ANIME REVIEW: Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

I decided I shouldn’t bury the lede when it comes to this review: over time and several repeated viewings, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia has gradually become my all-time favorite anime. That’s no small statement to make for an “old-taku” like myself who has indulged in this hobby for 20 years and counting, but it’s an honor I don’t feel ambivalent about awarding it. Through a combination of its wonderful characters and engaging plot, its gorgeous and creative visuals, its heartfelt soundtrack, and the way it plays to some of my subjective favorite fictional themes, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia claimed the very top spot on my personal list of favorite anime and still holds that position today.

I started the first draft of this review quite some time ago when the series was much newer to me, which is probably a good thing when it comes to objectivity, but even then, I had already decided Dusk Maiden was pretty special. Now, with Halloween approaching and the series getting a new physical re-release from Sentai Filmworks, this seemed like the perfect time to share my thoughts on this sweet and spooky classic.

Sometimes you need to read to the second line of an anime’s synopsis to get to the hook, and Dusk Maiden of Amnesia certainly falls into this category. It’s about a young guy and three girls who form a club dedicated to investigating paranormal phenomena at their high school. Decent start, right? But how about adding in the fact that one of the girls, the founder and president of the club, is actually the high school’s only known ghost and has been dead for nearly 60 years? Aha, now that’s more like it!

The experience of watching Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is a lot like reading the synopsis, in that it gets more interesting as it goes by gradually feeding you new information that casts a fresh light on what you already knew. Despite its many supernatural elements, this series is more of a mystery/romance hybrid than a horror anime, and once all of its puzzle pieces fall into place, the portrait it creates a love that endures through pain, difficulty, and even death itself is truly beautiful to behold.

The action of Dusk Maiden begins when Teiichi Niiya wanders into the dilapidated, abandoned old school wing of his high school and gets a scare from a beautiful girl suddenly appearing behind him in a room he thought was empty. The girl laughs at his shock and assures him that she meant no harm. However, as they walk down the hall together moments later, she shocks him again with the blunt admission that she is Yuko Kanoe, the spectral “Yuko-San” who features in almost every ghost story told at the school. Whatever doubts Teiichi may have harbored about Yuko’s ghostly credentials are dispelled once he discovers that almost no one else can see her… and after he finds Yuko’s skeletal remains hidden in a basement room. Yuko, a happy-go-lucky sort of ghost, also reveals that she has lost almost all memory of her past and would be interested to learn more—almost as interested as she is in learning more about Teiichi, who she quickly develops a crush on. To aid with both goals, Yuko decides to start a Paranormal Investigation Club that Teiichi becomes responsible for representing.

The club soon acquires new members in Momoe Okonogi, a ditzy ghost story enthusiast who can’t see Yuko at all, and Kirie Kanoe, Yuko’s tomboyish great-niece who can see Yuko and doesn’t completely trust her. The club’s carefree early days take a grim turn with the appearance of a second, considerably more menacing ghost at the school and by clues that Yuko’s final days among the living may have been anything but serene. With the threat of the second ghost, new attacks of amnesia, and the shadows of a dark past looming ever greater, can Yuko get a happy ending the second time around? Or will it all end in darkness for her and Teiichi?

There’s a lot to dive into with this anime, but I’d like to start with the outstanding visuals and music. Dusk Maiden was produced by Silver Link, the anime studio that also produced Watamote, C3, and a number of other anime that are notable for their creative artistic direction. Like C3, Dusk Maiden loves to paint beautiful scenes using the odd, vibrant colors generated by night and sunset lighting, and the results can be truly gorgeous at times, as seen in the poolside scene above. Its visual similarities with Watamote relate to how what we see as viewers is influenced by what the emotional state of the characters. You’ll see things like the backgrounds being physically crushed into wreckage (in the mind’s eye) to represent characters on the verge of a panic attack, warping and distortion to represent surreal moments, or dark and troubled coloring leeching across lines and shapes to represent simmering anger. Dusk Maiden engages in this to an even greater degree than most of its peers, though, and perhaps more than any other anime I have ever watched except Maria-Holic and the Monogatari series.

