The horror genre has long been split into many subfactions, all of which take different means to scare the audience. Although out of favor now, the "slash and hack" serial killer film was popular throughout the 1980s. We're seeing a revival of zombie movies and gore-laden effects thrillers, too. However, atmosphere determines everything, and films like The Ring, The Others, and The Sixth Sense all rely on tone to convey the sense of dread that other movies create through simple carnage. Doomed Megalopolis stands firm on that tradition, relying on an overwhelming sense of terror to create its mood. In many ways, it's an effective entry...though I found it a bit too disturbing, myself.
In early 20th century Japan, the old world and new world are meeting in a clash of wills. Plans to build Tokyo into a modern metropolis are afoot, but there are concerns that its construction will anger the spirits that have lived around the area for centuries. One in particular is of concern: Masakado, the guardian spirit of Tokyo. Onto this historical scene appears a pagan wizard named Kato. His goal is to invoke the power of Masakado to destroy Tokyo itself. When typical occult spells don't work, Kato resorts to drastic measures, kidnapping and assaulting a young woman named Yukari to bring forth a child whom he will use to bring Masakado back to life. Over the course of fifteen years, we watch as Kato's plans unfold and how Yukari's friends desperately work to save her, her child Yukiko, and the city of Tokyo from the madman's schemes.
Doomed Megalopolis is a strong horror OVA series. Rin Taro, the infamous director of great films like Metropolis and disasters like X/1999, acts as supervising director on this one, and his taste is apparent. He seems to love shows with deep, dark supernatural themes and intertwined destinies, and this one is no exception. From a pacing perspective, though, it's far better than most of his films have turned out to be. For a horror film, there is plenty of action to keep the more attention-deficit among us interested. The animation is not perfect but still excellent. Although some of the character designs are a little too similar to each other, they all look fantastic. The soundtrack is effective, and even the old Streamline dub isn't half bad. (Though I will say that I'm grateful ADV Films has finally released a subtitled version of this show, which was only available dubbed in the US for well over 10 years.)
The best and worst of Doomed Megalopolis are found within its horror element. From the perspective of being really creepy and disturbing, it hits every note. Although some might not find it scary in the traditional "killer popping out from the closet" sense, it is easily more functionally frightening than the Vampire Hunter D films, Boogiepop Phantom, or Hellsing. It is disquieting from beginning to end. In fact, I've rarely seen a show that made me this goosebumpy. I expect that real horror fans will be delighted.
However, the show is so dark that I am glad I rented it; I know I will never watch it again. This show crossed the line beyond entertainment for me to the point that it was interesting but not really enjoyable. I felt much the same way about the movie The Cell, which had fascinating art design and strong direction but was simply too disturbing. Part of the issue has to do with Doomed Megalopolis' extremely malevolent themes that include occultism and strongly deviant sexual behavior. Though the sexuality is mostly off-screen, as there is no actual sex shown, the themes make the show off-limits to many viewers. This isn't subject matter I want to have in my entertainment, and though not pornographic, I would not recommend it for anyone under 18.
There are a couple of other issues that mar the show. First, the villain Kato is really the main character. Everyone else is secondary, including every last hero or heroine. That's disappointing because our good guys wind up having no personality. Second, the ending is pretty weak, more of a copout than a real conclusion. Those folks without personalities wind up without a denouement; they simply survive. None of these are huge issues, but they can be frustrating if you expect another classic.
Doomed Megalopolis is a very good, well-made horror show that is just a bit too creepy for its own good. It's difficult to rank because it's well made and extremely effective in what it tries to do, but not something I found pleasurable to watch. So add or subtract from my rating how you will, depending on your tolerance for unsettling subject matter.
Doomed Megalopolis -- graphic violence, nudity, very disturbing and adult subject matter -- B