It's a Go Nagai anime. Obviously this is a cause for celebration, but Go Nagai's an unpredictable fellow and he's capable of being the biggest thing in the anime industry one minute and of being a disturbing pervert the next. That's what makes him such a powerhouse. He's blazing with energy, but it's completely out of control. He's openly taking the piss half the time, or else wallowing in sex and violence like an overgrown twelve-year-old. He'll kill anyone on a whim. No one is safe in a Go Nagai anime and there's nowhere the story won't go.
As the title suggests, Violence Jack is one of Go Nagai's more extreme offerings. It had to be censored in most of its Western releases, but was simply banned outright in Australia. It has revolting violence and near-pornographic sexual content. Oh, and it's great.
Part of why I think so is the backstory. Unfortunately you're not going to get this from the anime, although it's clearly referring to the manga even if it doesn't come out and explain anything directly. You see, Violence Jack is a sequel to Devilman. Go Nagai's been writing it on and off since 1973 and it's set in a post-apocalyptic world with Satan, Devilman (now Violence Jack) and other characters of his from completely different series, like Cutey Honey and Mazinger Z. Now it might seem odd that a sequel could be written to the Devilman manga, which ended with Devilman's loved ones being torn to pieces by a mob, Devilman being killed by Satan and the Earth being destroyed. (Yup, that's Go Nagai.) However it would seem here that the Earth has been recreated as a kind of purgatory in which our heroes can tear each other to pieces again, which has strong similarities with Go Nagai's later reimagining of the same concepts, Devilman Lady.
Jack would even seem to be part of an Unholy Trinity, with his Son and Holy Ghost being a child Jack and a woman Jack who can sometimes be seen near him in the form of birds. All this is freaky. Go Nagai has a fascination for Christian imagery and I think he's done some uniquely twisted things with it, as can be seen in another series with his Crucified Cutie Honey motif. None of this gets said in so many words in these OVAs, but we see one of the Devilman birds, while Jack himself is clearly half-demon and at one point he fights another demon. Furthermore in Hell's Wind he appears to let some bad guys kill him, but doesn't die and then later talks of coming back from Hell. It's unclear how much he remembers, whether he's still in pain and to what extent (if any) he could be said to be human. For me this backstory gave these OVAs and their protagonist a lot of depth, even though on the face of it Jack just looks like a monster.
It feels like the spiritual father of Fist of the North Star. Both are insanely violent anime set in a post-apocalyptic Mad Max Japan in which a hero goes around protecting the weak by killing thousands in hand-to-hand combat. They could almost be in the same fictional universe, except that FotNS's apocalypse was a nuclear war while Violence Jack's was an earthquake. They're even mirroring each other thematically, since Jack is a devil while Kenshiro has Messiah imagery. The main differences are that FotNS has some of anime's all-time greatest theme songs and that it was insanely popular with children on Japanese TV, whereas Violence Jack's sexual content makes it unbroadcastable.
Oh, and Kenshiro isn't twelve feet tall. You tend to notice details like that.
The first OVA is Harem Bomber. It's the shortest and simplest, but it shows Jack at his most terrifying. He's enough of a monster that I was startled late in the day when he met someone and didn't kill them. The ending made so little sense to me that I rewound and watched it again, whereupon I saw that Jack seemed to have been bringing down a tornado as if he were the Mighty Thor calling lightning. After comes the golden shapeshifting eagle, which will make more if you know about the Devilman birds. I wondered at the time if it might also be a Norse reference to Odin.
What makes the episode worth watching is the fact that it's not just sex and ultra-violence. We have sympathetic characters who can love and rescue each other from evil, but are also capable of hatred and betrayal. Jack isn't the protagonist, you know. This is a proper story, but set in an appalling fictional universe. Its horrors include things like decapitation, skull-splitting, a child getting machine-gunned and a disturbing amount of gang rape, both hetero and lesbian.
The second OVA is the best, richest and most nauseating. It would seem to provide Jack's origin story, except that it ends with something that could be a climax for the series too. Evil Town is an underground community that was trapped by the earthquake six months ago and has split into three factions: the A, B and C zones. The B-zoners are openly evil punks and killers. The A-zoners are decent, normal people. The C-zoners' backstory reveals that the A-zoners are more horrifying than the B-zoners and gives the story an extraordinary amount of thematic depth. One expects to see monsters acting monstrously, but the A-zoners are just like you and me in a terrible situation... although personally I'd want to be murdered before I ever did anything as unforgiveable as what they do.
At the same time though, Evil Town has the most extreme content of these three OVAs. The sex is pornographic. Anyone who finds it arousing should probably be arrested, but even so the gang rape scenes are sufficiently explicit that they've had to blur out genitalia and we can see what acts are being performed, e.g. forced fellatio, cunnilingus, penetration from a pre-op transsexual, etc. Also note the way the surviving women at the end have gratuitously not bothered to put their clothes on.
It has cannibalism as an act of love. It has the murder of children onscreen. It has people pulling bits off cockroaches and eating them. It has a woman pissing herself. It has a stylised but super-brutal demon fight that somehow, in the end, manages to be touching. In other words, it's brilliant. It also comes closer than any other anime I've seen to the insanity of Go Nagai's manga, with the possible exception of Amon: Apocalypse of Devilman.
The third OVA feels significantly shorter than the second, even though they're nearly the same length. It's a more straightforward story about a murdering rapist biker gang called Hell's Wind. Naturally they're going to run amok, but much more interesting are the ordinary people living in a stockade like the one in Mad Max: The Road Warrior. There's a cute teacher who's trying to give the community's children an education, despite the opposition of their subsistence-level parents. You've got townsfolk who blame their saviours and children who try to fight. Oh, and there's also a scarred female Rambo who's sworn to kill everyone in Hell's Wind and does her archery training while topless. Jack's got quite a long fuse and possibly suicidal tendencies in this one, but it's still basically another tale of the usual rape, chainsaws and ultra-violence.
This might be the only positive review you'll ever read of Violence Jack. The people who hate it think it's... well, you can imagine. Personally though I thought it was quite impressive. The Devilman franchise seems to have Go Nagai's most powerful storytelling, at least of the stuff of his I've come across so far, and by proxy that includes Violence Jack. It's not silly. On the contrary it reminds me of George Romero in the way it's using post-apocalyptic horror for social commentary, especially the second OVA and its mall. Just don't expect anything that even resembles taste.