Demons exist and their power is beyond what humans can fathom. In fact they are so strong that humans do not stand a chance against them in a fight. The only thing strong enough to defeat a demon is another demon and it is through this logic that Ryo Asuka hatches the plan to have his good-hearted friend Akira Fudo possessed by a demon. If a person is of pure of heart then he might be able to control the demon that possesses him and thereby acquire power equal to a demon. After raising some hell in a club the plan works and Akira is possessed by the powerful demon known as Amon. Now Akira is mankind's sole champion of justice against the hidden demon menace that has plagued humanity since the dawn of time.
Considered to be author's most iconic work, Devilman has created certain standards for works to come after it and could be considered a pioneer in that respect. However, it is questionable how well can it cope with tastes of today and not be cast aside as a mere superheroic work with horror elements.
One of weakest and probably most prominent aspects is its artwork; which could repel readers immediately on the basis of its visuals. However, there is more than it meets the eye in this clunky and out-of-place cartoonish style. Emotional overtones simply ooze out of panels, while anatomical accuracy is sacrificed for the
sake of distorted depictions which pertain to violence and chaos as one of the themes. Nagai's expressionistic style subtly flirts with reality, thus never makes violence seem to be there for the sake of violence, but instead experiments with abstraction of it.
Main focus, as far as characters are concerned, is on Akira. What matters about him, is how he reflects the main theme of Devilman. Because, in a paradoxical way, Akira, in order to defeat evil, has to accept his inner evil. He also serves as a contrast to humankind, whom in their inability for acceptance of aforementioned turns into a mindless monsters - or better put, succumb to their demons. Truth be told, you can't even consider Akira to be your traditional hero -- especially if you tackle Devilman under scrutiny -- because his individuality is tossed aside and he's instead used to portray things on a grand scale.
The world of Devilman is multi-layered and it is very difficult to analyze its elements individually and in a typical way, because they are all juxtaposed into a coherent unity. Especially its story, which can appear simplistic, but in truth is so complex that with each re-read you discover more about it. Not to mention it tackles philosophies from Buddhism, Zen and even Christianity. I would say that it focuses mostly on duality, or rather the absurdity of belief that there are two separate extremes. The opposites must be conciliated and balance each other so to achieve a dynamic equilibrium, which is -- in Devilman -- manifested in the acceptance of ones inner demons.
Colors of Devilman are not black and white; there is no strict dualism which helps us create moral separations. It ventures so far to question God himself and makes us wonder what truly is evil.
This manga is an experience. Go Nagai experiments with genres, style and tone ultimately creating a story that is incoherent, full of nonsensical plot twists that culminate in a truly bizarre anti-climax ending. Amidst all the chaos, you may find elements you enjoy, but they are likely to be scarce as the manga has no focus whatsoever.
Devilman starts as an origin story for the eponymous character, only far more disturbing than your typical western comic book. This is typical of Go Nagai's work. There's plenty of violence, gore and rape from the beginning. This is in stark contrast to the art style, depicting the
human characters as if they're in a newspaper comic strip like Peanuts or Archie Comics. At the beginning, Devilman even has a minor conflict against some school bullies, in the same volume where demons murder a room of people for no reason.
The first arc largely focuses on Devilman keeping his secret identity and saving his would-be love interest from the demons, making use of one time powers such as eyebrow razors that are never seen again in any media. The early part of the manga has some promise, but the tone is completely inconsistent. Most of the time it's fairly lighthearted and Devilman is a normal high school student, but there's always a sense that the plot will go off the rails.
Eventually it does, rather spectacularly. This is what brings us to the next arc of Devilman and the best one in my opinion, the one shot villains, comprising only a few chapters of the entire manga. This is where possibly the best Devilman character, Jinmen, appears and has an amazingly dark, disgusting segment and is definitely worth a look. He would go on to become one of the most featured characters in the franchise and his entire section is excellent, barring maybe the finale of the fight which inserts a moral choice in place of a logical conclusion.
The fights in this manga tend to not be satisfying as Go Nagai will pull a new power for Devilman out of nowhere for him to win. The villains, besides Jinmen and Sirene, tend to be as undeveloped. The same goes for the main characters who largely exist as plot devices or symbols to be subverted, in place of good writing. It's a shame that Jinmen did not become the basis for a slew of one shots, as this whole arc comes to an abrupt stop to make way for build up into the ultimate anti-climax. The story veers off in so many directions it leaves no room for characterization.
