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.