Jun Fudou is a supermodel. She's beautiful and wealthy with a dream lifestyle, but she's also a troubled woman who avoids emotional entanglements and keeps the world at arm's length. Only Ran Asuka knows the reason why. Jun doesn't know it, but she's a Devilman. Under that beautiful facade lives a beast, a superpowered monster that can be forced to come out and revel in destruction and carnage. Unfortunately she's not the only one. All over Japan, people are becoming monsters. Ran Asuka plans to use Jun as a living weapon against the beasts, but what will this do to the increasingly fragile Jun?
It's Devilman with boobs! How could Go Nagai resist? Giving everyone's favourite demonic avenger a sex change produced Devilman Lady, or rather Devil Lady as it's known in the West since in English the real title sounds silly. The original was unrecognisably watered down in its anime adaptation in 1972, but this show is far more faithful. Apparently it omits lots of ultra-violence and demon rape, but enough is left for these TV episodes to be brutal, bloody and at times harrowing.
It gets the tone right. This isn't a children's show, instead being outright horror with sinister music inspired by The Omen. After less than five minutes of the first episode, it's slightly scary to meet an innocent because the show's atmosphere is enough to make us see them as a victim-in-waiting... and nothing's even happened yet! It's a world of mystery and fear. However at the same time it's recreating even the ludicrous aspects of Devilman's world and playing them for real. They avoid the lazy option of watering down Go Nagai's vision, of making everything human-sized and easier to relate to. Thus we get absurdly overblown monster designs, but taken deadly seriously with darkness, blood and scary camera angles. Devilman Lady can grow to Godzilla size and crush buildings underfoot. That's the whole point. If you lost all that, it wouldn't be Devilman.
It certainly has a strong effect on the lead character. Devilman Lady is like the dark side of all those superhero power fantasies. Jun Fudo has a superpowered secret identity and fights evil, but she wants none of it. Her power horrifies her. Ironically she's not even a very good weapon against the Beasts. Instead of predictably kicking arse week after week, she's guaranteed neither to kill the monster nor save its victims. She develops psychological problems and in episode two even considers suicide in a scene involving broken glass that had me squirming. She's an oddly passive protagonist, but that's appropriate for a horror show with things to say about power and imposing your desires on others.
Even her profession is thematically relevant. Being beautiful is her job. For Jun Fudou, becoming a monster is more painful in all sorts of ways than it ever was for Akira Fudou.
For a while I assumed this was just a monster-of-the-week show. Jun fought Beasts. However I didn't mind that because the show's so thematically rich. Episode nine for example is about being watched, addressing Jun's issues with modelling, her feelings about her monstrous Beast body and even the fact that her clothes burst off when she hulks out. It's a fascinating episode, with cameras, mirrors, stalkers, intrusion of privacy, voyeurism, being spied on in the shower and more. There's a Christmas episode, with monsters playing at families and christmas carols being used as weapons. Then episode thirteen tackles disturbing sexual themes, borrowing from the likes of Japanese tentacle porn and all kinds of hentai. We see women splattered with ejaculate licking a monster that's basically a forty-foot phallus with an incestuous backstory. Did I say "disturbing"?
Meanwhile lesbian overtones are developing between Jun and Kasumi, a schoolgirl model who's long idolised her. Despite the "monster of the week" format it was clear that the plot was going somewhere, but I never dreamed how far things would end up being taken. It's basically the same story as Go Nagai's original Devilman, albeit changed enough that you can't use the original as a roadmap. Jun and Ran have the same surnames as the original's Akira Fudou and Ryo Asuka. Eventually we have the Beasts out of control and a military occupation of Tokyo in a scenario that's practically Amon: Apocalypse of Devilman... and that's with a third of the series still to go! The show even introduces someone who's basically the 1970s TV Devilman, complete with a shouty transformation into Big Blue and a shirt with an A on the breast pocket. That was almost poignant, seeing the innocent hero of that kiddie show thrust into this ghastly universe. I wouldn't dream of giving away his fate, or indeed that of anyone else. You have absolutely no idea where this this show will end up until the very last moment. It could astonish you with hope or it could go so bleak as to make you want to open your wrists. No one has script immunity. No one's safe, including the lead character.
The ending appears to have stirred up a hornet's nest, with absurd comments a-plenty from otherwise intelligent reviewers. Personally I thought it was fascinating. Evil battles good and we're cheering on the former! It's such a rich show, with so many questions and theological dimensions. Interestingly however the main characters never consider that the Beasts even might be supernatural, let alone angels or demons. Instead they talk in terms of evolution and science, like alt-universe X-Men. This is sufficiently interesting that at least one reviewer has expressed disappointment that the show eventually starts playing with religion, but personally I'd have been shocked if they hadn't. The show's called Devilman, for crying out loud. Look at it! Look at the imagery. Christian iconography is at the heart of this series and I don't think its Japanese audience could have got quite the same resonance from it as Westerners.
In episode six someone even gives Jun a crucifix! "It's not her taste," says Kazumi and she's so right.
It obviously wasn't an expensive show, but horror is cheap. The fight scenes aren't flashy and action-packed, but simple, brutal and bloody. At times it's almost sadistic. It builds atmosphere through darkness, suspense and creepy music. Similarly although the plain character designs are never cute, sexy or pretty, that wasn't what was required. (Anyone turned on for even a moment by the copious nudity here is a sick, sick puppy who needs professional help.) You couldn't mistake this for a big-budget show, but it makes the most of its resources.
This show I've seen grudgingly praised even by Go Nagai haters. It's hardly a laugh-a-minute, but I found it impressive. It can be creepy, horrifying or uncomfortable. What's more it actually uses its 26-episode format to full effect, unlike many shows which seem to spend most of their time running on the spot as they desperately pad out a thin manga before rushing through some kind of conclusion. The world, the story and Jun herself all experience huge developments. It's also a show that encourages thought in its audience, with plenty of themes and ideas over the course of its run. It's brave, wholehearted and uncompromising. You couldn't call it lovable, but it's the TV series that the Devilman franchise deserved.