Anime certainly has a way with creature features. Grotesque monstrosities with eyes, mouths, and organs all out of whack are all part of anime horror stories from Japan, particularly in the 1980s. Devilman is yet another creation of the truly demented manga artist Go Nagai, and it features all sorts of nightmarish ghouls that define the genre. It's got some good qualities to it, but at the same time, it's also not very original or particularly entertaining. Go Nagai fans will love it, but the rest of us might want to reconsider.
In Devilman, Akira is a young man whose parents have gone missing. He's staying with some friends in a new town, and the bullies inevitably find him an easy target. He's very different from the crowd, though, willing to risk his own life to save that of a simple rabbit. He's gentle to a fault, and even the girl who shows some interest in him isn't exactly sure what to make of him. But then Akira's old friend Ryo shows up. He's not just a little bit intense, and we find that his father has mysteriously committed suicide. We soon come to learn that Ryo's father merged with a demon that was released by the work of Akira's parents, and he killed himself to stop the madness. But now a reign of terror is waiting at the gates, and Akira comes to the inevitable conclusion that he must become the enemy himself if he is to save the world from unimaginable catastrophe. Thus, Devilman is born.
Devilman comes with certain limitations, the first being its age. The OVA series started in 1987, and this episode's visuals looks straight from that era. They aren't bad, by any means, but aren't hip by today's standards either. The presentation is OK, nothing distracting but nothing awesome, and that goes for music, animation, etc. What has to drive a show like this is the story, and that's where Devilman is simply mediocre. Parts of the show are interesting, and Akira's escape from a nightmarish haunted house with nothing but a shotgun for protection is particularly well done, reminding me a bit of the good bits of the Evil Dead series (and not just a few levels of Doom, as well.) However, all the show has are a few set pieces, and the others don't work nearly so well. In particular, the gruesome club sequences where the show reached its climax is disturbing, but not at all compelling.
That's ultimately where Devilman falls apart...no character within the show is compelling. Frankly, most of them aren't even believable. Akira believes his friend Ryo's story of possession and death far too easily, and since Ryo has no backstory whatsoever to establish a firm relationship with Akira, he's a weak link. Ryo is also a dangerous character, with an evil streak that Akira blindly fails to notice. But the weak link continues into Akira's character. When Akira is confronted with the concept of losing his mortal soul and becoming one with a demon, he doesn't bat an eye, which is completely in conflict with his established personality. One would expect at least a little soul searching (no pun intended). Because Akira goes along so willingly, the audience is left thinking we've misunderstood the characters. We haven't; they've simply been poorly developed. This shouldn't be much of a surprise--Go Nagai writes with the subtleness of a sledgehammer--but it's still a bit disappointing.
So is it worth anything at all? If you can find a subtitled copy, perhaps, but that's extremely unlikely. The recent DVD collection (which does include OVAs I didn't review) is in English only, apparently due to rights issues over the Japanese soundtrack. Although I have not seen the dub, I've read in several places that it is particularly foulmouthed, which doesn't reflect the original Japanese version at all, and that it's overall quality is lacking. If you think it's worth the effort, go ahead. I give Devilman credit for having a couple of enjoyable bits that get exciting, but if you want to see a splatterfest of grotesque monsters getting all gooey and split in two, I would suggest Vampire Hunter D instead.
Devilman OVA 1: Birth -- graphic violence, disturbing imagery, brief nudity, profanity -- C