NOTE: Yikes! A whole year has passed since I posted the first part of my Devil Lady coverage. I feel sure that no one is waiting with baited breath on this as a continuation after such a long gap, but since the point of this is to spotlight a rather old anime, hopefully it will still be welcome and useful. I hope to start posting reviews here more regularly, so please bear with me!
This is the second part of Anime Obscura’s three-part coverage of the anime The Devil Lady. We will be delving into spoilers this time, so be advised.
In my previous review, I mentioned that The Devil Lady had many parallels with the Marvel comic X-Men in terms of telling a story about a mutant caught between a human world that hates her and a group of genocidal fellow mutants trying to recruit her. Where this anime differs from X-Men is that where Marvel’s outlook tended toward the optimistic side, The Devil Lady presents a scenario where mankind’s ugliest, darkest elements come to the fore in response to a mutant outbreak that legitimately does threaten humanity’s survival.
You have to know how the devil-beast outbreak plays out across this anime’s 26 episodes in order to fully understand this. At the outset, the emergence of a devil-beast is a very rare occurrence. A latent gene carried by some people gets triggered, usually through some psychologically traumatic event, and their bodies undergo a monstrous transformation that often overwhelms their minds and drives them insane. The extremely rare person who can keep their sanity during a devil-beast transformation and swap back and forth between their human and beast forms is called a “devilman,” and because of their combination of power, intelligence, and humanity, devilmen are highly sought-after as “hunters” by the human commando forces seeking to exterminate devil-beasts. Complicating everything, the government is doing its best to keep this war against the devil-beasts a secret to prevent widespread panic.
Fashion model Jun Fudou seemed to have a glamourous life, but as we quickly find out, once the cameras all pack up, this deeply private and reserved woman tends to retreat into herself and has few friends or family. Hers is a quiet, lonely life—but not a miserable one. This changes when beast-hunter Lan Asuka “spots” her as a carrier of the demon-beast gene and forcibly recruits her as a hunter, compelling her to transform for the first time to save her own life. The knowledge of what she is horrifies Jun, as does the prospect of fighting monsters on a regular basis, and she even contemplates suicide. She finally decides to agree to Asuka’s devil’s bargain—a normal, unimprisoned life by day in exchange for her services as a hunter by night. A final wrench is thrown into her once-peaceful existence when a younger female model and Jun’s only good friend, Kazumi Takiura, moves in with her after her parents are murdered by a devil-beast who was targeting Jun.
Kazumi’s arrival throws a bright spot into Jun’s life—she’s the kind of bubbly, happy influence who pairs well with Jun’s reserve, and Jun even develops feelings of love for the girl that go beyond friendship. However, the cruel beauty of this anime is that even this one bright spot only serves to highlight the dark shadows of Jun’s existence. Throughout the anime, Jun is tortured by self-loathing over her demonic “other half” that she doesn’t dare reveal to Kazumi for fear that the one person who cares for her will reject her. Lan Asuka is contemptuous of Jun’s human half and regards her as a pet tiger—more animal than human, but beautiful in her inhumanity (which doesn’t help Jun’s self-esteem, either). All of this combines to an existence that is painfully lonely and softened only by a few human ties that are incredibly fragile.
This would be interesting enough in itself, but the show takes a sharp twist when the isolated devil-beast outbreaks that Jun and Asuka have been dealing with suddenly take a numerical uptick and become a rising epidemic. The devil-beast attacks finally become too large and public to hide, and the secret gets out. There are also two other big reveals. The first is that the devil-beasts are not lone freaks. A surprisingly large percentage of humanity generally carries the gene to a greater or lesser extent—and the stimulus for an individual’s transformation can be visual and sensory. In other words, merely knowing of the existence of other devilmen or devil-beasts is enough to substantially increase the likelihood that the gene gets triggered, causing the transformation. Because of this, the government’s failure to keep devil-beasts a secret gains outsize importance, and the trickle of transformations becomes a flood. That flood becomes an apocalyptic deluge when a certain blonde gives the public “vaccinations” that actually hastens the emergence of the devil-gene, with the goal of drawing them all out into the open at once.
The second reveal is that the devil-gene is not especially dominant in most people who carry it, and many experience transformations that are irreversible but relatively minor—they might grow a tail, or antennae, or glow in the dark—but they otherwise remain fully human. This does not stop the normal humans from rounding them up in concentration camps to commit a holocaust.
At the same time this is going on in broader society, we see this trend toward dehumanizing treatment of devilmen get applied to Jun in particular. From the very beginning, many of her many military handlers treated her as a trained animal rather than a full human being, and once her usefulness in keeping the epidemic a secret becomes a moot point, she gets caged and experimented on like an expendable lab rat. Jun is then faced with a double layer of temptation and a ton of existential moral questions. Does her self-identification as a “human” obligate her to keep fighting for other humans who treat her as less than an animal? Is she even still human? Are they now the real monsters? Should she join the other devilmen who want to establish themselves as a new “master race” on Earth? Could she be a neutral party? Would either side let her?
This theme of dehumanization was by far the darkest and most sobering element of this already-troubling anime—not because it’s over the top, but because it’s all too real. If the events of The Devil Lady took place in real life, and a new mutant strain of humanity emerged—some of whom were monsters, but some of whom were mostly like us—we would be faced with the same crisis faced in the anime. Do you embrace the sane and normal mutants, only policing those who cannot control themselves and devolve into beasts? Do you imprison them all, hoping to halt the decline of normal humanity’s numbers by isolating the gene-carriers? Or do you leave nothing to chance by wiping the devilmen from the face of the earth?
In X-Men, humanity was constantly waffling between the “embrace” and “containment” options, depending on how spooked Magneto had them on a given day. In Devil Lady, humanity immediately jumps to “containment” and moves on to “extermination” with stomach-twisting alacrity, and I can’t honestly say that I doubt the writers’ grim prediction. Openness to the unknown takes both circumspect wisdom and a lot of courage; sometimes humanity manages that on its best days. Unfortunately, humanity also disappoints a lot of the time, and mankind is especially violent and un-courageous when we’re afraid.
The trend we find in Devil Lady of one group of people perpetrating atrocities on another out of fear and being led to consider them “less than human” – that isn’t fiction. It’s the same impulse that led to the Holocaust, to the Armenian Genocide after WWI, and to Joseph Stalin’s intentional starvation of the Ukraine in the 1930s. What’s so chilling and unsettling about the devilmen genocide depicted in The Devil Lady is not the possibility that it could happen, but the certainty that it could. I give this anime a lot of respect for having the courage to tread down this dark path, and even more credit for finally leading us to a way out. More on that in the next and final part of this review!