Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend Anime Review
Choujin Densetsu Urotsukidouji
Legend of the Overlord: The Wandering Boy
US Release By
Demonic Horror Action
3 45-minute episodes
1987-01-21 - 1989-04-10
What's In It
- Demons, demons, DEMONS!
- Blood and guts
- Tentacles (though this isn't really "one of those")
- Energy Fights
- Gratuitous Skin
- The Demon World
- Tragedy (No, really! Believe me!)
- The Apocalypse
- Lotsa nasty mature stuff
- Violence: 5 (extreme)
- Nudity: 4 (heavy)
- Sex: 5 (extreme)
- Language: 4 (heavy)
Note: This film is an adults-only production; while this review doesn't discuss anything overly explicit, if you're under 18 you should probably spend your time in another area of the site.
"Mankind... you are an ignorant race! How foolish it is to believe that your kind rules the Earth! Know now that you are not alone! There are unseen worlds which exist parallel to yours. These are the worlds of the Makai, a race of demons, and the Jyujinkai, those who are half-human and half-beast. There is an ancient legend, a prophecy, foretelling the appearance of a superbeing every 3000 years. He is called the CHOJIN, a god above all gods, the Overfiend. The Chojin will appear through the body of a human and, with his great power, he will unite the three worlds. He will create a new world, a world of peace and harmony. His time has now come. Ignorant humans--the truth shall now be revealed!"
Urotsukidoji is the story of Amano Jyaku from the world of the Jyujinkai and his three-hundred year quest to discover the Chojin. Accompanied by his sister Megumi and imp-servant Koroko he has searched the world of the Ninjinkai (humans) for centuries and now he believes he may have found what he has been looking for! But how can he be sure who the Chojin really is? And what will the Chojin's "perfect world" really be like? As Amano is tormented by doubts and uncertainties one truth rises to light--before creation there must first be destruction!
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Urotsukidoji is easily the most notorious anime ever made. Known to all anime fans with even limited knowledge, its name has become synonymous with sex and violence in anime. Renowned as the leading hardcore demonic horror series, the majority of anime fans avoid it. And this really is a shame, because without any doubt this film is excellent. Past the explicit content, it has a mature, brilliantly written and amazingly engaging plot--twisting, shifting, and multi-layered, it builds to a dark, devastating, awe-inspiring climax and gripping ending which left me desperate to watch the sequel, Legend of the Demon Womb. Although the animation shows its age, the old-school style is a primary factor in creating the mood--that extra edge of "unreality," not to mention plenty of juicy material for action-junkies. The dubbing is unexceptional, but the soundtrack is tense and mood amplifying.
Its easy to see why Urotsukidoji became a cult favourite; too mature for the mainstream, its excellent plot and action made it a winner with the more hardcore fans. Although now at least twelve years old, this still stands as a milestone in anime, the AKIRA of mature anime, pushing the idea of "anime for adults" to new, extreme levels.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Urotsukidoji is easily the most notorious anime ever made. Known to all anime fans with even limited knowledge, its name has become synonymous with sex and violence in anime. Renowned as the leading hardcore demonic horror series, the majority of anime fans avoid it. And this really is a shame, because without any doubt this film is excellent.
The main problem with the series is that most people consider Urotsukidoji to be a hentai--"pervert"--anime. This is because of the copious number of gratuitous and graphic sex scenes which gained the series its notoriety. However, labeling Legend of the Overfiend and the other parts of the series as hentai because of this is a mistake--one easy to make, but all too common. There are several reasons why Urotsukidoji is not a hentai. Firstly, it is hardly titillating. This is not how porn anime is done--this is serious horror, albeit with lots of gratuitous sex, and the mood of the piece as a whole destroys the feeling of erotica. Not all of the sex scenes are thrown in for the hell of it--it drives a large part of the plot and not in a sleazy way either. I suppose some perverts would enjoy it as a hentai anime, but these people would be really sick in the head. If you compared it to a real hentai--say Lady Blue, Rei Rei or Ogenki Clinic--the massive gap between Urotsukidoji and hentai would become apparent immediately. Finally, consider similar films in the genre--is Wicked City a hentai film?
