#1 It’s not actually Devilman?
This is a bizarre case. Go Nagai‘s Devilman manga would go on to become one of his most renowned works, which has been expanded upon and remade numerous times since its debut in the early 70s, much like his Cutie Honey franchise. It’s an anime classic with a storyline many are intimately familiar with… except for those who watched the original anime adaptation of the series.
Perhaps due to the anime beginning less than a month after the manga first saw publication, the story deviates almost as soon as it starts. The basic premise of a human fusing with the spirit of a demonic warrior is there, but the context around it is entirely different. Major characters of the story like Ryo Asuka are missing entirely, whereas others are present, but lack their memorable arcs. Sirene and Psycho Jenny are great examples, as both are just treated like generic baddies to be defeated with no greater significance to the story.
The tone & atmosphere of the series are also notably different. It feels more like an eccentric superhero story now, owing to the bodged adaptation of Devilman’s character design and an insistence of having him wrestle with monsters while loudly proclaiming the name of his every attack. I know that the theme song became a bit of an earworm after being featured in Devilman Crybaby, but after 39 episodes of hearing a dude shout DEVIL CHOP! DEVIL KICK! DEVIL BEAM! every 5 seconds you’ll never want to hear it again.
#2 Monster-of-the-week taken too far
Devilman was meant to be the vanguard of a demonic invasion by seizing the body of Akira Fudo and infiltrating human society. However, he falls in love with Miki Makimura, the daughter of the family he moves in with after the death of Akira’s father. Thus he vows to become a protector of mankind instead, which doesn’t go over well with his old comrades.
Every week sees Akira/Devilman taking on another demon hellbent on getting revenge on the traitor who ruined their plans. This works well with the new superhero-like direction of the story and some episodes were pretty nice, or featured unique characters that fit really well in the anime’s take on the story. Taken as a whole, however, this episodic format was a detriment that leads to a nonsensical storyline that always devolves back to the same status quo.
The manga was by no means perfect, but it at least made it feel like there was some greater plan to the demonic invasion. The demons were a mysterious force creeping into human society, operating from the dark until they could amass enough power to make their existence known. In the anime, all kinds of baddies show up to cause a ruckus in full view, only for the main characters and humanity as a whole to conveniently forget about it in time for the next episode. The characters sometimes reference past events, yet still seem convinced that the supernatural doesn’t actually exist… even as they are repeatedly and consciously experiencing it.
Also frustrating is that the stakes never seem to rise any. Every foe is always about as threatening as the last and most battles follow a similar flow, making for a repetitive format. I got so used to seeing the same events play out that I didn’t even fully register when Devilman was battling major story villains; how can such a moments stand out when they are treated with the same significance as the fight with the alcoholic monkey from a few episodes prior?
#3 A distinct lack of gore & edge
Devilman is a violent, shocking story filled with nudity and gore, from a man who is renowned for manga just like this. While the first episode had me somewhat hopeful that the anime could live up to Nagai’s legacy, most of the series is actually remarkably tame.
Much of the violence is done off-screen and what little we do see is kept relatively brief, to the point where the action is robbed of much impact. There’s a scene where a character is burning to death and just keeps talking for like 3 minutes while being actually on fire, then just instantly turns to dust when the dialogue is finished. There are a rare few moments that stand out and almost feel like Devilman should, but these are always short-lived.
You might argue that this was due to TV regulations, but 1973’s Cutie Honey was a badass action series that had dismemberment, eye-gouging, and death aplenty. These shows were even made by the same staff and studio, airing on the same network, so it could certainly be done.
#4 Childish comedy
Instead of having cool action scenes and violence, this adaptation tries its hand at being a comedy of all things. Devilman tries desperately to be funny, but its over-reliance on running gags means that it rarely succeeds.
Miki’s brother is the most persistent of these. He’s an annoying, hyperactive loudmouth with a screechy voice who always insists on hanging out with the relevant characters. His main contribution to the story is being a cowardly nuisance who repeatedly wets himself at every opportunity. He is not as bad as Barney from Condition Green, but he was certainly hard to tolerate and consistently unfunny.
The same fate befalls the teaching staff at Akira and Miki’s school, which are all dysfunctional adults who are constantly shouting and fighting with each other. The homeroom teacher and principal also mainly exist to perv on Miki, leading to a lot of drawn out routines that don’t hold up well from a modern perspective.
#5 Inconclusive story
The Devilman anime goes on for 39 episodes, but never really has an ambition to make its story go somewhere. Developments are few and faaaaaaaaaaar between, and what few changes the story does undergo often serve to roll back the progress made in prior episodes. Then episode 39 happens… and that’s it.
No epic conclusion, no real final battle, we just get a speech foretelling future adventures. The actual main villain doesn’t even really appear, and none of the established story threads felt resolved by the ending we did get. Even if I had been fine with the altered storyline and tone of the series, having it just kind of end like this would have soured my opinion of the show as a whole.