One of my favorite visual moments in Dusk Maiden was a moment where Yuko suddenly felt a crushing sense of loneliness at being left by herself in the evening, and the frame of the screen grew smaller, and smaller, and smaller as her anxiety at her isolation increased. It was a startling effect that heightened the moment’s emotional impact, and the whole series is full of neat little visual tricks like that. The music is atmospheric and always appropriate to the scene, and the opening and ending (“Choir Jail” and “Calendrier”) are both memorable and intense. There is also a single vocal track that is only played twice in the series, “Requiem”, and it’s such an emotionally powerful standout that I guarantee you will know it when you hear it.

I usually watch Dusk Maiden in its English dub, and I can highly recommend that version. Teiichi’s actor (Clint Bickham) has been hit-or-miss with me on some Sentai shows, more as a matter of casting than of the quality of his performances, but he does a fantastic job here and is a great fit for Teiichi. Jessica Boone sounds extremely natural as Kirie, and Brittney Karbwoski put in one of the best, funniest, and sweetest performances of the series as Momoe. Emily Neves did an absolutely outstanding job as Yuko, and there’s an unusual quality to her performance here that I really wish I knew whether was intentional or not.

Different generations have different vocal quirks – modern American women sometimes have a touch of “vocal fry” as they speak, and American women in the 1930s to early 1950s often had a very slight quaver in their voice, especially during laughs or giggles. As a ghost who grew up in the 1940s and died in the early 1950s, Yuko should (and actually does) sound a bit different than Kirie or Momoe, and I noticed that Neves’ performance includes a teensy bit of quaver in the character’s laughter. Again, I have no way of knowing if this was intentional, but if it was, it was a really cool touch. I also appreciated how lifelike and vibrant the English script localization was in general. While being very true to the subtitled Japanese script, the English dub dialogue feels completely natural and unstilted throughout.

It is worth mentioning that the series is not all scares and tears; it contains quite a few funny moments, with Momoe in particular always being good for a laugh or eight. Combined with her tendency to easily flip out, Momoe’s inability to perceive Yuko and her total misunderstanding of Teiichi’s interactions with her provide frequent opportunities for comedy. Yuko herself will also cause some grins, as she’s a bit of a prankster, and her occasional attempts to play the part of a “scary” ghost are amusingly lame.

For good or for bad, it should probably be mentioned that this series occasionally gets heavy-handed with “fan service” moments, especially in the lighthearted first half. Yuko is stacked like a (haunted) brick house and is virtually shameless when it comes to her spiritual body, so although the show never features graphic nudity, you should expect lots of cleavage on display and semi-frequent states of undress. Veterans of raunchier harem anime won’t even bat an eye, but it is something to bear in mind if that bothers you.

One of my favorite things about this series is the way it treats the “rules” of life as a ghost, which I would describe as ¾ Beetlejuice and ¼ Casper. Other than being placebound, ageless, invisible to most people, and immune to the needs for food and sleep, Yuko is very much a normal girl with a normal person’s limited capabilities. At one point, Teiichi expects her to start floating or phase through a wall, and she gives him an annoyed look and snaps, “I can’t do anything you can’t do.” Dusk Maiden presents a picture of the afterlife as a stunningly mundane affair where the similarities to mortal life are more striking than the differences. Much like with the unfortunate newlyweds from Beetlejuice, Yuko’s ghostly state presents more limitations than advantages, and it makes unraveling the mysteries of her past that much more challenging and engaging.

Another thing that I loved about Dusk Maiden was the maturity it treated several topics with. Being emotionally honest with people, learning to be kind and forgiving to oneself, falling in love, letting go, sticking with people through “for worse” as well as “for better”… all of those themes are present in this anime. Our cast handles them in ways that are realistic and age-appropriate for high schoolers, but they grow up fast and make the viewer proud to root for them. I’m terribly tempted to start gushing about how certain plot points illustrate these themes, and equally tempted to discuss how emotionally-satisfying I found all aspects of the ending… but that would be unfair to you as viewers. It’s worth experiencing how things unfold firsthand.

