It's a Go Nagai manga and anime series that's famous in Japan, but little-known in the rest of the world. Hilariously, the original 1973 manga was his attempt to do a children's series after the very not-for-children Harenchi Gakuen... but it had sexuality and nudity anyway. Its spin-offs and adaptations include:
1. A 1973 anime by Toei that genuinely was for children.
2. The 2011 Brain's Base series I'm reviewing today, a remake that's going hard for the perverted comedy.
3. Dororon Enpi-chan, a 2000 gender-flipped manga version, just as Go Nagai was also doing around then with Devilman (Lady). Except much more perverted.
4. Demon Prince Enma, a sequel with a darker tone and the characters as adults. Exists both as manga and a four-episode anime OVA, again by Brains Base.
The set-up involves the Yokai Patrol, whose job description says "demon-hunting good guys", but they're also lazy, incompetent and liable to kill their targets instead of merely sending them back to hell. Oh, and they're from hell themselves. Go Nagai's doing to Buddhism with Enma-kun what he did to Christianity with Devilman. Enma/Yama is the Buddhist judge of the dead, presiding over hell and rebirth. Go Nagai's Enma, though, is a perverted idiot child who molests women for comedy and is more likely to be asleep or goofing off than actually chasing his ostensible targets. He's also got a short temper and fire demon superpowers that can incinerate entire cities.
His friends are: (a) Yukiko, the gorgeous ice-woman whose powers are the opposite of Enma's and who ends up naked several times an episode, (b) Kappaeru, a kappa who dies at least four times during these twelve episodes, (c) Grandpa Chapeau, a talking hat, and (d) Harumi, a nice, normal girl who befriends these losers and is rightly appalled at their antics. Her plot role in the 1970s versions was taken by a boy, Tsutomu, but in 2011 the showrunners decided they wanted another girl in the regulars. Oh, and Enpi-chan from the 2000 manga shows up too as Enma's long-running nemesis. She wears a hat, a cloak and nothing else. She thinks clothes are embarrassing.
Is the show funny? Sometimes, yes. It's got lots of energy and it's capable of packing a ton of ideas and gags into a single episode. The characters are likeable, even the stupid and near-sociopathic anti-hero. The sexualised content can be disconcerting even for experienced Go Nagai watchers, but much of that is due to the contrast with the jolly art style, slapstick comedy and tone of a children's show. It's a kiddie cartoon. The gags are the kind of thing you'd expect to see on a Saturday morning. The nudity is completely harmless (albeit plentiful) and never, ever shows the important bits, with nipples and groins being hidden by tentacles, billowing cloaks or random scenery. Nonetheless, it has, for instance...
(a) Yukiko never wearing underwear, as is often observed by Enma due to her extremely short kimono.
(b) A random background character who's continually swinging her naked boobs around like offensive weapons. Bolas, perhaps. She's an old granny, mind you.
(c) Really weird yokai who attack with thirty-foot steel penises, an aphrodisiac that will make the animals in the zoo molest you (as is demonstrated) or bees with stings that make your bottom or boobs swell to a size greater than the rest of your body.
What makes this so disconcerting is that it looks like such a charming, attractive show. Go Nagai's character designs are as vivid and explosive as ever. Yukiko is stunning in a way that only works in cartoons. (She looks a bit like Cutey Honey, I think.) Nonetheless the show keeps finding lines to cross even when you think you've learned what to expect. Enpi-chan is sexually aroused by having her breasts sucked by her brother, who's been temporarily turned into a baby. The show occasionally does boy-on-boy gags, or else boy-on-boy-on-boy. There's anal penetration with wooden fence poles or a teammate's head. (This happens both to boys and girls, though, so I can't promise that it's always anal.) There's a Mazinger Z parody with toilets. The one that personally gave me pause was Enma's enthusiasm for molesting and sexually harassing Yukiko, even if they're both deeply attached to each other and Yukiko's perfectly capable of freezing Enma into a glacier if genuinely annoyed.
To be honest, that put a slight distance between me and the show. It's a lot of fun, but I'm not head over heels for it and I think the reason is its combination of certain inappropriate content and a kiddie story formula. It's still interesting, though. I'm amused by Go Nagai's breezily nihilistic ideas of (Buddhist) heaven and hell, in which they agree to commit global genocide for their own convenience in the three-parter that concludes the series. (The Yokai Patrol aren't bothered, by the way, and Harumi's the only one who sees anything wrong in killing 4 billion people.) Oh, and there's an amusing bit of cynicism in a couple of episodes whereby the only way to bring peace and harmony to the world is to prevent all human activity.
The Go Nagai callbacks are intelligent, too. You'll glimpse Devilman, Demon Lord Dante and Sirene (the latter when Harumi transforms into her), but less well-known is Susano-Oh, from Go Nagai's manga about a Shinto god of the same name. The finale also has a combination of Kekko Kamen and Cutey Honey, wearing all the clothes of both characters simultaneously and hence by any normal standards still being underdressed.
Then there's the incompetence and anti-heroism. Enma's Hell House has the power to end the world... and our heroes had forgotten about this. In one episode, Enma burns to the ground all of Japan and/or Tokyo (not clear which) while supposedly trying to protect it, starting with its most famous and revered landmarks.
It's set in the 1970s, in homage to the original. This is most obvious with Pink Flares Dude, although episode one does mention the struggling economy and oil shocks.
I also admire the music, which is bolder than you'd expect. The opening theme is hardish rock by Masaaki "Always Full Voice" Endoh, the closing theme is a lullaby about death and the incidental music includes Cutey Honey's "ba ba ba ba ba ba iyaaaah!" choir.
This is a very likeable but occasionally slightly off-putting show. Imagine a roast beef and marzipan sandwich. Both can work on their own, but you might not expect to find them together. Nonetheless it's right and proper for a Go Nagai adaptation to be finding new roads of wrongness and there's a lot to enjoy here. I'm fond of all the regulars. It ends up in a comedic pisstake of the apocalypse and a Go Nagai (per)version of a Power of Love ending. That's worth a look, if nothing else. It's full of throwaway parodies, e.g. the Wacky Races, Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 and the Ghostbusters' Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. It has amazing yokai designs. It's capable of jokes that could be called subversive. Crude, but funny and cleverer than it looks.
"I'll never forget my saviours from Hell."