Because of its fearsome reputation (although not a hentai, Urotsukidoji is still one of the most mature pieces of animation ever made) far too many people tend to look down on it. This is another mistake. Urotsukidoji itself looks down on the majority of other anime because, despite the massive amounts of mature material, it has a mature, brilliantly written and amazingly engaging plot. Those who watch Urotsukidoji without knowing anything about the plot beforehand (I, unfortunately, couldn't count myself among such) will be left gasping by the twisting, shifting, multi-layered story. Even people who are already familiar with various parts of the plot will be impressed by the unpredictable way the plot leads you in one direction, then suddenly turns you in another, leading up to its, dark, devastating, awe-inspiring climax and gripping ending which left me desperate to watch Legend of the Demon Womb.
After the beginning explanatory voice-over, the movie opens with a bang--several bangs in fact, which more or less sets the tone of the film--dark, bloodstained and pulling no punches. The film proper begins in a normal Japanese university, complete with girl's changing-room pervert. Things begin to move very quickly with, unsurprisingly, a nasty rape scene which starts out lesbian and ends up demonic. The movie does not continue at a constant pace, instead speeding up or slowing down in order to allow plot or action. The excellent action scenes are perfectly spaced to maintain interest in the story and the narrative flows smoothly through scenes of wondrous otherworlds, bloody demonic battling, massive destruction and engaging character relationships. Legend of the Overfiend is crammed to overflowing with awesome scenes, from the amazing and bloody duels between demons and others--especially Amano--to the heights of the wondrous realm of the Jyujinkai to the awesome destruction wreaked at two key points in the film.
This movie is, surprisingly, a primarily character-driven film. These characters are not astoundingly deep, but still have a lot more depth than you'd expect. Although Amano Jyaku is theoretically the film's main character, he is, for much of the film, a background observer, mainly coming to the fore when a Makai demon needs killing. Amano is an incredibly cool character, both in design and attitude (especially during the climax when he reverts to his true Jyujinkai form) but the true stars of this film are the two young lovers, Akemi and Nagumo. Although both begin the film as just ordinary university students they are both destined for futures more fantastic and horrifying than any imaginable. Their relationship is a true, convincing romance, both touching and tragic and is something amazing to find in this class of film. Other characters include the tragic Niki, Amano's nymphomaniac sister Megumi, his imp-like servant Koroko and the sinister Suikakujyu, the fiend of madness and murder. These characters are mostly well written, although Koroko, being only really a minor character, lacks much real personality. He seems out of place in a film like this, but they manage to work him in without too much difficulty. Megumi's character was also a little thinner than the rest, but will be better fleshed out (pun possibly intended) in the successive movie and series.
One of the really amazing things about this film is the way it can make you feel genuine empathy with, and sympathy for, the characters. Okay, so you can't relate to them (you should be worried if you can) but you can't help but feel sorry for most of the characters caught up in the legend of the Chojin. Nagumo is just an ordinary schoolboy who wants nothing more than to share his life with the girl he loves, but finds himself at the centre of a nightmare come to Earth. Akemi is also an ordinary teenage student who is bound to Nagumo, sharing in his torments and suffering horrors unimaginable all throughout the film. Poor Niki is the most sympathetic character of all--suffering an unrequited love, tormented not by demons but by his peers and family, his story can very nearly make you cry and it is nearly impossible to see him as a villain. Talk about sympathy for the Devil--even Suikakujyu is not inherently evil, although he is one nasty SOB--all he wants is to preserve his world. Amano and Megumi, because of their position as observers, don't get much of this sympathy, although you can't help but feel for Amano as he watches his world and his dreams begin to disintegrate. Although it may appear black and white on your first viewing, the divisions are much less obvious than you think--there are no real villains, or rather, there are villains who are villainous merely because they stand opposed to the hero but who are not evil. The Makai are all pretty darn nasty (that's their nature) but the only named one--the aforementioned Suikakujyu--is a very interesting character, not just your standard evil demon.
