Story and art by Nagai Go
Originally published by Akita Shoten (1972)
Length: 5 volumes
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
It was said that long ago, the world was ruled by demons. They held complete control over the Earth, until a new race of beings attempted to overthrow them; the humans. The demons were imprisoned in ice, where they would remain until something with incredible power was able to melt them, signalling the end of the world. That time has come, and only Devilman can fight these creatures. We follow Akira Fudo, who acquires the power of a demon which he combines with his human soul.
If there was ever a piece to embody the “tragedy” genre, it would be Devilman. Throughout the five volumes that made up this manga, all of the main characters die, most in incredibly brutal ways, and the Earth is completely destroyed by an army humanoid demons led by Satan himself. In an unexpected way, this is what makes Devilman special, and allows it to diverge from the standard shonen battle manga. The gruesome undertones of this manga instilled a layer of unpredictability, and also a refreshing twist to an oversaturated genre.
At first, Devilman seems to have a pretty linear story, but it soon descends into utter chaos, something the reader cannot control. The power of the demons seems like it’s too much for Akira, resulting in a feeling of helplessness I never really get when reading manga. Not only did this make the series more engrossing, but it also made the characters more valuable. Knowing there was no protection for these people (by the author), and understanding that they could perish at any moment, made me empathise with their vulnerability. While some may find the radical tonal shift in the middle of this manga jarring, I thought it was necessary in order to create a unique experience for the reader, and nothing takes you out of your comfort zone quite like Devilman.
The art work of Devilman was very simple, even dated depending on your preferences. Many characters looked very similar, only being separated by a minute feature, like a fringe or a black coat. I never had an issue with the simplicity, however. Go works within these limitations (though they may not have been at the time) to create some incredible shots, perfectly incapsulating the demonic nature of many creatures. They all housed interesting designs, somehow feeling fresh and complex while being quite simplistic. He also does a great job of using symbolism to add depth to characters, many of which can be linked to the time this manga was created. For example, the linking of hippies and underground parties with demons seems to reflect previous social perceptions of the two concepts.
While the manga may focus on action at times, it still explores other complex topics. At first, the story makes it seem like the focus is on the evil demons trying to take over the world. However, its real emphasis is on what the author considers to be “true evil”; the suffering humans inflict on one another. While this may be a fairly predictable twist today, particularly in the “evil monster” genre, Devilman was very much ahead of its time, discussing these issues 45 years beforehand.
The demons themselves are designed quite beautifully too (in their own horrific way). If the the same amount of detail had been given to the human characters, it would have added extra complexity to them, making them seem less linear to the audience. In most instances I saw them as stock characters, with the only purpose of being killed off when necessary. The ending of the manga was quiet shocking. In particular, the last page still haunts me to this day. While I re-read this manga in order to write a more accurate review, I can still remember that single panel from my first read through of it, almost 5 years ago.
Overall Devilman was a great read, with some incredibly twisted moments. While the art is indicative of the decade it was created, it doesn’t prevent Go from created some gruesome and vivid imagery, many of which reside with me today. If you’re looking for an unpredictable ride, with some pretty decent art to go with it, I highly recommend this piece.
Art – 7.5
Story – 9
Writing – 8
Overall – 8
Image sources: http://devilman.wikia.com/wiki/Black_Sabbath, https://coherentcats.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/intro-to-devilman-a-demonic-manga-masterwork/, https://www.bitfeed.co/page/devilman-the-first-arrival-in-a-new-deluxe-edition-of-the-manga-of-nagai