Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Me and the Devilman Blues: A Personal Retrospective, pt. 2


It would be another couple of years before I encountered Devilman again, at the dealers' room of a smaller anime convention that was just a short drive from my house. Halloween was fast approaching, and I was really caught up in the ghoulish spirit, so I was looking around for any scary anime or manga. I was beginning to lose hope until I found six individual DVDs, all colored blood-red with pictures of grotesque demons on the side covers, bound together by a single rubber band. The first, and only visible, cover showed me that it was a TV series called, "Go Nagai's The Devil Lady". After reading that, it didn't take me long to realize the visual similarities between the feral-looking demon on the cover and the original image of Devilman that I remembered from when I was little. At that point, there was no way I could resist buying it.

I watched all twenty-six episodes of The Devil Lady over the course of a few weeks, and I came to the conclusion that while the writing wasn't exactly great, it had everything that I expected from my original image of Devilman: lots of violence, tons of gore, terrifying creatures of the night, and a demonic hero that fights for humanity. Unfortunately, the plot was so forgettable that it didn't really leave any lasting impact on me, or my overall impression of Devilman. At this point, it seemed as though nothing would.

Another couple of years pass, and I'm in my second year of college. One of my big obsessions at the time was the Getter Robo series, which was written by Ken Ishikawa, one of Go Nagai's assistants at his company, Dynamic Productions. Originally, I was reading English-translated scans of the comics off of a website, but one day, I just decided to download them so I could access them more easily on my computer. I went to the translators' website, where they had a list of other Dynamic Pro series' they had finished working on posted on the side. My eyes instantly widened when I saw that one of the comics they had finished translating was the original Devilman. Suddenly entranced, I downloaded all five books and started reading them.

I was immediately hooked upon finishing the first volume, which managed to do a very good job building its world, introducing its main characters, and delivering a surprisingly suspenseful origin story for our hero. These were all things that I wish The Devil Lady had been able to do when I was watching it. The second volume introduced its first named villains, who managed to provide the protagonist with an actual challenge, and with it, a very solid story. I really liked how everything was shaping up.

The final three volumes, though, were the ones that cemented the story's status as a masterpiece, to me. I don't want to give anything away, but the story arc contained in these last volumes not only really tugs at the heartstrings (one friend told me she couldn't stop crying while reading the last volume), but also provides some very interesting commentary on human nature, showing how on some level, we're all inherently prone to fear and violence.

If you haven't yet read this amazing work of pop art, make some time to do it. At only five volumes, I guarantee that you won't regret a single second of it. Just to give you an idea, the impact that it had when it debuted in Japan was very similar to the impact Watchmen had on the English-speaking comic world. It was violent, emotional, and rife with social commentary, which is why it has continued to garner seemingly endless amounts of reprints, remakes, and sequels over the last forty years. It's a hell of a good time!

Now it's time you all payed the devil his due...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Me and the Devilman Blues: A Personal Retrospective, pt. 1

As of this writing, Devilman has been one of my all-time favorite comic book stories for years. The long-lasting impact from its powerful writing and unfaltering heroes has left it with few peers worthy to even share the same book store shelf space it's occupied since the Seventies. For me, it's a gold standard for which I judge other graphic novels against. Judging from what I just typed, though, you may not have guessed that I didn't always feel this way...

My descent into madness began one cold, dark Saturday evening when I was just a little boy. My brother and I were spending the night at our grandparents' house, and my grandma had taken us to her local Blockbuster to pick out a movie to rent. While my brother walked around with my grandma, I rushed right over to the Cartoon section. Scanning the shelves, I saw the usual Disney movies and Nickelodeon TV show episodes on tape, and nothing else that seemed out of the ordinary. However, as soon as my eyes reached the second shelf from the bottom, they stopped, frozen, fixated on one image that stood out from all the rest:

I was paralyzed, struck with a sense of fear that I had never quite known before. Being so young, the most demonic thing I had ever seen in a cartoon at the time was in Sleeping Beauty, watching Maleficent turning into a gigantic black dragon. This, however, was on a completely different level. Just this one picture was able to fill me with not just the greatest terror I had experienced up until then, but also a great curiosity. As much as it frightened me, in those moments, I felt like I wouldn't be able to rest until I knew what secrets lie beyond this horrific image. Was this "Devilman" the hero? How could a devil be a hero? Was this a story about a villain? My mind was filled with so many questions.

Suddenly, I felt a hand pull on my shoulder, sending a jolt of electricity through my entire body that snapped me out of my trance. My grandma then asked me if I had picked out a movie. Since I hadn't yet, I quickly looked back at the shelf, saw one of the Land Before Time sequels, and took it to the guy at the register without thinking. That was the last time I would think of or hear about Devilman for almost a decade.

