By Go Nagai. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Zack Davisson and Adrienne Beck.
Devilman was one of those series that I always knew about but never got around to reading, mostly as the one spoiler that everyone knows is… well, a spoiler, but let’s just say that this sort of series is usually a bit too dark for me. But this is a really nice release, in a deluze, 700-page hardcover, and it’s the original manga from 1972, so I couldn’t really resist. And for the most part, I’m very happy to have read this series. The first 450 pages of Devilman are absolutely riveting – the storytelling is old-fashioned, but you quickly lose yourself in the world of Akira, Ryo and Miki, as well as the grotesquely bizarre demons that are attempting to retake the world and will kill every human in order to do it. It’s incredibly violent, and there’s lots of nudity, but it’s a trip. That said, I was… a lot less enthusiastic as the manga carried on.
The book can essentially be divided into three parts. The first part, about 450 pages, was clearly written as a limited series, and is very big on action sequences, fast page turning and grotesque horror. Akira is a nice, somewhat meek sort of guy who is going to school with Miki, who clearly likes him but would also like him to get a bit more manly. (She’s something of a delinquent, carrying knives in her skirt, though she tries to act the “girly girl” in front of Akira.) Enter Ryo, Akira’s best friend, who has a dark secret he needs to tell him… about demons. This dark secret leads them through a tragic family horror, ancient demons who have returned, naked hippie orgies (yes, really), and a whole lot of demons trying to kill them. The only way to save the world is for Akira to become Devilman… and hope that his innate goodness is enough to keep back the demon within him. As I said before, this entire section reads fantastically.
We then get much shorter chapters, as the series clearly has now been picked up as a regular ongoing one and Go Nagai has to come up with new stuff. The first two chapters are pretty good in a dark, horrific way, both dealing with the brutal murder of young children, and serve to show off that Devilman is a grim, bloody world where no one is safe. (Note this ran in a magazine for 12-17 year old boys.) And then we come to the final five stories in the book, aka “Akira and Ryo time-travel through history and find demons trying to pervert humanity’s destiny.” First of all, “Oh, Akira can travel through time” made me shake my head. Secondly, demons trying to crush humanity is fine, but I am not really a fan of “demons are behind history’s worst moments” stories. The chapter with a young Adolf Hitler, in particular, reaches a low that I’d call “godawful”. This was not a good direction for the series to go in.
[I have been informed by Zack Davisson that this collection is actually from several different variants of the Devilman manga, and that the ‘time travel’ chapters are from Shin Devilman, a 1979 sequel. This would help explain why they feel so out of place.]
That said, over half this volume is still a fantastic read and a good look into the twisted mind of Go Nagai. It’s not for everyone (there really is a LOT of bloody violence and nudity), but if you love classic manga you’ll want this in your collection, though I’d advise putting a bookmark at page 530 and saying “stop here”.