Technically, Urotsukidoji is still a very impressive film. It is definitely showing its age (1989) and was never an Akira-scale production anyway, but still manages to outclass most of its contemporaries. The animation is very good, solid and practical with impressive and original character design, well drawn backgrounds and clever directing. The characters are to be commended--although Nagumo and Ozaki are pretty standard designs and Akemi's design receives a reprimand for making her appear several years younger than she actually is, the other characters are very good, especially the non-humans. Okay, Koroko just looks plain stupid, but Amano especially is a brilliant design--although he looks human for most of the film he simply radiates power through all of his slight form, understandable when you see his true body. Megumi is really hot (if you'll pardon my saying so), although it would be a little more realistic if her skirt were more than an inch long. The Makai are the weirdest bunch of demons this side of Go Nagai but are suitably horrific and Suikakujyu, who is one of my favourite anime demons, has quite a phenomenal design--two phenomenal designs in fact, more if you count the human guise he adopts. The otherworlds of Jyujinkai and Makai especially are excellently realized as different planes of existence where being other than humans would dwell, and the high, airy realm of the man-beasts contrasts brilliantly with the dark, fluid, violent world of the monster-demons. Although most of the action in the film takes place at night (no, not that sort of action, although there is plenty of that too) the shadowy battlefield of the night city (Osaka I think it is) oozes horror-laced atmosphere. Although the animation is indeed quite dated, it's old-school style is a primary factor in creating the mood of horror which drives the film--more contemporary films such as Wicked City seem to lack the extra edge of "unreality" that Urotsukidoji's animation provides.
The action scenes, and there are a lot, are thrilling and engaging, especially during the demon-on-demon ones where the blood really starts to flow. Highlights include the fantastical duel between Amano and Suikakujyu and the brutal brawl at the construction site. These scenes are fantastically choreographed, but you must be warned--they are extremely violent. As much as it is renowned for sex, Urotsukidoji is famous for its brutal, gory and graphic violence and this reputation is well deserved. Although not excessive, the level and detail of the brutality throughout the film exceeds even such hardcore action flicks as Ninja Scroll as skulls shatter, flesh is torn and entrails spill (the deciding factor is always the entrails). Don't get me wrong--the violence is generally justified and isn't quite as bad as all that, but some of the scenes, especially that horrifying hospital scene and the part where the Makai appear to Niki made even me shudder. But there's plenty of material here for action-junkies to sink their teeth into and devour, putting Legend of the Overfiend on par with more dedicated action films.
The audio mix of Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend is really quite good. The English voices are unexceptional but there are no really terrible voices and some are really well cast. Amano's actor especially is an interesting case--although he's not exceptionally skilled as an actor (he isn't bad, but lacks conviction in some of his lines) his voice is near-perfect for the character. Akemi's voice actor, like her character design, make her seem younger than she really is, a very important factor when you consider what happens to her in this film and Koroko is kind of irritating, but these are minor and forgivable errors. The faithfulness of the translation is in some doubt, as I highly doubt for example that Akemi would casually dismiss the existence of the Chojin with a simple "Don't be silly, there's no such thing" when standing on a tower in the beastman world of Jyujinkai. However the story still comes across perfectly well and the movie contains a lot of really cool dialogue, most of it belonging to Amano. Finally, the soundtrack is usually extremely satisfying; one of the most tense, mood-amplifying soundtracks I've ever heard in a demon anime. Sinister and looming at the right times, it supports everything that happens on the screen with an amazing level of appropriateness.
Although I have already attempted to persuade you that Urotsukidoji is not a hentai, it is impossible to discuss Legend of the Overfiend without making at least some effort to discuss the adult material in it. I make no attempt to deny that Urotsukidoji contains many graphic sex scenes, many with a definite demonic involvement. These scenes never stand alone as "just sex scenes" as they always lead into the next scene, whether it is a kidnapping, bloody butchery, or mass destruction. Of these scenes, two especially strike me as exceptionally horrific--the aforementioned scene in the hospital and the final scene before the climax of the film begins (pun definitely not intended). However all of the scenes in the film are disturbing to some degree (except one of the early ones which is soon broken up by, surprise surprise, a massacre) and require a very level head to watch. They are not erotic but horrifying, especially the rapes. They'll only get to you if you let them, so you should just do your best to either bear with them or ignore them.