In terms of things I would have liked to see done differently, my only regret regarding this series is that it wasn’t a few episodes longer. In particular, I wish the first arc where the Paranormal Investigation Club was checking into different rumors at the school had been expanded on just a bit. With that said, since most modern anime come in episode-count multiples of 13, it might be for the best that things were left as-is. It’s possible they could have doubled the series’ length and kept the story just as tight, but that’s not a given. Ideally, I think something along the lines of 16-18 episodes would have been perfect for this show, but if my only complaint about an anime is that “I wish there was more of it,” that’s not a bad problem to have.

Dusk maiden of Amnesia Blu-ray

You have several options when it comes to experiencing Dusk Maiden. It’s available to stream on HiDive, which features both the subbed and dubbed versions and the 30-minute OVA sequel. It’s also available to purchase as an excellent physical release on Blu-ray from Sentai Filmworks, which in addition to the standard clean opening and ending also includes a bevvy of extras like commentary tracks for every episode, Japanese commercials, and a slightly-extended version of the final episode. However, if you find yourself a mega-fan of this series like I am, the 2013 first-edition Blu-ray and DVD releases of this series (now out-of-print) contained one other very cool bonus as a pack-in: a two-CD original soundtrack! This OST contains all of the series BGM, two versions of “Requiem” (instrumental and vocal/original), and three versions of “Calendrier” (TV edit, full-sized vocal, and instrumental; however, instrumentation differs slightly from the version found in-series). The only notable absence from the CDs was a vocal rendition of “Choir Jail”, which I assume was excluded for licensing reasons. The 2021 re-release is identical to the 2013 version in every way except for the missing bonus soundtrack, so if you can’t find the older edition or if the price is too rich for your blood, the 2021 re-release is still an excellent product you’ll be very proud to have in your anime collection.

To sum it up, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is a multi-category winner. It is one of the best romance anime I have ever watched, with Teiichi and Yuko ranking behind only Ryuji and Taiga (ToraDora) as my all-time favorite anime couple. Although not a horror anime in the traditional sense, it is also my favorite ghost-themed anime series, with only Ghost Hunt and Requiem from the Darkness even in a similar league. The only reasons I can think of that a viewer might not like this series are if you have a strong distaste for its fan-service elements or if its particular mashup of genres (mystery, horror, supernatural, and romance) simply don’t appeal to you. Other than that, I can give this one a virtually unqualified “highly recommend.”

This Halloween, don’t forget or overlook this hidden gem. Whether you watch it an episode at a time or all at once, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is worth pulling from the anime graveyard to watch again and again.

Five Must-Watch Halloween Anime (Bite-Sized Edition)

The spooky season is upon us, and this is the perfect time to binge some horror-themed or supernatural-themed anime to get in the mood for Halloween. With that said, there are only so many hours in the day, there are tons of anime that would fit the bill, and October is almost half-over! What’s an anime fan wearing a witch’s hat or hockey mask to do?

Luckily for you, Anime Obscura has curated a list of quick anime watches that fit the bill. These are all selections of episodes from longer series that don’t require a ton of prior foreknowledge. If you enjoy this sampling, be sure to put them on your list to check out later… maybe in November. (To the best of my knowledge, there is a marked lack of turkey-themed or Thanksgiving-themed anime, so you’ll need something to tide yourself over till Christmas.)

Before anyone gives me the Freddy Kreuger treatment for omitting Higurashi: When They Cry or your favorite horror anime of choice, keep in mind that there are going to be some fantastic horror-themed anime that won’t make this particular list, sometimes because they’re too long to qualify as bite-sized, sometimes because I haven’t watched them personally… and sometimes because a guy has to stop typing sometime.

So, let’s get with it, ghouls and guys!

Ranma 1/2 Episodes 73 and 140 (“My Fiance the Cat” and “Pick a Peck of Happosai”)

Let’s start things off on a light note… For anime watchers of a certain age, Ranma 1/2 needs no introduction, but the main points an unfamiliar viewer really needs to know are that Ranma is a powerful teenaged martial artist who is cursed to change sex every time he’s splashed with hot or cold water, and he’s semi-unwillingly engaged to a girl named Akane, whose family he and his dad now live with. A bevy of cute girls and weirdos who love or hate Ranma constantly make their lives difficult, and the biggest weirdo of all is Ranma’s dad’s evil martial arts master, a two-foot-tall panty thief named Happosai. Oh, and as an “important-only-for-here” aside, Ranma is deathly afraid of cats, and overexposure to him causes him to go into a berserk psychotic state.

