The Apocalypse OVA isn’t just violent, it positively revels in that violence.
Devilman Crybaby might have been the adaptation that finally brought Go Nagai’s seminal 1972 manga Devilman to the attention of Western fandom, but it’s far from the first time it’s been animated. The original manga–which tells the story of Akira Fudo, a youth of pure and virtuous nature who fuses with a demon to fight against the demons invading Earth, and his best friend Ryo Asuka, who is actually Satan but forgot–is brilliant but incredibly messy, with odd pacing and loose ends, which makes it an ideal candidate for adaptation. There are two OVAs, released in 1987 and 1990, that are generally considered to be excellent–sadly, they only covered the manga up until the fight with Jinmen, as budget issues kept the final OVA that would have concluded the series from making it past the planning stage.
There is, however, a third OVA, released in 2000. Not only is Amon: Apocalypse of Devilman not a conclusion to the other two OVAs, it’s actually not an adaptation of the Devilman manga proper at all. It loosely covers the first volume of the spinoff/alternate universe manga by the same name, created by Yu Kinutani and beginning serialization in 1999. In the Apocalypse manga, Akira is consumed by despair after the murder of his friend and love interest Miki Makimura, and loses control of his body to its original owner, the demon Amon. Enraged that he was trapped within a human, Amon goes on a rampage to take revenge on the one who caused it–the Demon God Satan, who used him as a vessel to ensure their beloved Akira could survive in a new world ruled by demons.
There is a mental image that people unfamiliar with the Devilman franchise tend to have of it–gory, mindless pulp, hyperviolent and hypersexualized. It’s not hard to see how someone could make the misunderstanding–the unflinching violence was one of the things that made the original Devilman as groundbreaking as it was, after all–but that’s far from all there is to it. There’s a reason it’s remembered above, say, Harenchi Gakuen or Violence Jack. At its heart, Devilman is an impassioned cry against militarism–Akira’s true strength stems from his human heart and his desire to protect the weak, even while his demon blood craves battle. Humanity’s downfall is brought about not by the demon invasion, but by human infighting–the demons need only plant the seeds of suspicion in people’s minds to drive them to genocide and witch hunts in the name of rooting out malcontents who could turn into demons. Satan originally sided with the demons because they sympathized with their desire to live, even as creatures outside of God’s design, and they’re filled with guilt when they realize their war against humanity to return Earth to the demons stemmed from the same impulse as God’s attempt to eradicate demonkind. Devilman is apocalyptically violent and deeply bleak, to be sure, but more than anything it’s tragic.
This is not what the Apocalypse OVA is like. Sure, there are glimpses of it here and there, but for the most part, it’s as if they decided to make a Devilman exactly like that uninformed mental image. The Apocalypse OVA isn’t just violent, it positively revels in that violence. In the original manga, there’s always a purpose to it, but the OVA is just plain gratuitous. The very first scene is a perfect example. Devilmen Yumi and Mico lure a demon into an alley to kill it, only for it to overpower the two girls. Yumi is knocked unconscious, and Mico is brutalized in an uncomfortably sexual fashion–a phallic bulge bursts from between the demon’s legs, and he pulls Mico by the legs as though to tear her in half, camera lingering on her crotch as she screams in pain, before she’s swung repeatedly against a building. This scene is original to the OVA, and it serves no purpose. It’s certainly unpleasant to watch, but less because it displays the cruelty of the demons and more because one gets the impression whoever storyboarded it enjoyed it a bit too much.
Violence against women is a recurring theme in the OVA, as a matter of fact. Amon tears the breasts off a demon and eats them. Yumi is grotesquely devoured, camera lingering on her lifeless face. And of course, there is Miki’s death. The witch hunt is one of the most iconic scenes from the manga–the Makimura home is assaulted by her neighbors while she, her brother, and the gang member Masa unsuccessfully try to hold them off. It’s Miki’s scene–despite her initial hesitance to hurt people she once trusted, she quickly realizes that they no longer see her as human, and the only way she’ll get out alive is by embracing that. With no other options left to her, she fights for her life with molotov cocktails and knives, but she’s outnumbered by too large a margin. Miki sees her brother killed, then Masa, and the world collapses into pure terror as the mob closes in on her. Her death is pure subjective impressionism, from Miki’s own perspective rather than an outside one that might be objectifying or titillating–the mob fades to swirling black as her body tears itself in two, shattered by a scream.
The Apocalypse manga begins after Miki’s death, but it is included in the OVA–unfortunately, that version of it strips Miki of all her agency, despite being less explicitly violent than the original. Rather than an all-out assault, the attackers sneak in silently. Miki never has a chance to fight back; she barely even knows what’s happening before the mob has her. Her death is depicted only as her legs flailing while she screams, before falling limp–not only isolating us from her perspective, but actually putting us in that of an attacker. Miki’s death happens so that Akira will lose his strength to fight–it’s not about her, it’s about him.
This focus on Akira is another way in which the OVA diverges from the Apocalypse manga. Akira doesn’t appear in the manga until the last few pages–it’s not about him, but about the effect he has on others, whether it’s the bravery he inspires in his allies or the selfless, self-defeating love Satan feels for him. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with shifting attention back to Akira and his feelings for Miki, it comes at the expense of these other threads and does little but retread his most basic character arc to reach a trite conclusion.
In the OVA, when Amon comes face to face with Satan, the Demon God reawakens Akira so that he can fight Amon for dominance of his body from inside his psyche. Akira–as Devilman–is initially pummeled before slipping into a dream where he apologizes to Miki for causing her death. She kisses him, offering him silent forgiveness, before vanishing. This gives Akira the strength to stand up again and defeat Amon to reclaim his body, in a scene that has astonishingly little impact considering it’s the climax. Miki is used as a device to motivate Akira once again, Satan’s only animated appearance until Crybaby is put to waste, and Akira’s motivation becomes “fighting for the memory of the one he loved.” Compare this to the original manga, where Akira fights his former friend to the death over a barren rock because without that hatred, he’d have nothing left to keep him going. Or compare it to the Apocalypse manga, where Satan tears Amon to shreds without so much as moving and reinstates Akira to his body with a kiss, saving the only real threat to them because they love him too much to see him die, even knowing Akira hates them. The narrative of the OVA isn’t nearly as complex or interesting as either. It’s been done before–and done better–countless times.
It’s hard to imagine who it’s even meant for–it would be incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with the manga, but it doesn’t seem interested in telling a story that expands on the themes of the original in any meaningful way either. It’s nothing but mindless violence. Devilman is so much more than just blood, death, and titties, but you’d never know from the Apocalypse OVA.