Devilman: The Birth

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Introduction

Devilman: The Birth (デビルマン 誕生編) is the first of the three Devilman OVAs I wish to review. It was first released on November 1, 1987 by King Records. Along with its sequel, The Demon Bird (デビルマン 妖鳥シレーヌ編), it is the closest thing to the original 1972 Devilman manga the world has experienced so far.

I decided to write this article because I consider Devilman to be extremely underestimated in comparison to other Nagai franchises [1], even though, in my opinion, it is his masterpiece. The article is full of spoilers, so be warned.

Chapter 1: The Great War of the Gods (animated)

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Much like in the original manga, the first thing we see is planet Earth during the days of demonic reign. Alongside Kenji Kawai’s amazing musical score, this world is revealed to us in a slow pace, seemingly beautiful at first but very cruel once we take a closer look. The images of war between demons and angels are filled with violence, but somehow the production team managed to present the massacre in an elegant way -just take a look at the cool, soft hues used in the battles.

This part of The Birth is much more powerful than it was in the 1972 Devilman, drawn by Go Nagai. It may be unfair to compare a printed product of the 1970s to a piece of work animated 15 years later, but I think that the combination of music, color and the addition of a more elegant design than that of Nagai’s cartoonish monsters make the OVA’s introduction more epic than that of the manga.

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Even though each frame is filled with a lot of detail, the viewer’s perspective is mostly that of distance. That technique is used throughout The Birth, especially when a chapter starts or ends. My interpretation for this persistence is that this way the viewer gains a concrete feeling of how huge and bizarre each scenery is and -most importantly- has a clear knowledge of where things take place, leaving little room for confusion as the story moves on.

Chapter Two: The Lucky Rabbit

The Birth, while following the same plot with the original manga, makes some very important and empowering changes. In the manga version Akira had to face the Dosu-Roku gang alongside Makimura Miki -or, to be more precise, he tried to convince Miki to ignore their behavior, for he was too frightened to fight. They were both saved by the appearance of Ryo Asuka. The manga’s Akira was weak and a coward who couldn’t make a single move when the person he loved -Miki- was in danger.

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In The Birth things take a different path. Akira is taking care of a little nest of rabbits. One day, when he returns to their cage, he finds out that every rabbit but one is dead. The Dosu-Roku gang is the ones responsible and now they want to kill even the last little bunny. Akira is all alone, without Miki or Ryo, facing three people stronger than him, people crazy enough to even kill him. All he has to do to save himself is turn over the bunny. But he doesn’t, not even when he is hurt.

That update on Akira’s personality is one of The Birth‘s strongest points. Akira may not be strong physically but he is very strong mentally, otherwise there would be no way he could handle the hell of turning into Devilman. In the original manga it made sense to have Akira this way -it made him look funnier and more cartoonish, which gave the story a lighter tone- but The Birth presents a truly complete view of who Fudo Akira truly is.

Chapter Three: A Trio of Trouble

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The importance of this part lies in the fact that we are introduced to the relationship between Akira and Miki. As in the manga, we see that Akira relies on Miki, but instead of seeing him just as a weakling that must grow up, she treats his wounds kindly. It’s obvious that they are more than just friends, but Akira’s shyness does not let the relationship move on. Later on, he seems to find the courage to confess to Miki, but then we have the entrance of Ryo Asuka.

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From the moment he appears out of nowhere [2], it is pretty much obvious that Ryo is the show’s drama queen. The way Akira faithfully follows him without questions, even though Ryo threatens Miki with a knife, and the former ignores Miki’s jealousy, makes this part the first truly irrational moment of the OVA. I think it’d be more reasonable to see Akira doubt Ryo for a second before getting into the car.

Chapter Four: My Father Died & the Demon Mask

For those who love the original manga this is a legendary scene; in my opinion, this is due to Nagai’s awkward design, where one cannot tell if Ryo is sad, happy about his father’s death or simply high on drugs. In The Birth, even though his character design is much more decent, he still has a poker face that shows little emotion.

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Even though the scene is well-directed and works great as a foreshadow of what’s to come, one can notice several plot holes. Why did Ryo kept on staying to the same house with his paranoid father, even after the latter had mutilated his pets? How did Ryo know that his father’s body weight had doubled after his death? Of course, those who have read the manga know that this narrative was nothing more than Ryo’s imagination, fake memories that Psycho Jenny implanted in his brain, but in the The Birth Akira is still unaware of this. Even the most naive of people would still be bothered by such questions, so it makes one to wonder why he shows no doubts about Ryo’s story.