In “My Fiance the Cat”, Akane becomes haunted by an amorous ghost seeking a bride. Ranma ain’t afraid of no ghost, but when the ghost becomes visible and turns out to be an 8-foot-tall ghost cat, he becomes pretty much useless.

In “Peck A Pack of Happosai”, the Ranma 1/2 gang discovers that messing with the occult has consequences. A couple of misplaced tarot cards cause Happosai to be split into multiple supernatural personas — a knight, a witch, a centaur, a vampire, an angel, and a devil. Ranma and company have to figure out how to re-seal this horrible horny horde before they destroy the city or maybe even the world.

Ranma 1/2 is streamable subbed or dubbed for free (with ads) on Vudu. Episode 73 is part of Season 4, and Episode 140 is part of Season 7.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia – Episodes 1 and 6 (“Ghost Maiden” and “Maiden of Vengeance”)

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is my all-time favorite anime, not least because of the clever ways it explores how strong emotions, rumor, and belief all function together to make the phenomenon of ghosts possible within its world. The series follows a high school’s “Supernatural Investigation Club” whose club president (Yuuko) is actually a ghost herself, seeking answers about her dimly-remembered past. Only the main protagonist (Taiichi) and a distant relation of hers (Kirie) can see her, while the club’s most enthusiastic member and comic relief (Momoe) is blissfully unaware of her presence.

The first episode is necessary viewing to meet the members of the club and get a sense of what each of them is like and how they interact with one another. The sixth episode, “Maiden of Vengeance”, is the closest thing to a stand-alone horror tale that this series contains. The Supernatural Investigation Club is still poking around the school, trying to figure out if Yuuko is the school’s only ghost, when a girl who is an apparent paranormal-skeptic starts spreading a rumor out of the blue that quickly metastasizes into a full-blown panic among the student body. Her tales of a bloody executioner named Akahito-San roaming the school is making people act crazy with fear… and she seems to be encouraging this for some reason.

The entire 12-episode series is outstanding Halloween viewing, but these two episodes can be watched by themselves as a great snack-sized sample.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is streamable on HiDive or VRV.

Princess Resurrection – Episodes 1 and 13 (“Princess Resurrection” and “Princess Sacrifice”)

Princess Resurrection is another fantastic anime whose 26-episode entirety makes for good Halloween viewing, but in keeping with our promise to keep this bite-sized, I’ll recommend episodes 1 and 13.

Episode 1 introduces us to our main protagonist, Hiro, who has traveled to a remote town to visit his sister, an airhead who has taken a job as a maid at a creepy Addams-Family-style mansion on the mountain overlooking the city. While in town, he sees a disaster about to befall a beautiful blonde girl dressed all in black, and in pushing her out of the way, he gets himself killed. Series over! (Okay, not really.) It turns out that the blonde, Hime, is his sister’s employer, and something of a literal princess of darkness. She resurrects him to a form of semi-life, but that comes with a bit of a price and a lot of trouble, as you and he will both soon find out.

Plenty of episodes in Princess Resurrection make for great October viewing, as they’re packed to the gills with monsters, vampires, zombies, Lovecraftian beasties… you name it. However, Episode 13 always stuck out to me as being particularly suspenseful and fairly unique for featuring an “unkillable slasher” villain a la Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, or Leatherface. (For whatever reason, that trope is almost never used in anime apart from a humorous reference.) In any case, Hiro and Hime find themselves alone in an otherworldly village where one such monster holds bloody sway over the inhabitants. It’s genuinely creepy, and good stuff.

Princess Resurrection is streamable on HiDive or VRV.