Up until this point, Devilman has largely not faced any conflict he can't overcome by brute force and sheer dumb luck. It is now that the writer decides that he wants to make a political story like X-Men where the demons are a symbol for downtrodden people, or something. This is the point of no return where nothing begins to make sense. The story is effectively crumpled up and thrown in the garbage to make way for a massive plot twist. Everything that happened is completely meaningless and the final chapter in particular comes out of nowhere. It gets so abstract I had to read online to understand what the last pages are showing, as it's never explained.
Overall, this manga might be worth a read to form your own opinion. I read it in a day, and I can't say it wasn't captivating, but left me feeling very disappointed. Go Nagai would go on to make other mangas that while not as experimental and acclaimed, were far more coherent and focused properly on either the violence (Violence Jack) or experimental plot (Devilman Lady). To properly enjoy them it's a requirement to at least know the Devilman story. However if you're coming in to the original Devilman expecting a deep plot, good characters and art that isn't stuck in the 70s, I doubt you'll feel satisfied.
"Beware that, when cutting onions, you yourself do not get cut... for when you gaze long into the onion. The onion will make you cry like a bitch."
-Friedrich Nietzsche while cutting onions.
Through the years of reading manga you accumulate experience that will probably lead you in despising generic, plot holed and genuinely boring stories that were once to your preference. You move on to something you think is more appropriate for the mileage you got from reading such stories. You want stories that are perfectly coherent to the narrative, you want flawed human beings, you want stories that you can look back at and think
that they were not completely shit. But once in a while there are stories that work the complete opposite. Such mangas are the ones that Go Nagai writes.
Go Nagai is a legend in the business as much as Rumiko Takahashi, Moto Hagio and many more of those who shaped the industry as we know it today. He is mostly known for inventing two genres, that being the ecchi and super robot genre respectively. And while those are big innovations at the time, I think that the stamp of Nagai is the high brutality that is involved in a lot of his works. Among them the best and most known one is Devilman. Shocking the readers at the time of its publication and somehow pulling it off to this day, it is to many regarded as a classic and it has inspired many popular works such as Parasyte, Berserk and many more. But there is more to it than just being a work of inspiration as it represents Go Nagai himself quite well.
What do I mean? While pioneering the manga world, you quickly notice that contrary to his famous colleagues, he isn’t regarded as an iconic writer. In fact he is known for doing a lot of shitty series and even those that are regarded as his masterpieces are genuinely shit. His stories are so heavily plot holed, they are not subtle at all, and his characters are bat shit insane. But there needs to be a reason to why people regard his works as classics. Not because of historical value but rather, and I was pretty shocked myself, they are a ton of fun to read. Especially Devilman which is as much a train wreck as Nagais carrier itself. Now that we cleared the context in regards to Devilman, let us tackle the actual characters and story.
The story is of epic proportions but not initially. We start of by meeting the main character Fudou Akira who lends a helping hand to his friend Ryou Asuka. But quickly complications occur. As we have seen from the first chapter, demons exist in this world, and our main character quickly becomes aware of that. Anyway, demons have reemerged from their slumber and are out to conquer the world, and now it is to our protagonist to face evil by becoming one of them as well, as he becomes Devilman. From than on we have a monster of the week story that while not per se bad, it is not as entertaining as the later parts. And now if you lasted this long you are going to get a payoff. The pay off is a crude, brutal, and probably one of the better anti-war stories I have read on shear impact alone. As it is a story about who the real monsters are. It is about humanity and the loss of humanity. The characters are quite hard to pin-point as they are not human at all and then again they are. Why? Because they really are not so well characterized nor developed to call them human. They are rather shallowly written and that certainly isn’t a good thing. But they can be looked more as symbols, as hollow containers where we can project our humanity into them, or have we lost it as well through reading this story? The demons on the other hand are not developed in a particular way either, besides a certain character who one could say is the star of this work. The manga in itself is as mentioned before really badly written. Nagai introduced elements into the story that later on don’t make any sense as either they are regarded as non existent or they are just disregarded as not important. Which creates a lot of problems as we move on and screech our heads and think what happened with that part of the story? Additionally it has pacing problems as there are a lot of times you ask yourself why particular scenes are dragged out and why some are skipped through. We have plot conveniences as characters either win or loss not through their ability but rather because Nagai pulled something out of his arss. I have to mention the ending as well, since quite a bunch don’t like it at all. I think it is perfect for what the author tried to convey with this manga. People disregard it as not well done because of the way it was paced; I think it worked very well because of that very aspect, as the ending would not be as impact full as it was if it was shown in a conventional way. Moving on to the art.
