Devil Man DVD

Eats Pokemon for breakfast

After the success of his boundary-pushing series “Shameless School” and “Cutie Honey”, Japanese cartoonist Go Nagai created a new manga series that became just as influential. It took the old “boy transforms to hero” idea of Captain Marvel and gave it a horrifying new twist. His new hero was dark and dangerous, a half-demon that fought other monsters invading our dimension, while fighting his own evil and bloodthirsty urges.

While The Exorcist would explore a human possessed by a demon, Devil Man had a demon possessed by a human. Manga Video presents two Devil Man anime adaptations in one package, running about 55 minutes each. The main menu animation plays a limited number of times, then starts the program automatically.

“The Birth” opens with a Fantasia-like prologue, in which nymphs descend from Heaven and are eaten by monsters. Then the nymphs get revenge by ravaging the planet with powerful beams of destruction. I suppose this illustrates how the age of the demons ended. A jillion years later, spelunkers release a monster from an ice cave in Antarctica. The doomed explorers are the parents of our hero, Akira. At the moment, the boy is showing unusual spunk by defending the school’s last rabbit from being slain by the hoods that killed the others. His girlfriend Miki helps clean up his wounds.

Akira’s pal Ryu, from his old school, appears to discuss important business. He reveals how his father went insane and killed himself, but the secret behind the madness is even more shocking. A demon skull mask found in an Aztec cave allows one to see into the ancient demonic world. Unfortunately, the boys’ knowledge of this world makes them a target for demons still roaming the Earth. The only way to possibly protect themselves is to attempt to merge with demons themselves. The ultimate danger is that their human spirit will become completely dominated by that of the demon.

The transformation ritual is to take place in a decadent nightclub, where the pair try to rouse demonic forces. Ryu fails in his attempt, but Akira succeeds in his transformation, able to become a demon-shredding Devil Man when the need arises. Devil Man shows off his prowess by destroying a good dozen demons right away. Ryu ends up in the hospital. In “The Demon Bird”, it’s shown that some of the demon’s personality and abilities have merged with Akira’s human form as well, even when he’s not the Devil Man. A phone message calls him out to battle a soul-snatching demon Jinmen in a haunted sewer. After defeating Jinmen, Akira has nightmares in which the demon’s memories meld with his own. Miki is concerned over the changes that have come over her boyfriend, even more so since he’s moved in with her family. Unfortunately, this makes Miki and her family vulnerable when Gelmar the water demon and Shirnu the bird demon come to call.

Gelmar takes natural advantage of the situation when Miki takes her nightly bath. Fortunately, Akira’s demon senses start tingling, warning him of the danger. Akira’s battle with Gelmar is epic, but the fight between Devil Man and Shirnu is downright apocalyptic, tearing up the city and getting their blood all across the countryside. Either this episode is a later one in the series, or something was lost in the translation.

With the demon’s memory, it’s easy to see why Akira would recognize all these monsters, but it seems like the viewer is supposed to be familiar with them as well. Nagai was ahead of his time, creating a splatter-punk series that broke through sex and gore barriers in a Hellish fantasy setting. Devil Man is like a superhero version of the Evil Dead and Nightmare on Elm Street movies. He would go on to even more success with Mazinger, a giant robot series that would become highly influential around the world. Devil Man is a series whose language is as hard-boiled as its events, but it’ll still tickle some to hear the foul dialogue coming from cartoon mouths because the voice actors fail to sell it. This is more of a problem with the first half than the second, so maybe the actors grew more comfortable in their roles, but I wish Manga had provided Japanese audio/English subtitle options on the disc. However, it’s the action and visuals that dominate the program, and Devil Man is a great cartoon from the Golden Age of Japanese anime.

Manga provides a few extras on the DVD, mostly of a purely promotional nature. There’s a video trailer for Devil Man, plus a music video made up of Manga title clips, a web link to the Manga Video website, and some catalogue information.

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