Another – Collected Manga or Episodes 1-4

Another has often been nicknamed “Final Destination: The Anime”, and that description certainly isn’t wrong. Death itself seems to be stalking a group of high schoolers, with ordinary accidents turning lethal at the drop of a hat. The reason why is gradually revealed over the course of the entire series, and it would be a disservice to you to try to explain it to you here in summary form. It is clever, though, and feels like a worthy payoff for the most part. It’s also probably the goriest anime I’ve ever watched, bar none.

It’s worth noting that Another actually started off as a novel, then got adapted into both an anime and a manga shortly thereafter. Personally, I would actually suggest the collected all-in-one manga from Yen Press as the best way to experience this story. Being a comic, it’s a fairly fast read, and it explains a couple of things (especially about the ending) better than the anime did. However, unlike the anime, you can’t exactly “stream” a graphic novel and may not want to plunk down $30 on a lark, which is totally understandable. In that case, the anime absolutely won’t disappoint in terms of intensity and violence.

The first four episodes introduce us to Koichi Sakakibara, who has recently moved to a remote town in the Japanese countryside. His classmates seem oddly standoffish, as if his presence there is unwelcome, but not due to anything against him personally. At the same time, he takes notice of the fact that he keeps seeing a pale girl at the school wearing an eyepatch who none of the other students seem to see or acknowledge. Soon afterward, strange and horrible accidents begin befalling his classmates. Could the silent, ghostly girl be the cause? Or is there something else afoot?

Episodes 1-4 absolutely won’t explain the weird situation Koichi finds himself in, but it does give you an idea of the overall flavor of the anime and serves as a good jumping-off point should you wish to pursue it further.

Another is streamable on CrunchyRoll, HiDive, or VRV.

Ghost Hunt – Episodes 18-21 (“The Blood-Stained Labyrinth Parts 1-4”)

Ghost Hunt is a great anime with a simple premise and a very episodic nature, which makes jumping into a spot in the middle of the series easy as long as you know the setup. It follows the exploits of a group of ghost hunters and exorcists with a huge diversity of backgrounds and strengths. You have a paranormal researcher, an onmyoji (magic practitioner), a Buddhist monk, a Shinto priestess, a Catholic Christian priest, and a psychic, all of whom are loosely aligned as friends who help each other out on exorcism “jobs.” Joining them is our protagonist, Mai, a high school girl who made herself useful to the team in the first few episodes and started working with the paranormal researcher as his part-time assistant.

The team takes on a number of different cases during the anime series that get resolved over a number of episodes. Sometimes these involved solving a mystery but were not terribly dangerous, while others featured a supernatural threat that was actively harmful. Nothing before or after touches the Blood-Stained Labyrinth in terms of its deadly threat level, though. The team travels to a huge estate where people have simply been disappearing without a trace. The house is a massive complex with secret passages, dead-end halls and doorways… et cetera. It’s the labyrinth of the title. The kicker here is that these missing people have been gone for far too long to simply be playing hide-and-seek. And if the team isn’t careful, they may be added to the number of the house’s victims shortly… This story arc feels almost like an anime adaptation of The Shining or Hell House, and it’s great viewing. Without giving anything away, I also appreciated how this particular case wrapped up.

Ghost Hunt is streamable on the Funimation Channel.


So, there ya go, five anime selections to keep your Halloween spirit alive… or dead… or undead… however you prefer, really… in 2020. There are plenty of other anime and even other episodes I could have included, but hey, there will be other Halloweens and hopefully other Halloween-themed anime articles to write.

Take care, everyone! Stay safe, and may you always get nothing but the good stuff in your trick-or-treat bag!

ANIME REVIEW: The Devil Lady (Part 3)

NOTE: This is the conclusion of Anime Obscura’s coverage of the anime The Devil Lady. We will be delving into major spoilers this time, so be advised.

devil lady - asuka transformed 1

Last time we looked at how The Devil Lady portrayed a depressingly true-to-life depiction of how society would splinter were its premise to become a reality. This time, we’ll wrap things up by talking about the ending and how the anime provides an amazing character chemistry between Jun Fudou and Lan Asuka.

