The OVA boom of the 80s was an exciting time for Anime, a new influx of talent and money began to flood the market. Whilst this boom created unwatchable trash like Angel Cop and Genocyber, it also created diamonds in the rough. As such, I feel the need to talk about them. So, let’s kick off this series with the Devilman OVAs.
I got into this series because Bennett the Sage did a review of the first two OVAs and panned them. Yet I liked what I saw and was convinced part of the problem was the atrocious dubbing.
I was, proven correct. The original Japanese version was great. If nothing else, Devilman should have been given one of those Trojan horse dubs in the late 90s with Steve Blum, Wendee Lee, and the entire Animaze dubbing studio behind it (Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star and Trigun are three series dubbed by the studio).
Even before we start we need to look at the talent behind the scenes, because there is a lot to talk about. The animation was produced by Oh! Production, a contractor studio who worked on Nausicaa, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro & Kiki’s Delivery Service. The Ghibli connections do not stop there however, as the character designer was the late Kazuo Komatsubara, a venerable character designer whose name you might not know, yet if you’re a fan of 70s-80s anime. You know his work from Galaxy Express 999, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Nausicaa, and in a bizarre twist: the original 1972 Devilman TV series. Finally, the director of the project: the late Tsutomu (aka Umanosuke) Iida, was an assistant director on Castle in the Sky (and Miyazaki protégé) who would later direct the last half of Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, and the 2001 adaptation of Hellsing. One other note, Iida co-wrote the script for the first two OVAs with Devilman’s original mangaka, Go Nagai. So, on paper at the very least, this sounds like a slam-dunk, one of my favorite manga, made by people with deep ties to one of my favorite directors of all-time (anime or otherwise). Let’s dig in.
Now since no one has talked about Devilman: Crybaby, on the site. I’ll do a comparison between this and the more well-known (and frustrating) Devilman: Crybaby.
We open with a three or four-minute sequence of the birth of Demons, with pseudo-classical music playing in the background as demons get torn apart in a visceral way. Right away, it’s clear the OVA is moving on the right foot, because it gives us a reason to know what these demons are, and why we (as an audience) should care.
The backstory remains the same. Akira’s parents are dead, Miki is his friend, and Akira was adapted by Miki’s family. However, Akira is portrayed differently in the OVA, while he was technically a wimp, he is morally strong. This is shown in the first OVA where he defends the life of a bunny, from a group of 1950s greasers. He gets beaten up and has blood spilling down his face, yet his resolve is firm, and the greasers let him go. (I know it’s what Japanese delinquents looked like back then, but I shouldn’t be thinking of Grease or Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley, when I see these guys).
This lead to a wonderful scene, where Miki is placing the bandage on Akira, and the scene is almost silent. Why is this wonderful? Simple, Iida is using actions and silence to convey a mood. Meanwhile, Crybaby just wants to blast you with music and hypnotic colors.
This must have been something Iida and the team picked up from Miyazaki, the power of action and silence, instead of speaking. After all, actions speak louder than words. In film (and by extension Anime) it’s hard to create quiet moments, and yet the first Devilman OVA finds a way to utilize this concept in many of its scenes, which creates this lingering feeling of dread, as you’re watching the proceedings. As any horror expert will tell you (if they know what they’re talking about), tension and mood building are a thousand times scarier than jump scares or torturing people, (and requires a thousand times more work).
After bandaging Akira up, Miki and Akira are heading back home when Akira meets an old friend: Ryo Asuka, clad in a giant long coat, huge aviator sunglasses, and Char Aznable hair. Akira immediately recognizes him, Ryo brandishes a knife, and says Miki shouldn’t come with them, in his mid-80s red Audi. Are we sure Char Aznable & Ryo Asuka aren’t the same person?.
I’ll say this straight up, I love this characterization of Ryo, over Crybaby’s. Why? Well it goes to audience perception: in Crybaby, the reading I got was Ryo was a psychopath, seemingly distant from Akira from day one, instead of starting off cordial, and then growing icy (which was how Nagai seemed to characterize him). The 80s version adheres more to the Nagai version, so while he is mysterious, and does have axe-crazy moments, however he is also a more interesting character, who told Akira that he was the only one he trusts and seemed to mean it. I have a feeling, if the series had been completed, we would have seen him go from trustworthy to the villain, in a unique and subtle way. They were even hinting toward this direction in the second OVA with Ryo taking a reduced role, due to him being injured, yet still provided the save when he needed to, yet something was off about him.
Anyway, Ryo gives his backstory. His father went crazy, presumably under the influence of the demons he was studying, and after his father’s death, Ryo was given a large inheritance. After they arrive at Ryo’s estate, demons attack them but make their escape with the help of Ryo’s sawed-off shotgun (aren’t guns illegal in Japan?). These action scenes were phenomenal and gave me flashbacks to the action-packed extravaganza that was Castle in the Sky. Plus, guns and violence have the actual effect of having visceral impact, and not seeming like background noise (looking at you Crybaby).
So, the plan is set up, Akira will merge with a demon to kill them, and the mode of introducing this? Well, in the original manga: it was a 70s acid rock party. In Crybaby: a gigantic rave, here it’s an 80s hair metal party. The transformation sequence is the same for both versions, except Crybaby’s seemed completely ridiculous, with Tron Legacy style design (don’t remind me of such an abomination), and ridiculous oversexualization, which I don’t think was satire.
Thus, ends the first OVA. Right away, you can see why I like the first two OVAs over Crybaby, yet there’s one other thing to bring up. Pacing, the OVA paces itself, knows when to reveal, let’s the story and moments happen. Instead of trying to summarize a 2 year/5 volume manga in ten episodes. This resulted in a problem, Crybaby was cramming too much plot into its short runtime, so the show couldn’t sit still and develop character moments that make a remarkable story.
Onto the second episode and I’ll try to be quicker.
The second OVA is split into two plots, the A plot featuring Sirene, and the B plot featuring Jinmen. In a surprising development, the B plot is first.
Devilman is confronted by Jinmen, the turtle creature with his victim’s faces on his shell. Like the Crybaby episode he was in, he doesn’t last long. Unlike Crybaby, however, he leaves an impression, because he torments Akira with his dead mother.
The main plot involves another famous Devilman villain named Sirene. One of the positives of Crybaby, was how they updated some of the characters backstory. I liked how Sirene was now a businesswoman, unfortunately they didn’t really do anything with it. We’re not talking about the scumbag reporter, she sent him out, she didn’t do anything like trying to buy Ryo’s corporation, so again wasted a good opportunity.
She is trying to get back/kill/do something to Amon. First, she tries killing Miki, which Akira prevents but unfortunately Akira is captured by Sirene and her psychotic lust for him. Eventually Ryo, comes in to save the day with a well-timed (and well shot) assist from a sniper rifle. The rest of the OVA is a fight between Sirene and Devilman. There’s another wonderful moment when Sirene is low on energy. So, she merges with another demon named Kaim, and we find out that Kaim and Sirene are one in their goal of killing, it’s simultaneously sweet and horrifying, and it’s portrayed as sweet, which was probably for the best. The second OVA ended decently enough. Sirene doesn’t defeat Devilman and was frozen in place.
In conclusion, the first two Devilman OVAs, are forgotten gems of the OVA boom. Two excellently animated, perfectly plotted, wonderfully characterized series and shouldn’t be remembered for a bad English dub. Devilman: Crybaby, despite my ragging on the show, isn’t terrible. However, look too much into it and you’ll hate it when you finish analyzing it.