Because of its legendary sex and violence, people tend to forget the fact that Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend is really an amazing film. Its easy to see why Urotsukidoji became a cult favourite; too mature for the mainstream, its excellent plot and action made it a winner with the more hardcore fans. Although now at least twelve years old, this still stands as a milestone in anime, the AKIRA of mature anime, pushing the idea of "anime for adults" to new, extreme levels. And with a plot and action comparable to Otomo's masterpiece itself, it is well deserving of these accolades. Ignore the rumors, forget all you have been told, gather your nerve and dare to venture into the universe of the three worlds! Discover the secret of the Chojin for yourself! Ignorant humans--the truth has now been revealed
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The prototype for an entire genre; Demon Beast Invasion, by the same creator, has some similarity, and his well-known La Blue Girl puts a much more upbeat spin on the genre. For a less extreme take on erotic horror, Wicked City might be worth a look.
Notes and Trivia
The prototype adult horror anime, and the most renowned entry in the genre, Urotsukidouji is based on a comic by Toshio Maeda. It spawned one sequel movie and two sequel OAV series.
Maeda, though Urotsukidouji, is pretty much credited as the creator of the entire tentacle genre--tentacles were his creative idea for getting around Japan's odd censorship laws about showing sex acts. (Though it's worth noting that, outside the anime genre, Japanese erotic art featuring women and octopi exists dating back to at least the 19th century.)
It's a little confusing, but the "movie" version that is best known in the West is actually cut together from a three-episode OAV series. The film version is 108 minutes long and was released on 1989-03-18 under the same title.
The "Urotsukidouji" of the title roughly translates as "wandering male child." Although "Choujin Densetsu" literally means something like "super-god legend," "Legend of the Overfiend" is not a bad translation in spirit. Early English releases of the film actually used the title "Wandering Kid."
US DVD Review
The DVD situation is very confusing, since as of this writing there are thee versions of this movie available on DVD:
There is the movie version, alone, on one DVD with few extras. It does include a Japanese language track... but no subtitles.
Then there's the Perfect Collection, which includes the "directors cut," actually the full three-episode OAV series the movie was edited together from. It also includes the two-episode OAV series used to make the movie's sequel. This version is subtitled only--no dub.
Finally, there's the Hell on Earth box set, which includes the entire series--the movie version, its sequel, and both later OAV series. That set is dual language without subtitles. Ugh.
As for the basic dub/raw Japanese version, it's an uneven but not entirely bad production. There isn't much in the way of extras, and the lack of subtitles is odd and a major oversight, but there is a chapter index. At least the Japanese audio is included, and the transfer is fairly clean, although the English track is somewhat crisper. What really stood out was the video; the video transfer is surprisingly rich and as crisp as the original was intended to look. Although there's a little bit of film-style dirt on the print it was digitized from, it's also a very clean transfer, with almost no noise at all.
The film actually has an MPAA rating: NC-17. It's absolutely not suitable for anyone under 18--probably not a lot of people over 18, either.
Violence: 5 - Several rapes, as well as torn, mangled flesh, spilled guts--not excessive, but woah!
Nudity: 4 - With this many sex scenes (and Megumi)? Go figure.
Sex/Mature Themes: 5 - Don't let the kiddies watch this one. Stops just short of hentai.
Language: 4 - A lot of mature and vulgar language, but they don't use the really explicit words.
Available in North America from Anime 18 in a confusing array of editions; the DVD editions include the movie version, which is bilingual but has no subtitles, the Perfect Collection, which has the full version of the series and its sequel and is subtitled-only, and there's also a "Hell on Earth" box set that includes the entire series dubbed in English and with some Japanese dialogue, but no subtitles. It was previously available in movie form (only) on dubbed VHS, as well as subtitled VHS as part of a "Perfect Collection."