Amon: Apocalypse of Devilman

vlcsnap-00002Introduction

Amon: Apocalypse of Devilman is known as the third OVA of the Devilman franchise. Even though it was released as an adaptation of Yu Kinutani’s Amon: The Darkside of Devilman, one can often find claims that it was meant to be a continuation of the two previous films, The Birth and The Demon Bird. Unfortunately I didn’t find any credible source that clarifies what the truth is. This review/commentary will focus on certain scenes from the OVA, then try to analyze and compare them to other Devilman adaptations. I should note that the movie doesn’t explain much of the story’s elements, thus those unfamiliar with the previous releases should probably skip this review.

Chapter One: Bloodbaths are not Enough

In Apocalypse humanity lives in fear. The introduction of filthy urban sceneries and noises provide us with the ideal setting for the story’s pessimistic mood. Now we turn to a lonely girl that’s being chased by a madman. Once she is cornered in an alley he reveals his true form, that of a terrible demon. To his surprise he discovers that the little girl, who goes by the name Yumi, is a devilman (a human with a demon’s body). Instantly he knows this is a trap. Before he has any time to react he is ambushed by Michiko, Yumi’s partner. Unfortunately her attack isn’t strong enough to kill the demon; once he recovers he starts torturing the two women.

Amon_01Part of the scene’s value lies in its gruesomeness. Instantly the viewer gets an idea of how repulsive this world is. Just from this introduction it becomes apparent that Apocalypse tries to be far more gory than both The Birth and The Demon Bird. In similar cases the result tends to feel forced, if not laughable (i.e. Pupa, Angel Cop) but this movie makes no such favor to the viewers. I love the manga’s gore material and there are plenty of guro/horror titles I love, yet the helpless situation of the two women makes even me feel uncomfortable. And that is a good thing, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

The most important aspect of this scene however is how different  the nature of violence in Apocalypse is than in the previous adaptations. The Birth shows us with massacres in the demons’ history, the murder of Akira’s parents and his harsh bullying by the Dosu Roku gang. The Demon Bird goes way further than that, be it in the fight between Akira and Silen  or the former’s stand-off with Jinmen. None of those scenes is anywhere near what one would call soft but they don’t give off the same feeling as Apocalypse does. Here the camera zooms in on Michiko’s vagina as the demon forcibly spreads her legs. The way the screen changes from her struggling face to what happens in between her legs is very similar to the way porn films depict sex. The same thing happens later when Yumi is eaten by Amon or when Akira repeatedly punches Amon’s face. Violence isn’t used as a plot tool or a mood device but as the story’s main selling asset. In that sense I’d say Apocalypse reminded me much more of the Guinea Pig series [1] or the Violence Jack OVAs than its predecessors.Amon_02Why does this matter? Because it shows how much Apocalypse misses the role violence has in Devilman. The blood, the gore and the piles of corpses were ways to depict the darkest aspects of the characters’ personalities, the awfulness of their world and/or to test and help them develop. That is pretty obvious in the first two films; think of the fight with Jinmen. It’s Akira’s suffering that disturbs the viewer. Think of Silen. The wounds the two fighters inflict on one another intensify the viewer’s agony because they have reasons to care about both protagonists. Apocalypse doesn’t follow that logic; Yumi is eaten slowly and painfully to make us feel sick, even though her death means very little to anyone there since she’s almost a stranger to us. Bodies open all the time, but do we even know who the hell are the victims? Hell, even Akira’s flashback on how he turned to Devilman for the first time seems to have lost its meaning since there is complete absence of the build up which lead him there. In Apocalypse repulsion, instead of being a welcomed side-effect, is the main goal. Which is why the result feels weaker. After all, there’s so much one can take before becoming desensitized.

There’s one last thing I want to comment on the introduction; when Akira arrives at the alley he walks slowly towards the demon and, after punching him a few times, he kills him with one hit. I’ve always found that behavior to be completely contradictory to Akira’s personality. Here’s a man who loves bloodshed, a brutal fighter and a defender of justice. There’s no way he could have arrived at such a time, watching Michiko, a person he saved (and probably values) getting pounded like that and not rushing to the rescue. To me he seems as if he’s boring and tired, which also doesn’t make any sense from a director’s perspective. If Akira acted more energetic here then his defeatist behavior after Miki’s death would be more convincing and sincere.

Chapter Two: Don’t Lose your Head

If there’s one scene that the Devilman manga is known for then that is definitely the massacre at Makimuras’ house. To underline the differences between the original version and that of Apocalypse‘s I am first going to try and analyze the former a little bit.

