The 1972 Devilman anime was kinda fun to watch as a goofy superhero series, but it was also just kind of bizarre and underwhelming. It certainly doesn’t match what you’d expect from the Devilman series, which raises the question of what alternatives there are. The original manga is an obvious example, but many different people have had the opportunity to work with the license over the years, which has produced a sizable library of adaptations and spin-offs. Today I wanted to take a look at some of the best options available for somebody that wants to experience this fantastic franchise.
Devilman OVA Series
The OVA trilogy is a loaded and complicated subject, so bear with me here for a moment. It started in 1987 as a project by Oh! Production, a studio so small that its Wikipedia page lists the individual staff members. It began as a genuine attempt to adapt the Devilman manga to animation and produced two OVAs Devilman: The Birth and Devilman: The Demon Bird.
These are genuinely some of the most enjoyable 80s OVAs I have ever seen. Together they only adapt a portion of the overall story, but the animation is superb and they make sure to include many of the series’ best moments. It has the cool battles, it has the intense gore, the emotional moments, amazing stuff all around. Regrettably, Oh! Productions did not get to finish what they started and their OVA adaptation concluded after having only adapted about half of the original story. Great work, sadly left incomplete.
The third OVA is a separate product entirely. Produced 10 years after Devilman: The Demon Bird by a different studio with a wholly different team, Amon: The Apocalypse of Devilman is “connected” to the Oh! Production series, but may as well not be. It skips much of the middle portion of the story and jumps straight into the final arc of Devilman, which means even more intense battle and shocking content. The gore is ramped up to 11 and the new artstyle makes this a much grittier take on the Devilman license.
Both the original 2 OVAs and The Apocalypse of Devilman are well-crafted and I enjoyed watching them, but the differences in style and large holes in the story make it insufficient on its own. You kinda already have to know the story of Devilman going into it, so while it’s ideal for returning fans, newcomers are best served with either of these next two options.
Like Cutie Honey Universe, Devilman Grimoire is a modern take on an old school Nagai license that was released to mark an anniversary; in this case to celebrate the Devilman series turning 40 years old back in 2012.
Devilman Grimoire is a kick-ass, shounen action manga that appeals both to old school fans of the series as well as a new, younger audience. It pulls inspiration from every Devilman adaptation thus far and combines their strengths into an all-new, original story. Many plot points resemble the original manga, but it remixes these events and throws in monsters, plot points, and characters from Devilman Lady, Neo Devilman, the OVA series, and even the ’70s TV anime. It’s a wonderful homage to the series’ legacy, but thanks to the original storyline you don’t have to have seen it all to appreciate the manga itself.
The new ideas introduced by writer & artist Takato Rui are bold changes that can catch established fans off-guard. A notable one being that Miki Makamura is reimagined as a class weirdo who believes that she can perform witchcraft. She is the one who summons Amon into the world and binds him to the body of Akira Fudo, after which they team up to find demons together. Yeah, where every other adaptation focuses on keeping Miki unaware and uninvolved, Grimoire puts her front and center.
I found myself being really swooped up by the story. Sure, it’s weird to not get some of the most famous scenes from the original or to even see them being parodied here, but Grimoire is so cool and gripping that I didn’t feel like I needed them. And besides the good story, Grimoire also has some of the goriest action scenes I’ve seen in a manga for a while. Battles are also frequent and intense stuff, often matching the OVA series in terms of extreme violence.
Rui’s love for the series is evident throughout the manga, but I admire that he wasn’t afraid to give it his own touch. However, if I am to cite one complaint then it would be the fetishistic fanservice. I am cool with many of the demons appearing naked and the manga even has appropriate sex scenes in it, but at other times it contrives bizarre situations like Miki having to wet herself to avoid being impaled on an ice spike. It’s infrequent enough to not be too frustrating, but it’s just very weird and often pointless.
Devilman Crybaby is a crazy idea that somehow, magically worked out perfectly. Made in 2018, it’s a revival of the original Devilman story by way of arthouse master Masaaki Yuasa, produced exclusively for streaming on Netflix.
Yuasa aimed to recreate the original storyline in a way that made more sense in the modern day, and with a tone much more appropriate for the biblical horror story that is being told. The OVA trilogy already experimented with this by doubling down on the gore and violence, but Yuasa mixes this with an uncomfortable atmosphere and a story that, even in its title, emphasizes the emotional growth of its protagonist.
In doing so, Devilman Crybaby retains the iconic moments of the story and even strengthens them, while also feeling more mature. I’ve never seen the shounen label as being too much of a restraint on the series or Nagai’s writing, but Crybaby‘s seinen take on it I could definitely appreciate as well. Throw in some all-new storylines and characters, and Crybaby becomes an impressive beastie for a 10-episode ONA.
The only potential drawback lies in the fact that it is Masaaki Yuasa. While he is renowned for the surreal visuals and off-kilter artstyles of his work, this leaves Devilman Crybaby with a lot of scenes and screenshots that make it look horrible in isolation. There are goofy moments both intentional and unintentional where the animation stretches a bit too far or is just plain bad. I tend to like Yuasa’s work and could thus bear with it, but others may rightly feel that it’s too cringeworthy, or at the very least a strange look for a series that specifically set out to make the Devilman franchise more mature.