Mazinger ZBaron AshuraViolence JackMie Suzuki
CB Chara Nagai Go World
Medium: OVA
Year: 1991
Director: Umanosuke Iida, Tsutomu Yabuki
Original creator: Go Nagai
Studio: Bandai Visual, Dynamic Planning, Triangle Staff
Actor: Sho Hayami, Jun Takanomaki, Yuu Mizushima, Arihiro Hase, Fumihiko Tachiki, Ikue Ohtani, Kappei Yamaguchi, Kouichi Yamadera, Kousei Tomita, Makoto Ataka, Megumi Hayashibara, Mie Suzuki, Ryouichi Tanaka, Saeko Shimazu, Sakiko Tamagawa, Shigeru Chiba, Shozo Iizuka, Takeshi Aono, Tatsuya Matsuda, Tessho Genda, Toshihiko Nakajima, Unshou Ishizuka, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Yuji Mitsuya, Zenchu Mitsui
Keywords: Devilman, Sirene, Mazinger Z, Baron Ashura, Violence Jack, anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 3-episode OVA, each episode 45 minutes long
Website category: Anime 1990s
Review date: 30 June 2010
It's the kind of mad idea that you want to adore, but unfortunately the actual episodes don't live up to it. That premise though... okay, you know Go Nagai. You know the kind of things he's famous for. Now imagine a crossover between those characters and a cute super-deformed world where everyone's drawn to look like toddlers, with huge heads and little bodies. It's the kind of art style that lends itself to kiddie cartoons and the kind of storytelling where the characters are trying to make friends at school or find their lost puppy.
Let's be more specific here. The Go Nagai properties being used here are:
1. Devilman. No, not the blue Devilman from the 1972 children's anime. I'm talking about the proper Devilman, who's going to see the destruction of everyone he loves and indeed the entire world, after which he loses a fight to the death with his best friend Satan. You know, during the apocalypse. Satan normally looks like a human called Ryo but can also turn into a naked glowing hermaphrodite with wings, breasts and a penis. Devilman's human girlfriend is called Miki, who supposedly doesn't know about his demonic side. However in the old days he also had a relationship with a bird-woman called Sirene who spends all three episodes showing her nipples.
2. Mazinger Z, the seminal show with which Go Nagai invented the giant robot genre. There's nothing too outrageous about this one, actually. The original was family-friendly. However I'd never known quite what a freak's gallery of villains Go Nagai had created for this show, including: (a) Baron Ashura, the split-face schizophrenic hermaphrodite I'd never been able to place when he showed up in the 1993 Kekko Kamen and 2004 Cutey Honey live-action movies, (b) Dr Hell, who here wants to marry Sirene, (c) Brocken, who can pull his own head off, and (d) Gamia Q3, a superhuman cyborg who we learn here has always been naked under her red cloak.
3. Violence Jack. No, really. Violence freaking Jack. He's not slaughtering people like pigs in this one (for once), but it's freaky just being in his post-apocalyptic Fist of the North Star world.
The stage is set during the opening credits. A macho song plays as Devilman and Mazinger Z fight bad guys in a realistically depicted world. They look tough and mean... but then suddenly their heads inflate, their limbs shrink with a popping noise and the music changes to a jolly kiddie song about God being an infant. You see, it's not enough that we're watching a super-deformed crossover with an unlikely cast. They're actually the real versions of themselves, except that they've recently been compressed into cartoon versions of themselves and thrust into a parallel reality. If you go into space, you can fly from Devilworld to Mazinger World. What's more, they're not happy about it. Broadly speaking, this story is about their attempts to find out where they are, how they got there, what it all means and how to get back again.
Thus, despite appearances, this is actually quite sophisticated SF. There's a meaning to all this. Satan not only goes looking for this world's God, but finds him and challenges him. The theological symbolism is fascinating. Then you've got the fact that chibi-world is all about childishness and friendship, whereas our macho protagonists are all busting a gut trying to return to their pre-ordained "adult" narratives of fighting and death. There's a surprisingly moving scene at the end of episode two where Devilman realises this. "We can still make up." It's a chance to put aside their differences and stop fighting. Characters ask why they're stereotypes and the story ends up even doing existentialism.
These are wonderful ideas. Unfortunately the problem with putting badass heroes into a silly world of trivial nonsense is that you'll be watching silliness and nonsense. Episode 1 got dull, frankly. It's okay while Devilman and his friends are still exploring the situation, but it all gets silly and pointless when you've got Sirene turning the OVA into a runaround with two girls and a boy. That turtle-demon got a bit annoying and overall you've got an episode that's struggling to justify even one watching, let alone pull you back for more. Episode 2 is more entertaining because Mazinger Z's villains are funnier. The Devilman cast turned into straight men as Baron Ashura camped it up something rotten and Gamia Q3 made me howl like a dog with her response to a particular moment of embarrassment. Finally Episode 3 is the one that lays out the existential framework behind the existence of chibi-world, which at least gives it a bit of meat, albeit fairly silly.
It's impressively faithful to its parent shows, though. There's stuff here that's handled better than in the straight anime adaptations, or even isn't in them at all. I don't remember Ryo taking his final form in the Devilman OVAs, for instance, while Violence Jack being the reincarnation of Devilman is something I believe you won't see referenced in any other anime. The playfulness of the narrative lets this be a What-If that's doing interesting things with the characters, so Sirene eventually gets an unexpected romantic bit after spending a good hour being the silly one with nipples. I shouldn't think you'll get a meatier Sirene story than this, by the way. We see the link between Violence Jack and his glowing devil birds... if you already care about any of these characters, this might be worth chasing up. It's certainly more memorable than the other Devilman-Mazinger crossover I've seen, the 1973 anime movie.
It's also doing quite well by its women. Miki is in no way overshadowed by her supernatural menfolk and gets some of the show's best gags, e.g. "emergency food supply."
Oh, and there's a linguistic oddity with the title. "CB Chara" might just look like a mis-transliteration of "CB Kyara", but I realised later that it's probably just an eccentric attempt at accuracy since "kyara" is just an attempt at writing the first two syllables of "character". What makes it loopy is that neither English nor Japanese speakers would have a clue about what "chara" was supposed to be. Ah well.
In summary: weird. In principle I admire the hell out of it, but I think I wanted to love it more than I do. Would I recommend it? Maybe, if you're feeling in a forgiving mood or have a prior emotional connection to Go Nagai's characters... but I match both of those descriptions and even I thought it wasn't as good as it should have been. I'm still glad I saw it, though. If nothing else, it's a more important story for its characters than any single episode of their straight anime adaptations. It intrigued me, anyway.