As part of a plan to destroy the world Satan (voiced by Tomokazu Seki) exposes teenager Akira Fudo (Shinji Takeda) on live television as Devilman, the demonic superhero who uses his awesome occult powers to protect humanity from the forces of darkness. With the revelation that demons co-exist among us, fear runs rampant throughout Tokyo. Paranoia grabs the city. People turn on each other, suspecting anyone could be a demon in human clothing. Vigilante mobs invade people's homes. Akira's cute kid sidekick Tare-Chan (Motoko) gets an arrow through his little head before the mob turn on his beloved girlfriend Miki Makimura (Atsuko Enomoto). Meanwhile, aided by his demon gal pals Miko (Rie Tanaka) and Yumi (Tomoko Kawakami), Akira struggles to restore some semblance of order. Confronted by a mob waving his sweetheart's severed head on a pike, Akira finally snaps. Thus allowing his demon half to take complete control as he morphs into the all-powerful, genocidal Amon (Akio Otsuka) who values neither demon nor human life but complete and utter destruction. Uh-oh...
Go Nagai's Devilman is one of the all-time great manga epics. A sprawling saga that takes several whiplash turns going from gross-out body-horror teen allegory to breakneck superhero action before taking a left turn into apocalyptic anti-fascist, anti-racist parable. The series spawned two earlier anime, one great but not-so-faithful in 1972, the other more faithful but not-so-great in 1987 along with Nagai's gender-bending reboot Devilman Lady (1998). In 2004 Toei Films released a costly, CGI laden live action adaptation of Devilman that at the very least tried to stay faithful to Nagai's manga (and had a terrific third act) but got bogged down in posturing pretty-boy theatrics. Released as a pay-per-view event in Japan, Amon: Apocalypse of Devilman stands, at just forty-six minutes, as the best Devilman adaptation.
Visually this anime is a death metal album cover brought to life but with gut-wrenching emotional layers. Kenichi Takeshita, working under the supervision of veteran Toyoo Ashida director of the similarly apocalyptic cult favourite Fist of the North Star (1986), opts for an art style midway between Nineties grit and Nagai's familiar cartoony look, both cute and grotesque. The animators lovingly recreate Nagai's grotesque body-morphing horrors and lewd sexual violence with surreal set-pieces that are intense, transgressive and certainly not for the easily offended but exhilaratingly imaginative. Amon: Apocalypse of Devilman achieves Boschean levels of excess more epic in scope and substantial in subtext than Toshio Maeda's conceptually similar Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend (1987), a title heavily indebted to Nagai's work. Made by fans for fans who wanted to see the finale in anime form, the plot leaves no space for newcomers. The filmmakers assume viewers know these characters and are invested in their fate. Amon concentrates on the closing chapter of Nagai's manga where humanity quite literally goes to hell. Society is torn apart by fear-mongering, xenophobia, political corruption and, yes, mass murdering demons. Nagai turns his core concept on its head. Ordinary Tokyo citizens become the enemy, Devilman turns on those he once protected and the world gets flushed down the crapper.
Our once-valiant hero is gone, replaced by a remorseless, red-skinned killing machine. As Amon vents his rage against the entire planet sunlit flashbacks to happier times with Miki remind Akira of everything he has lost. The story is one long cry of rage and pain likely to resonate, as Nagai intended, with many a frustrated adolescent. Nagai shows us prejudice and blind hatred are the real demons in society but also argues emotional turmoil is no excuse for us to lash out against the world. Takeshita and Ashida maintain a nerve-shredding level of suspense throughout but save their most savage imagery for gut-wrenching emotional moments. If you always wanted to see Devilman hurl a huge freakin' bullet train to knock a demon through a skyscraper that splits in half, well, you got it but the plot is really about Akira trying to save his soul and not give in to Satan. A later plot twist gives us the Devilman equivalent of the Clark Kent vs. Kal-El battle in Superman III (1983) when Akira splits into good and evil halves that rip each other to shreds as he tries to reconcile his tortured psyche. It is violent as hell yet also poetic.