If the first half The Devil Lady is a story of Jun Fudou performing a scary balancing act between her two alter egos, the second half of the anime is one long, heartbreaking process of loss. As society begins falling apart, Jun’s personal life follows suit, and she gradually loses everything in her life that mattered to her. She loses her home—this former safe space gets destroyed by a cabal of violent devil-beasts. She loses her job and the work-relationships she had come to treasure as part of her identity. Her friendship with Kazumi splinters as the two part ways, with the younger model needing time to process the truth about the older woman she adored. She ultimately even loses her freedom as Lan Asuka and her former allies among the human commandoes isolate her, jail her, and ultimately use her as a lab rat. Finally, in the lead-up to the final battle, Jun loses everything and everyone she ever cared about, and she quite literally abandons her humanity, cutting her hair and declaring that, “I will never be human again.”

As all this has been happening, Jun’s powers as the Devil Lady have only been growing. To meet the threat of each new devil beast, she becomes stronger, faster, and tougher; develops new abilities such as an electric shock; and gains greater control over her powers of flight and her kaiju-sized “giga” form. With this explosion of power happening alongside a total emotional breakdown, you keep waiting for Jun to explode in violence at the unfairness of it all and lash out at the world. What actually happens is that Jun’s self-loathing makes her turn all that anger inward, and she retreats into herself. Even as a normal human before all this started, Jun was always incredibly hard on herself, her own worst critic, someone who didn’t trust her own value and constantly deferred to others. This trait was counterproductive in her human life, but it proves her salvation as the Devil Lady. Even when Jun gains the might of a goddess, she doesn’t think herself worthy of wielding that power except in service of others.

devil lady - asuka and jun 2

This sets her apart from Lan Asuka, who we eventually discover is a non-human of a totally different sort—an artificial being created from biblical-era instructions to inaugurate a new golden age. Asuka is also a hermaphrodite, which sets her apart from most of humanity even if her pseudo-Babylonian origins are left out of the picture. Asuka and Jun prove to be mirrors of one anothers’ personality. Both women are consumed with self-loathing and bitterness about what makes them different, but this emotion that leads Jun into humility instead leads Asuka into scorn. She views regular humanity as earth’s past rather than its future, and the devilmen and devil-beasts as evolutionary mistakes that must be wiped out in order for her to fulfill her destiny.

This part of The Devil Lady takes a trip into unexplained weirdness, but apparently the devilmen who have been killed in the concentration camps have been sacrificed and thrown into Hell through some weird rite that sends their life force and power to Asuka. Once she absorbs a critical mass of it, Asuka takes on an angelic form of Biblical proportions – winged, radiant, beautiful, gigantic in size, and (true to a biblical apocalypse) visible to all the earth and worshipped by it. Humanity’s elite see the proverbial writing on the wall and line up to worship Asuka as a goddess and the harbinger of a new age. However, Asuka’s paradise only applies to the “worthy”; those who don’t fit into her vision for the future (i.e. the devilmen) have no place there. This is part and parcel of the Nazi ethos that landed the devilmen in the concentration camps to start with, and Asuka is Lucifer incarnate—beautiful, all-powerful, fiendishly clever, and fatally proud. Her pride robs her of any sympathy for the weak, and even as she ushers in the start of a golden era, we see that her paradise is a sham for those who don’t meet her ideal.

The only living creature who meets Asuka’s superhuman ideal other than herself is Jun. When Asuka’s “pet tigress” refuses to join her, though, Jun gets cast into the depths of Hell itself with the other devilmen. Here Jun has an almost hallucinatory de profundis moment where she quite understandably gives up and wonders what the purpose of all her suffering was, but the memory of Kazumi renews her sense of purpose, and the rage of the slain devilmen gives her power. Jun may have nothing to lose anymore on the personal level, but she recognizes and reclaims what has been driving her all along: there are people suffering who need her help, and she alone has the power to do something about it. What happens next is possibly the coolest and most “Hell, yeah!” visual I have ever seen in anime: a pillar of fire the width of a whole city block erupts on the outskirts of Tokyo, and giga-sized Jun rises on bat wings straight out of the pit of Hell. I shit you not, the hair was standing on the back of my neck. After all she went through, seeing Jun claw her way out of Hell to kick Asuka’s ass made you want to stand up and cheer.