Humanity now acknowledges the existence of demons and is aware of their ability to take human form. Panic reigns over our kind. Everyone also knows that Akira has merged with the demon Amon. Miki Makimura, her brother Tare and Masa Bokuto are in the Makimura house, waiting for Akira to return from his battle with the Demon Hunters. The Makimuras’ neighbors appear from the dark of the night, convinced that the family is allied with the demons and that Miki Makimura is a witch (after all, her beauty can only be a trick to convince others of her innocence). Our heroes decide to defend themselves by locking up the house as fast as they can. Masa fires with his shotgun at the first person that tries to climb over the fench and kills him..

People? We’re not people to them! We’re demons!
For them, the devil is hiding in this house!
Hurry! Go get yourself a weapon if you don’t wanna get killed!

Masa’s words convince Miki and she accepts the role her enemies have given her, that of a witch, capable of killing anyone that’s willing to hurt her.Amon_04In my opinion this development makes perfect sense if one considers the sort of person Miki appears to be. In the first chapter we saw that she didn’t hesitate at all to attack the Dosu-Roku ganga, even though there was little hope of winning. Even though she’s pretty feminine and wishes to be protected, she’s not a passive person. That’s why she stands her ground to defend herself and her loved ones in the face of death. As it is well known things don’t end up well. Severely outnumbered, Miki and her company go down in horrible fashion. Their bodies are mutilated and humiliated by the insane crowd. When Akira arrives he is shocked and murders everyone. The only thing left for him now is to fight, not to protect but to destroy.

In my opinion this scene primarily belongs to Miki Makimura. Giving her the persona of a witch, a woman accused of crimes she never committed because she’s envied for her beauty, solidifies her place in the story. Miki shows us how the better side of humanity perceives this crisis. To survive she has to become someone else. Think of it; before Masa reasoned with her, Miki still wanted to trust her neighbors, to believe in their humanity. I don’t think that as herself she could hurt the people she knew all her live. She had to take up the witch persona to survive, not only physically but also mentally. Unfortunately this proved to be big of a mess even for a witch to clean. What is really important is that, if you come to think of it, this feels like an inevitable result, regardless of ones efforts. Essentially this is Devilman’s main theme, vanity. No matter how hard you try, some things are meant to be. And that is why I love this scene; it makes Devilman Miki’s story as much as it is Akira and Ryo’s.

Amon_03How does Apocalypse handle Miki’s death? First of all, it erases any ideas of a house siege. Instead the murderers sneak into the Makimura house and attack Miki and Tare before they take notice. Instead of digging into their personalities Apocalypse prefers to emphasize the victims’ shock and fear. The resistance shown by Miki is minimal, in deep contrast to the many pages Nagai dedicated.

That doesn’t mean that the scene is badly made. Quite the opposite. Its pace is great and it does give off a morbid, horrorish feeling. Plus I love the expressions of the characters here. But in Apocalypse it becomes more of a scene about Akira’s loss instead of Miki’s ending. Its main flaw is that is fetishizes violence without any concern to the plot. In the original manga many of the drawn frames focused on the psychological impact the situation had on Miki. Thanks to Nagai’s surreal drawings there was also the feeling that the Makimuras’ neighbors had turned into some abstract, surreal threat, like a force of nature. Both of these elements are absent in Apocalypse. The neighbors are drawn in detail, their insanity is obvious but somehow they don’t give off that inhuman feeling they should have. And no time is spent on Miki’s feelings -in fact her role here could be replaced by any other female protagonist. In other words, not only does the meaning change but also the scene’s importance.

Chapter Three: Other characters

Amon is among the most under-appreciated characters of Devilman, partly because of his complete absence in the original manga; there he was only mentioned a. to justify Akira’s newly found strength and b. to provide a reason for Silen’s hatred for Devilman. Both Apocalypse and Darkside tried to give the “hero of demons” justice, though in different ways.

