - Massive amounts of blood and guts.
Nudity: 4 - Voluminous, though most of it is in the form of demons, and none of it is particularly detailed.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Surprisingly little.
Language: 4 - Nothing creative, but a lot of coarse language.