Reviewby Mike Crandol, Mar 17th 2003
The Devil Lady
DVD 1: The Awakening
Fashion model Jun Fudou hasn't been feeling quite like herself lately. Something intangible has been lurking in the back of her mind, and one night an encounter with a mysterious woman makes it all horrifyingly clear. Lan Asuka drives Jun to a deserted warehouse, where a monstrous beast is being secretly kept. Jun is shocked when she is locked in with the creature, but even more surprised when her fear triggers her own transformation into a similarly demonic monster. It turns out that random humans are slowly devolving into a bunch of flesh-eating hellspawn, and Jun is one of the select few who are able to control their transformations while retaining her human soul. Jun struggles to come to grips with her terrifying new reality and is forced to join Asuka in hunting down the rest of the monsters before they eradicate all of humanity.
At first glance, Go Nagai's The Devil Lady looks like a cross between Go Nagai's Devilman and Go Nagai's Cutey Honey. Anyone familiar with the man's work might expect this series to be little more than a cheap exercise in bloody violence with gratuitous nudity mixed in for good measure. But volume one, The Awakening, is an effective Jekyll-and-Hyde horror tale with loads of atmosphere and a pleasing alternative to all the shiny happy anime series out there today. Sure, the main character is a naked she-demon who rips apart her enemies with her bare hands, but it's not nearly as exploitative as it sounds.
Jun Fudou, the Devil Lady in question, finds herself in quite an outlandish situation when she begins transforming into a hideous creature that can grow huge and battle freakish opponents Ultraman-style. But her very realistic reaction to her new condition gives the show its edge, and makes the series interesting. Whereas a more typical anime hero might be impressed with their new powers, Jun almost kills herself after her first transformation. Shocked and horrified at the monster within herself, Jun recoils into a paranoid, depressed existence. Instead of offering support, Jun's new mentor Lan Asuka is cruel and uncaring about her “tool's” feelings and makes it plain that she regards her as little more than an animal. Not given any breaks, Jun becomes a sympathetic, involving heroine despite her one-sided personality.
The characterization may not be deep, but the unrelentingly dark and dour mood is captivating, and the action sequences keep the tone from becoming too oppressive. Even daylight sequences in which Jun goes on photo shoots or chats with her friend Kazumi are shadowy and ominous, without a trace of comedy relief or anything else to relieve the tension. The Hitchcockian level of suspense and Jun's increasing detachment from reality recall shades of Perfect Blue, and devotees of that film should appreciate this series' tense atmosphere. The only respite from the gloom is the monster battle guaranteed to occur every episode. But as these invariably end with a mortified Jun bemoaning her cursed existence, in the end they too contribute to the psychological horror.
It's Go Nagai, so of course these battle scenes don't leave much to the imagination. The blood flows freely, but it is usually fleeting and not as over-the-top as it could have been. Jun does lose her clothes when she transforms, though her beastly form is hardly sexual. It can't really be called sophisticated, but there is nothing here in poor taste. If there is a fault to find, it is the show's repetitive nature--which is already evident just five episodes in--and some goofy monster designs. It's hard not to laugh when Jun's former swim-team classmate morphs into a giant shark with tentacles.
Jun's opponents often resemble refugees from Castlevania, but the rest of the show is handsome enough. The animation is not spectacular but this is effectively covered up by the dark color palette and clever staging that keep much of the action in the shadows without confusing things. But Devil Lady's greatest technical merit is undoubtedly its music. Complete with chorus, the menacing opening theme is reminiscent of Carl Orff's well-known “O Fortuna” and perfectly sets up the tone of the series; the haunting melody reappears throughout each episode but is never intrusive. Shaking things up slightly is the techno closing song, a slow, somber techno song that doesn't clash with the rest of the series.
Both Japanese and US vocal casts give strong performances. Junko Iwao is perfect as Jun and is totally convincing as both the withdrawn fashion model and the supernatural beast. Likewise, American voice actress Shawn Sides successfully nails Jun's dual identities. Supporting cast members also turn in above-average deliveries, and ADV's translation stays close to the Japanese original, making the show equally enjoyable in either language.
Volume one of The Devil Lady is five episodes of gothic horror goodness wrapped up in a pretty straightforward package. The cover art is a classy bit of minimalism, and the menus are simple but more than serve their purpose. There are precious few extras, just your basic trailer, clean opening and closing. Three or four model designs of Jun and her first supernatural adversary are included as well, comprising one of the shortest “art galleries” this reviewer has ever seen. But if you're buying this show just for the extras, you're buying it for all the wrong reasons.
The Devil Lady is no masterpiece, but so far it has proven to be an entertaining exercise in animated horror, an underrepresented genre. Anime seems to be getting cuter and cuddlier every day, but this series harks back to a time when dark actioners like Vampire Hunter D and Akira ruled the American anime scene. Fans who long for those bygone days should definitely check this one out.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : A-
+ Atmospheric Jekyll-and-Hyde horror story with a sympathetic lead
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