24 August 2003 | BrianDanaCamp
"Devilman" - pioneering horror anime series from Go Nagai
"Devilman" is a Japanese animated TV series from 1972 that contains so many harsh elements that even by today's standards it would never make it to American television. Based on a comic by celebrated manga artist Go Nagai (one of the first to push Japanese comics in more adult directions), it follows the exploits of a high school boy named Akira who is possessed by the spirit of an ancient demon named Devilman (pronounced that way in English on the Japanese soundtrack), ostensibly to wreak havoc in the human world (i.e. Japan!) and pave the way for a full-blown demon invasion. However, the affection shown Akira by his pretty friend Miki-chan leads Devilman to turn against the demons and defend the humans. Miki is the daughter of the family friends Akira lives with after his parents' death in the Himalayas during the incident witnessed in the series' opening scene which unleashes the ancient demons.
It's all done in a comparatively crude animation style, with cartoonish character designs and awkward character animation, but designed in an imaginatively stark fashion, with bold lines, bright colors, and truly eccentric demon designs. The background art is particularly innovative, especially in scenes where the demons are on the attack and we see Devilman take to the skies against hellish red overcast skies. There is quite a lot of action and it's generally well handled, as Akira/Devilman takes on different demon warriors in each episode.
The series raises eyebrows with its extraordinary infusions of death, bloodshed and mass destruction in every episode. A demon-generated whirlwind attacks buses, planes and trains and removes 3000 passengers, never to be seen again. A giant monster attacks a baseball stadium during a big game, leaving dead fans all over the place. A puppet master demon creates voodoo-like dolls of actual people and then does horrible things to the dolls, which then affect the real people. He puts an airline pilot doll's head into a flame and then we see the actual pilot burning up in his cockpit and crashing the plane. In another episode, a possessed boy attacks his mother as she's driving and she crashes the car, killing them both. This incident is replayed on a TV newscast and Akira watches it and declares, "That's cool!" to the horror of Miki and her family.
Akira's evil side comes out in moments like that as well as in violent clashes with his classmates, where he whips off his belt and uses it to settle his differences with them. Only Miki can shame him into stopping. At one point he attacks a group of boys who have ogled Miki. They're not the only ones to ogle her, however. At one point, her creepy teacher asks for a kiss from her in a manner that would have him thrown out of his job today but is treated as a gag here.
It's a fascinating series and deserves a look by anime fans eager to see the roots of so much occult-themed anime of later years (including a made-for-video Devilman remake in 1987 and a much more violent reworking in 2000, called AMON: APOCALYPSE OF DEVILMAN). "Devilman" premiered the same year as another Go Nagai-created anime series, the trend-setting giant robot-themed "Mazinger Z." In 1973, an animated movie version combining the two, MAZINGER Z VS. DEVILMAN, was released and is quite an exciting piece of work itself.