Shelf Life Devilman
by Paul Jensen,
I visited my parents last week and made them watch Anohana, because I am an evil person who likes to make his family cry. Also, it's a really good show. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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On Shelves This Week
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Shelf Life Reviews
Devilman Crybaby made a big splash when it premiered earlier this year, but it wasn't the first time the classic 1970s horror manga has been adapted into an animated form. This week, I'm taking a look at an earlier version from the late 80s.
Our half-demon hero in this story is Akira Fudo, a fairly ordinary high school boy who doesn't really want to hurt anybody; in his first on-screen appearance, he gets beaten up while trying to protect a rabbit from a group of teenage delinquents. While Akira's going around minding his own business, his friend Ryo shows up and tells him that a race of demons is emerging to take over the human world. Ryo's story gets a lot more convincing once a group of demons appear and try to kill the both of them, and Akira agrees to help out with Ryo's plan to fight back. He merges his consciousness with that of a demon, becoming the appropriately named Devilman, and proceeds to kill every demon he encounters from that point on.
That setup has been borrowed and modified countless times in the decades since the original manga was published, and that passage of time works both for and against Devilman. If you're interested in the history and evolution of the genre, it can be interesting to compare this earlier example to more recent fare, like the similarly gruesome Tokyo Ghoul franchise. On the other hand, as nice as it is to see what your more modern favorites are drawing from, some of the plot points in Devilman have not aged well. The OVA's explanation of the demonic fusion process definitely falls on the “don't think about it too hard” end of the spectrum, and the deadly serious tone with which some of this material is presented can be unintentionally funny at times. Devilman paints its themes in big, broad strokes, which leaves it lacking in nuance compared to some of its modern counterparts. As is often the case with influential genre titles, all the refinements that have been made over the years cause Devilman to come across as being more simplistic than it actually is.
Of this OVA's two parts, the first is arguably weaker, at least from the perspective of a 2018 viewer. It runs through the origin story of how Ryo talks Akira into fusing with a demon, and this amounts to a lot of exposition that a modern retelling might speed through in half the time. That's not to say it's boring, mind you; Ryo's tale of ancient demons returning to take over the world is spread across a trippy flashback sequence, a close-quarters demon attack, a car chase, and an underground rave. That all makes for reasonably entertaining viewing, but even with all that action it still feels like it takes forever to get to Akira's transformation. The reasoning behind Akira's decision to go along with the whole fusion thing also boils down to something along the lines of, “Sure, why not?” which is a little less cautious than I'd expect someone to be when asked to share his body with a flesh-eating demon. Those issues aside, this part does a plausible job of setting up the story and main characters, and it offers plenty of bloody action to keep the audience engaged along the way.
The second half takes more of a “monster of the week” approach as Akira fights a variety of demons. This works in the OVA's favor, since the relative lack of new information allows for a tighter focus on raw entertainment. Some of the demons showcase genuinely horrifying creativity in their visual designs, with the most striking of the bunch being a turtle-like monster that covers its shell with the still-living faces of its human prey. The baddies also present a more credible threat to Akira than the cannon fodder he tears through at the end of the first half, and the winged demon Sirene comes remarkably close to actually killing him. The named enemies are also more interesting on a thematic level, since they're able to confront Akira with some uncomfortable questions and display personalities and motivations of their own. It's nothing too insightful and the presentation is always over the top, but it's enough to give this part a more substantial emotional core than its predecessor.
It feels a little strange to say that an OVA full of humans and monsters getting torn limb from limb looks “good,” but the direction and animation quality are pretty strong here. There's plenty of detail to be seen when Akira blasts a demonic car door with a shotgun or Jinmen the turtle monster reveals the human faces covering his shell. Now, if that all sounds disgusting, then you're clearly watching the wrong anime, but I count it as a definite plus for Devilman's target demographic. I should also note that there is a lot (and I mean a lot) of nudity in this OVA, which again could be either an upside or a downside depending on your perspective. This release from Discotek Media includes an old English dub, which appears to date back to the mid-90s and plays pretty fast and loose with the dialogue. Unless you're holding on to nostalgic memories of the cheesy dubs of yesteryear, I'd go with the subtitled Japanese audio on this one.
If you're interested in how titles like Devilman influenced the action horror titles we see today (including the new Devilman Crybaby series), then I wouldn't necessarily start with this OVA. It's too short to cover much of a narrative arc, so you're better off looking to the original manga, which just got a fresh printing in the US earlier this year. On the other hand, if you're in the mood for some action-heavy horror and don't mind a few outdated plot points, this adaptation makes for a bloody good time. It's schlocky, violent, and ridiculous, and it embraces all of those qualities, which is exactly what this kind of show should do.
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Ben:
"My name is Ben and I've submitted my shelves before. The most recent was when you had some trouble building a bookshelf and I sent you one of my shelf fails. The problem up until now is that I didn't have enough shelf space for all my anime BR/DVDs. They were just sitting in stacks in a corner. But no more! With the addition of a big wall mounted shelf I can proudly say that all my anime has a home on a shelf. As you will see by the pics I actually have room for more! Some things are still a little disorganized right now ( I have to alphabetize some shelves and clean up the wires on my game consoles) but that will come in time. And if you are wondering about that one little shelf all by itself with just one row of anime, that is my "In Box". That shelf is in the bedroom and it's where I put new BR/DVDs that I have not watched on one side, and things I'am currently re-watching on the other side. I keep that shelf by the TV in my bedroom so I can sleep in on weekend mornings and watch anime, like when I was young with Saturday morning cartoons. Thanks for posting Paul."
For folks who may not remember, I once shared a tale of shelf-building woe in one of my introduction paragraphs, and Ben responded by sending in some of his own anime storage troubles. Thanks for sending in the update Ben, the new setup looks awesome!
If you'd like to show off your own anime collection, send me your photos at [email protected]!
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