devil lady - dl battle 3

The final battle itself is absolutely epic and carries one final cost to Jun in the form of a double arm amputation, but the end result is worth the sacrifice. The world left in the wake of Jun’s victory is not without its problems. The rifts and emotional scars between humans and devilmen won’t heal overnight, and presumably devil-beasts may still sometimes emerge in cases where a person has a particularly striking transformation that they can’t control. But what Jun did leave behind is a world that has room for everyone, regardless of their genetics. We see this in the anime’s final scene, where two little girls run down the street together on their way home from school—one of them has a tail, and one of them doesn’t. What made me feel better than anything is seeing that this is a world that even has room for Jun Fudou. She was the person the girls brushed past on their way home, and while the sleeves of her coat flow emptily in the breeze, she herself is well-dressed and looks beautiful. Jun Fudou has become a representation for her world: scarred by her experiences, but alive, well, and forging a new future.

It’s a beautiful ending to an anime that threatened to resolve in nothing but heartbreak, and I think it’s a wonderful parting statement for this show as a work of art. I said in the first part of my coverage that The Devil Lady was so much more than its bloody cover art promised, and I hope the successive two articles showed in part why I feel this way about it. The Devil Lady goes to some incredibly dark places, but its underlying message is one of tolerance, forgiveness, and principled courage in the face of unprincipled fear. Jun Fudou is a hero for our time, or any time, and The Devil Lady absolutely deserves to be on your anime bucket list because of that.

devil lady - jun and kazumi 5

ANIME REVIEW: The Devil Lady (Part 2)

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.

Devil Lady - Red

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.

Devil Lady - Jun and Kazumi 1

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.

Devil Lady - Devil Gene 2 (Chika)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?

Devil Lady - DL Guilt 1

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.

Devil Lady - Jun and Kazumi 3

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!

ANIME REVIEW: The Devil Lady (Part 1)

NOTE: Every once in a while, I have more to say about an anime than can easily fit in a single review. The Devil Lady, or Devilman Lady, is a thought-provoking, awesome horror / dark fantasy anime that is good enough to merit that kind of multi-part coverage. Today we’ll start with a spoiler-free review of the series to provide an overview—in the follow-up articles, I’ll dive more in-depth into the series’ symbolism, drama, and dark themes.

Lesson learned: never judge an anime by its cover art. I avoided The Devil Lady for years on the assumption that it was just another gory splatterpunk anime, a genre that tends to be strong on creative transformation sequences but pretty abysmal otherwise. However, I found that I underestimated this show. The Devil Lady has heart and a fascinatingly gray moral core.

Devil Lady - Asuka and Jun 1

The Devil Lady is a horror story, but looking below the surface, you could also describe it as equal parts Hellsing, X-Files, and X-Men. It tells the story of Jun Fudou, a beautiful but timid fashion model who finds herself drawn into a battle for humanity’s survival. She has a strange mutation in her DNA that allows her to change into a demonic monster, but unlike most of these “devil beasts,” she retains her sanity and conscience while transformed. Jun is drafted against her will to fight other devil beasts by an ice-cold blonde named Lan Asuka who commands a secret, government-sanctioned paramilitary organization (much like Hellsing – but note that Devil Lady predates it by several years). This is a shadow war – kept out of the media, waged to end the threat of monsters who often look like ordinary people on the surface, and fought against the backdrop of a gradually unfolding conspiracy (much like X-Files). Finally, the show’s gray morality centers around Jun herself, a mutant of sorts who is fighting to save a world that hates and fears her, even as other, more violent mutants call her a traitor and mark her for death (much like X-Men). Get the idea?

It’s a weird mix that could have ended disastrously, but The Devil Lady pulls off its occult formula with flying colors. For starters, this anime is wonderful about taking its time when appropriate. It will slowly set up a creepy scene with music that makes your skin crawl. At other times, quiet, sad scenes with equally sorrowful music will absolutely break your heart. (If you haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of the score.) It also features a manageable-sized cast of characters who almost all develop as the anime progresses. You may be alternately impressed or shocked by how much you end up caring about people you assumed would only be background characters.