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We are introduced to the next scene by a distanced frame of Ryo’s abandoned mansion. The lack of music makes the isolation of this place more intense, especially when we come to see the demon mask. I always find hilarious how Akira reacts like a normal human being for the first time, when Ryo talks to him about demons and asks him to wear the mask. The sequence of demon massacre that follows is splendid; gore, inventive monster designs, vivid colors and, most importantly, a strong closure before Ryo keeps on with his narrative, give the story a little push. Now not only do we know that demons once existed, but that they are still alive and want to take over our planet. This truth may be shocking for Akira, but it’s also something that our friends cannot tell to anyone, unless they want to spend the rest of their lives in a sanitarium.

Chapter Five: Chase Down to the Gate of Hell

This is mostly an action sequence, so there is little to add here. I love everything about the battles and the way the demons come out one after another, even though so far they seemed to be hiding, but the truly important part of this chapter is that Akira finds the guts to shot down the door-demon and save Ryo. That makes the fact that he accepted to become the Devilman much more “realistic”, since now he knows how it feels to shed the blood of another being.

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I must tell you that I find it kinda disappointing that we get no “This? It’s laced with drugs“. Ryo reveals his father’s horrible inheritance and Akira accepts this fate with a wicked smile. Even though this seems totally out-of-place for a boy who just a few hours ago could do nothing to stop his own bullying, the scene is very intense. Kenji Kawai’s amazing piano, the extremely cocky, yet passionate dialog between the two young men, the dark isolation that suddenly takes over as they walk towards the one and only door there is to open, everything makes these three minutes feel like an eternity.

Chapter Six: Devilman Awakens

I am pretty confident that if one asked most people who have watched The Birth what their reaction was when they first saw this scene, the majority would answer “laughter”. The heavy metal soundtrack alongside the vivid colors and the great number of people who suddenly appear, seem like an awkward transition from the dark hall our heroes were before. However, that is exactly what makes this part special; here is where the explanations stop and action takes place. Akira finally becomes the Devilman and manages to kill an incredible number of demons in a spectacular fight.

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It is worth mentioning the difference between the setting in the original manga and The Birth. In 1972 Devilman the disco-storehouse resembled a jazz concert, especially if one takes into consideration the fact that there were many people of color in the scenery, a double base playing plucked and purely 1970s dressing aesthetics. All of that is left out in the 1987 OVA, which is very influenced from the 1980s hair/glam metal fashion, when bands like Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi were extremely popular. It would be very interesting, in the case we ever get a remake, what the new culture to accompany the scenery would be.

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The Birth ends with Akira holding Ryo in his arms, not knowing whether he is dead or alive, shaking as the fear of being left alone in the madness of fighting demons takes over him. The image of desperation, followed by a sequence of our planet, solar system and finally the Milky Way, lets the viewer feel just how vast the loneliness in Akira’s soul is.

Conclusion

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Like I said earlier, The Birth is the closest thing we have ever seen to a fully animated version of the Devilman manga. However, the production team managed not only to deliver us with a story very similar to the print version, but also to fix the original’s weaknesses and present new aspects to the characters’ personalities and the story. 26 years after its release, it remains an exciting and interesting film that is a must for everyone to watch.

Footnotes

[1] It may just be my impression, but titles like Mazinger Z, Mazinkaiser and Getter Robo are the stories that most people seem to remember when they listen to the name Nagai.

[2] This is another weakness of the story. How did Ryo know that Akira and Miki had taken a shortcut home?

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4 thoughts on “Devilman: The Birth

  1. Pingback: Devilman: The Birth (Umanosuke Iida, 1987) and Devilman: Demon Bird Sirene (Umanosuke Iida, 1990) – Make Mine Criterion!

    • If I am not mistaken, Ishikawa and Nagai worked together on Getter Robo, so it’s not as if the latter had no involvement, even if the former was the main writer.

      I must say though, I love Ishikawa’s style and his chapters on Neo Devilman are amazing.

      Thank you for your comment!

      Like

      • Not quite. Go Nagai didn’t have time to work on Getter Robo, but he did come up with the concepts for it.

        The manga was entirely done by Ken Ishikawa. In fact, Getter Robo Go the manga wasn’t even done under Dynamic Pro. That’s when Ishikawa left it, and wouldn’t join DP much later.

        Like

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