In Apocalypse Amon breaks free once Akira witnesses Miki’s death. His main objective afterwards is to find Satan and kill him. Aggressive, wicked, twisted, bloodthirsty and arrogant are the labels most befitting to Amon. He is the perfect contrast to Akira’s increasingly insecure yet kind and compassionate personality. But Amon has a great weakness; he’s shallow and unbelievably repetitive. When he enters the story he slaughters a bunch of demons. Then he fights and kills Saylos. Then he attacks Satan and Psycho Jenny and, in the end, he goes for the big battle with Akira. It’s understandable that he was meant to be a killing machine, the embodiment of all the terror demons are supposed to cause, but I longed to see something more. The way things are, his scenes feel more like filler than anything truly substantial. That’s a big issue considering he holds the main stage for at least half the film.

amon_04Darkside’s volumes 2-4 were dedicated to demons’ history. While not perfect, it still gave us more information about Amon and some extra looks on his personality. [2] This proves that the result might have been much better if there was more screen time. Lack of time is also a problem with another of the protagonists, Michiko. Even though her importance to the main plot is minimal in pretty much every adaptation of Devilman since she’s not all that powerful, Michiko’s origins is one of the original manga’s most interesting chapters. What I love about her is that she is not easy to categorize; she’s a thief but also troubled about her life. She considers her fellow thieves friends but ends up killing them by mistake. As a consequence she is tortured by self-loathing and doubt. That’s a character with plenty of potential if you ask me. Unfortunately, her presence in Apocalypse is mostly decorative; in the introduction she works as a masturbatory tool for Ryona [3] fans and later on she is there to emphasize the terror Amon causes. It’s such a huge shame she was used so aimlessly and it really weakens the impression I get from the movie as a whole.

The rest of the cast is similarly misused; Saylos, an original character for the movie, acts as a second, younger Amon. His design is suspiciously similar to that of a monster in Shin Cutie Honey and that’s the most memorable thing about him. Literally the guy could have been replaced by an angry flesh eating bubblegum or a sparkling vampire and I would hardly feel the difference. Why he was put in there instead of i.e. Zenon is beyond me. Psycho Jenny and Satan are major characters in this universe, yet they get no closure here. In storytelling terms this is really bad, especially because, in the case of Satan, it makes the film’s ending feeling pointless and messy. It also doesn’t make sense from a marketing perspective since Satan is so popular in the Devilman fandom [4]. Why is he treated like a secondary character?

Chapter Four: Some extra thoughts

Looking back at what I’ve written so far one might think that I don’t like Apocalypse. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve watched this movie way more than ten times and there are scenes here that I go crazy for. Miki kissing Akira? That’s a dream come true. Devilman brutally finishing off Amon is one of the most “heavy metal” scenes in any anime I’ve watched. And of course I love the introduction’s morbid aesthetic. The OST is definitely not up to Kenji Kawai’s standards but it’s still good and it fits the darker, heavier atmosphere better. Visually I think that the result is excellent and I really wish the Cyborg 009 Vs Devilman OVA tried to look more like Apocalypse.

amon_05The most common complaint -and major flaw- of the movie is that it punishes ignorance harshly. There’s little to no explanation about previous events in the storyline, which makes Apocalypse unapproachable to those outside of the fandom. I’ve watched this with plenty of other people and the majority of them were left wondering what the hell they just saw. It’s a shame, because this movie could have been a great modern introduction to Devilman for people other than weirdos like myself that get overly attached to depressingly gory titles.

Conclusion

All in all, Amon: Apocalypse of Devilman is a good movie. Its introduction is intense, the middle ground is filled with drawings every gore fan will love and the ending has some great moments but doesn’t provide a satisfying climax. Devilman fans will probably love this title no matter what I say and I can’t blame them. That won’t change that every time I watch it I always end up thinking what could have been if someone took the story’s potential to the highest level. I’d recommend this to every anime fan out there that likes bloody fights and horror, but only after you’ve watched the first two OVAs and -most importantly- read the manga.

Footnotes

1. Guinea Pig is a series of gore films that are famous for their incredibly realistic effects. Most titles in this series have only a slight dose of plot to provide an excuse for the endless pile of blood and guts on screen.

2. Don’t expect too much though. Instead of being just a bloodthirsty bastard, manga Amon is… a cold hearted, anti-social bloodthirsty bastard…

3. Ryona is a fetish genre of (usually drawn) pornography which depicts a character physically hurt either in a sensual way, or in a sexual situation. Ryona usually has situations where the character of focus is beaten up or tortured and is subsequently psychologically damaged in a dominating way by his or her attacker. Typically, the victim is hurt in a way that wouldn’t immediately draw blood, cause lasting physical harm, or cause death, which are more the territory of Guro, although the two genres can overlap.

While the kink of abuse and its following domination of the victim has probably been around for centuries, the name itself was simply made for convenient categorization of genres. “Ryona” is shortened form of “Ryonanī”, which is a portmanteau of the Japanese words “Ryōki” (猟奇, “Seeking the bizarre”) and “onanī” (オナニー, masturbation).

4. Or should I say the fujoshi part of the fandom?

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