Devil Lady - DL Battle 2

The writing is extremely sharp, and its plot twists pass the litmus test of making even more sense after a second viewing. There are some phenomena that are never completely explained, and the extent to which all of this madness is caused by mutant biology versus the supernatural occult is an especially muddy point. However, I feel it’s acceptably ambiguous. You’re provided with all of the information you need to make sense of the story, and it’s okay to leave a certain amount open to the individual viewer’s imagination and interpretation. The rouge’s gallery of monsters is awesome – sometimes a bit weird, even considering the strange premise, but always creative and grotesque. The action sequences are well-done – not usually flashy or impressive from an animation standpoint, but their quality is consistent and does the job, and the character artwork during battle is top-notch.

Devil Lady - Rogue 2

Devil Lady does have a few possible turn-offs despite its quality, though. For one, the animation style looks very dated for a turn-of-the-millennium series, and the artwork can sometimes be noticeably dark in the literal sense. You’ll encounter quite a few scenes with dark-brown figures walking down a dark blue corridor in dim light, and the whole thing can literally be hard to see. (I think a good remaster on Blu-Ray could mitigate this through sharper clarity and contrasts.) There’s also a lot of light nudity, but it makes sense in context to heighten the animal nature of the transformed devil-beasts rather than being there for fan service and giggles. The English dub voicing is apparently a matter of some contention. I personally loved the dub, but I have read other reviews from people normally friendly to English dubs who didn’t care for it, so you may have to try it yourself to judge. Lastly, this anime shouldn’t be attempted by people who are easily depressed, because it can be a humongous downer. Once the engineers start shoveling coal in the main-character misery train, it’s full steam ahead until episode 26, and the sheer volume of unhappiness can become draining after a while.

One quick, last note: despite his heavy billing, this particular iteration of Devil Lady really isn’t manga-ka Go Nagai’s baby at all. Nagai did create the character, and his original manga introduced the characters Jun Fudou and Lan Asuka, but the similarities end there. The anime adaptation completely reworked the story and even much of the basic concept, so, love it or hate it, most of the credit for this TV series rightfully goes to Chiaki Konaka (series creator / screenplay) and Toshiki Hirano (director).

As of the writing of this review, ADV’s release of The Devil Lady is out of print, but it’s not impossibly expensive or hard to find if you get it used. I would love for another anime licensor (maybe Discotek?) to pick this one up and give it the Blu-Ray treatment. It’s honestly one of the best-thought-out and most compelling anime I’ve ever watched, to say nothing of being a great tale of dark suspense, and I have no hesitation at all in putting it in my personal “Top 5” list of favorite anime. The Devil Lady deserves better than to be cast into out-of-print hell, and if we’re lucky, someday she’ll claw her way out.

UPDATE (1/2021): Well, let it never be said that Christmas wishes don’t come true! The Devil Lady is back in print under its original Japanese title, Devilman Lady, and as I predicted and hoped for, it’s on a 1080p Blu Ray by Discotek! I was thrilled to receive my copy, and the results of their efforts are better than I could have imagined. Discotek obviously went back to the original masters for this release, because the quality of the images is leaps and bounds better than the original ADV DVDs. The HD contrast sharpened up the lines just like I’d hoped it would, but I was completely unprepared for how much better the color looked. Reds, yellows, pinks are deep, vibrant, and brilliant, and even the blues and blacks are a deeper and more consistent in a way that helps dark scenes stand out. By comparison, ADV’s transfer looks positively washed-out and almost snowy at points. Discotek also restored the original Japanese title sequence, which ADV had slightly altered to insert an English logo, in favor of keeping the original images but adding subtitles for the kanji. The Discotek release comes on two discs with an outer slipcase, and it does include ADV’s original English dub, which is one part of the original release that I gave high marks. Literally the only bad thing I have to say about this new Blu Ray edition is that they picked a fairly boring image for its front cover. Otherwise, this late 2020 release is simply outstanding. Major, major props to Discotek for giving this classic anime the gorgeous remaster it needed and deserves.