Genre: Splatter fest Action/Horror (Action)
What’s in it?: Messy Gunfights, Super powered Fistfights, Mass Destruction, Demons Galore, Serious Arial Chases, Tragedy
Global warming is beginning to thaw the ice caps, and rising sea levels aren’t the only problem resulting. The thing is, 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 Devil Man will be the one force standing between the people of earth and demon anarchy.
Ah, more demonic carnage from the master of gore (or T & A, depending on the series), Nagai Go. True to form, Devil Man has heaping helpings of bloody demon fighting action, a lot of nudity (including men, actually), and enough spilled guts to fill a garbage truck. Although it has some rough spots and a bit of rather unsettling writing, by and large Devil Man ended up being better than I was expecting, at least in the genre of gory action movies.
Devil Man starts out a little slowly, and although the level of tension was pretty high, nothing really happens until toward the end of the first episode. That episode also had the significant problem, at least plot wise, of Ryo’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 they used to get there was just plain out of character for him. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want the spoiler, 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 looser punk party were both fine, but the nonchalance seemed totally out of character for Akira.
After the weak start, though, things picked up a lot; the characters were functionally interesting and sympathetic enough (something Nagai Go does pretty well by the standards of gore flicks), the story got moving, and there was lots and lots of action. Well, to say that the story got moving is a little misleading – there really wasn’t any story to speak of. More accurately, there was a lot going on, and it was generally exciting. Actually, that’s something that Devil Man did surprisingly well at; series like this usually aren’t very interesting aside from the action because there is no real tension, and even during the fights you usually don’t get the feeling that the hero is trying very hard. In this case, though, some of the horror movie-inspired suspense scenes were tense and almost scary (not really, but way more than I was expecting), and I actually believed that Devil Man could have lost a fight.
None of that is to say that Devil Man was anything impressive story wise, it was just better than most of its kin. It’s also not to say that there wasn’t a high cheese-factor; women still always get attacked in the bathtub, the demons still try to sound deep, and everything and everyone still gets ripped into little bloody chunks in the end. On the other hand, one interesting thing was that although the gore and nudity were plenty gratuitous, they never seemed to be in particularly poor taste (hey, I appreciate tasteful tastelessness). I also noticed a few amusing social tie-ins; I mentioned the unforeseen side effect of global warming already, and there was 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 splatter fest series, the action was easily two steps above the norm. For one thing, there was lots and lots of it, and there weren’t many still-frame or cheap animation cop-outs either. And just because the action was voluminous doesn’t mean it wasn’t well done; the fight choreography was fast and surprisingly interesting. There were even a few flashes of creativity; the way that the superhuman battlers got around normal houses was nice (I thought that Devil Man clearing out an extra-large hole in the ceiling so he didn’t hurt the human he was carrying was a particularly nice touch) and some of the bizarre things possessed household objects did were properly unsettling, too. The gore also stands above the pack; this is Nagai Go, and he hasn’t earned his popularity for nothing. The detail and relish with which the flying blood is executed was worthy of merit (not to mention on part with much newer animation), and there was even a touch of artistic flair to it a couple of times. There were even a couple of long (and completely gratuitous) scenes of life in prehistoric, demon-infested times that were bizarre but creative (in a sick nature show sort of way).
The acting in the dub (there is no sub to my knowledge) unfortunately didn’t do much for the legitimacy of the story’s seriousness. It wasn’t badly acted, but it wasn’t well written at all, and it had that feel of an older dub (it probably is) in a bad way – the voices themselves were exaggerated and not very believable, even if the actual acting was passable. The dub was strange in some places; it sounded like it had been written by somebody British (certain terms that we Brits use that the Americans use different words for – for example using “plaster” instead of “bandage”) yet none of the actors were English. That, and the fact that it generally sounded a little stiff made most of the dialogue pretty awkward. The music was sparse and on par with other older OAVs; orchestral but overblown.
In all, Devil Man does not rise above its roots as a demon-happy splatter fest action show, 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 gory action, but there are more than enough of both of those things to keep almost anybody else happy.