As far as I have read, and that is not really much in regards to his other works, they usually start with passable art to attract attention. But as you move on you get what the art of Nagai is about. Honestly, it is pretty bad, especially if you are not familiar to the cartoon-ish side of manga in that time. Anyway, as you move on it improves in various ways but it never does so in a big way. Although you get used to it, and I personally got attached to the style as I checked other Devilman related work that aesthetically are more pleasing than the original, but I just couldn’t get attached to the artwork as I did in this installment.
And finally we arrived to the end of this review. In all honesty, Devilman is a work I expected nothing of, and at the end I got so much. It is a manga about the loss of humanity but it actually did something different for me, as it restored faith in my own humanity, for I have been an elitist prick who couldn’t enjoy anything as Devilman without tearing it a new one. This manga is one who a lot of people will not enjoy for many reasons, but if you stick with it for a while and find yourself get into it, you will certainly have a fun time.
Note: this review was originally uploaded to my anime amino blog.
Devilman is a manga published in 1972 in kodansha’s weekly shonen magazine. Written and illustrated by Go Nagai, it is considered to be his magnum opus. So does it really deserve that much praise? Let's find out:
Story + characters:
To be honest, the first 2 volumes are just ok. They're not necessarily bad by any means, but they're nothing to write home about either. They’re about what you’d expect from a shonen manga from the 70’s. There’s lots of gore and fighting. It's your typical monster of the week type superhero story. They were still somewhat
enjoyable, but considering that this is suppose to be Go Nagai’s masterpiece, they did feel a bit underwhelming. However, i think the story really starts to pick up during the third volume. In volume 3, much darker and more depressing themes are introduced. It stops being an episodic superhero story and starts to delve into psychological territory. Then volumes 4 and 5 take it a step further, with a battle of a much larger scope, themes such as ‘war is never the answer’ and several very well executed plot twists that really keep you invested. I was honestly surprised at how deep the story had gotten, because up until volume 3 i wasn’t really taking it too seriously. It also has a very good ending. I want to keep this review spoiler free, so i won’t talk about it, but it really does leave a lasting impression.
Now i’ll talk a bit about the characters. The protagonist is a timid boy by the name of akira. After he is possessed by a demon, he becomes a Devilman. After that his goal is to protect humans from demons who are trying to take over the earth. Timid characters are usually very easy to develop, as you only have to make them gain strength and confidence throughout the story. However, akira develops in a slightly different way. He starts off pretty weak. He is unable to stand up for himself or his friends when they are in trouble. He is always being saved by his friend, Ryo his girlfriend, Miki. He is clearly dissatisfied with himself. Then Ryo convinces him to give up his humanity in order to become a devilman, so that he can save the world from demons. After he becomes a devilman, he becomes stronger and more confident. You would think that he would just keep getting stronger as the story progresses, but his development doesn’t end there. He also has to deal with the responsibility of using his strength, and in volume 3, he learns that his strength cannot solve all his problems. Then there’s his friend, Ryo. He is a very intelligent character and he is the one who drags akira into the war against the demons. He is much more selfish than akira, and he’s not afraid to harm others in order to get what he wants, but at the same time he still shows a shred of humanity. He becomes a good friend of akira, and he cares for his wellbeing. He is a very logical thinker, so he can stay calm in most dangerous situations, whereas akira loses control under pressure due to his devilman instincts. However, he is physically weak, so there is only so much he can do to participate in the war against the demons.
Devilman’s art is hard to get use to. Take a look at other horror manga, such as tokyo ghoul and attack on titan. They have very detailed art styles that are more realistic compared to other manga. This is to suit the gritty tone of the stories that they tell. You would think that devilman would do the same. But it doesn't. It actually has one of the most simplistic art styles i’ve ever seen in a manga. It's not what you’ expect a horror manga to look like. But still, its stylised in such a way that it’s hard not to like it. Its an art style that stands out, it sticks in your mind, and i think that’s what makes it so visually appealing. I also like how creative Go Nagai can be when it comes to panelling. He doesn’t just stick to squares and rectangles, he uses various other shapes aswell, which stops it from becoming boring to look at. I also thought there was some pretty good visual storytelling in volume 5, whereas the rest of the volumes were very dialog heavy. I do have one complaint about the art however. I think go nagai uses too much space sometimes when he’s trying to show a particular scene, for example, there was a war scene in volume 4 that lasted nearly 20 pages. This could have easily been done in about 4 pages. I thought the art was fairly good overall.
Enjoyment + overall summary :
I definitely enjoyed devilman. I thought it had a slow start but it had a really good climax. I would recommend it to anyone who is trying to get into older manga.