I had always liked giant robots in some way, since I loved watching local channel reruns of the original Transformers and Voltron growing up, but I became hooked for life during my middle school years when I started watching G Gundam on Cartoon Network's Toonami block. Since then, a lot of my time has been spent seeking out new titles, collecting robot figures and models, and cheering on the good guys as they triumphed over some of the greatest evils our universe will hopefully never know.

At some point when I was in high school, my search led me to a comic book writer named Go Nagai. Reading up on him, I discovered that he was the man responsible for coming up with the concept of giant robots being piloted by humans, which he accomplished through his most famous work, Mazinger Z. Intrigued, I wanted to find out what else he had created, so I went to Wikipedia to look up a list of his other series', hoping to find anything else I may have heard of. While there were a couple of titles that I recognized at the time, only one really popped out at me: Devilman.

Like a flash of lightning, it all came back to me. The intense fear and curiosity that I had felt when I was little had returned. Like then, I knew I wouldn't be at ease until I finally discovered the mysteries behind this link to my past. The first thing I thought to do was search on that new website my friends had shown me: YouTube, a video-streaming site which seemed to have anything I might have wanted to see. I knew that if I was going to be able to find clips of Devilman anywhere, it would be there. This was the first thing that came up:

I just sat there for a few minutes, not knowing what to think. The thought that an old kids' show was what terrified me so much back then left me in total shock. Then, without thinking, I lowered my head and started chuckling to myself. I felt both a little relieved and disappointed. I was really looking forward to something hardcore and violent, but it seemed like that just wasn't the case. Oh well, one of the greatest enigmas of my life had been solved, and nothing had changed as a result.

Little did I know exactly how wrong I was...

Saturday, October 13, 2012


This story takes place in the distant future. When mutants and demons slither through a world of darkness.

Vampire Hunter D was one of many anime movies to be released in America during the late 80s and early 90s that helped challenge mainstream perceptions of animation at the time. It was dark, violent, scary, and even a little sexy. These are just several reasons why it became a cult favorite during its time, and why it's still treasured by English-speaking fans of horror, sci-fi, and animation.

In the year 12,090 AD, vampires, werewolves, and all sorts of other ghouls roam freely, stalking the night and preying on the weak. One night, a young monster hunter named Doris is attacked and bitten by an ancient vampire, who reveals himself to be the legendary Count Magnus Lee, descendant of Count Dracula.
Shortly afterward, Doris comes across a vampire hunter traveling through town, and asks him if he would kill the Count in order to prevent her from turning into a vampire. In exchange for food and a place to stay, the vampire hunter, named D, accepts the job. One of the first things we learn about D is that he is actually a dhampir, a vampire/human half-breed, who isn't very accepting of his vampiric side. Over the course of the story, we learn much more about the stoic vampire hunter, like the code of honor that he binds himself to, as well as his relationship to the House of Lee.

D, himself, looks and acts like the archetypical Western hero. The character's creator, Hideyuki Kikuchi, has even been cited stating that his original image of D was based on that of Phil Collins during the cowboy segment of the music video for "Don't Lose My Number". Much like the Lone Ranger, or even more recent examples like Kenshiro or Kwai Chang Caine, he wanders from town-to-town across a mostly desolate land, righting any wrongs that he comes across, as per his unwritten code of honor. What sets each of these examples apart, though, is their individual motivation for doing what they do, and while D's motivation isn't made crystal clear, it becomes more implied as the story plays out.

The story remains exciting throughout and maintains a good pace, but still somehow manages to feel a little rough around the edges in a way that I can't quite explain. It feels more like an extended episode of a TV show than a theatrical feature. This is understandable, seeing as how director Toyoo Ashida's only prior directorial credit was for the first season of the Fist of the North Star TV show.

Easily the most interesting aspect of Vampire Hunter D is the setting. The world, itself, has a mixture of classic Western and Gothic elements to it, creating a very retro atmosphere. At the same time, the technology that is used in transportation, housing, and weaponry is very reminiscent of  futuristic '80s sci-fi. This particular blend of landscapes and technology really works well in crafting a distinct environment.

While not perfect, Vampire Hunter D is still a really fun movie that managed to set itself apart from the rest of its peers when it was first released.

Vampire Hunter D is based on the first of an ongoing series of novels of the same name, written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano.

Monday, October 1, 2012

CLIP SHOW: "American Witch" by Rob Zombie

Now that it's officially the first Witching Hour of October, the countdown to Halloween has finally begun!

I also wanted to take this time to announce that I'm participating in the October Horror Movie Challenge, and that I have a few animated horror movies in my lineup that I'm planning on reviewing. You've been warned...

When I saw Rob Zombie perform live in 2008, this video was playing on the screen behind him and the rest of the band while they were playing the song, "American Witch".