Friday, December 16, 2011


It turns out public generosity can give complex Tezuka manga second printings, so where's the love for our other lost English-edition manga treasures? Like, say, DEVILMAN: THE DEVIL'S INCARNATION, out of print now for 24 years?

Just like the Beelzebub of legend, Devilman has appeared in many forms - as the blue-skinned superhero of a Toei TV cartoon, in two late-80s OVAs, co-starring with Mazinger Z in the high-art cinema MAZINGER Z VS DEVILMAN, as a devil-munchkin in CB CHARA GO NAGAI WORLD, in games for the NES and PSX, and as the star of his own live-action film. And as a lady. The manga career of Devilman spans 52 chapters serialized in the venerable SHONEN MAGAZINE, a update/remake/reboot titled SHIN DEVILMAN from '79, and appearances in other Go Nagai manga like VIOLENCE JACK. As an apocalyptic, H.P. Lovecraft-meets-the Hell's Angels story of immensely powerful beings from beyond the laws of time and space annhilating each other with savage fury, DEVILMAN can be a sacireligious ultraviolent adventure story or as a sobering reminder of the insignificant part human beings play in the larger cosmos.

look out for that elephant guy

But apart from the shoddy floppy-comic release of SHIN DEVILMAN by Glen "Small Man Syndrome" Danzig's Verotik, the original DEVILMAN manga has never been translated or released in English. Except when it has! In 1986 Nagai's own Dynamic Productions released a 200+page trade-paperback edition of DEVILMAN in English. THE DEVIL'S INCARNATION was translated, charmingly hand-lettered, flopped to read Western-style, has a garish color cover, and would have been great to see in the mall bookstores of America alongside the Donning/Starblaze ELFQUEST color books, WATCHMEN, and, in a few years, Go Nagai's full-color painted MAZINGER graphic novel.

pretty much a whole book of custom-van paintings of monster robots

THE DEVIL'S INCARNATION delivers the manga-reading experience magnificently; sized for the American book market, it had great potential to deliver a one-two manga punch to readers and maybe even get "the manga boom" started a decade or so early. DEVILMAN's failure was in distribution. Meaning, there wasn't any. I found my copy in the mid 90s, hidden in a shelf of marked-down books in the back of a record store. This is not what I call "promotion". Was this ever distributed in a reasonable fashion? How did it end up in Criminal Records? Why did Dynamic Productions insert itself mysteriously into American publishing and then just as mysteriously vanish?

mild-mannered Akira Fudo, reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper

The story, for those as yet untouched by Devilman, is that Akira Fudo, a well-known crybaby and wuss, is visited by his best friend Ryo, who convinces him to merge with the devil Amon. And with friends like that who needs enemies? The combination of Akira and Amon becomes Devilman, sworn to defeat the legions of devils that existed long before mankind and who lay slumbering in the depths of the earth, Lovecraft style.

Devilman, I choose YOU

Go Nagai's artwork still retains the cutesy cartoony "Shameless School" look, but when things get real you can see the brushline vibrate and the ink start to get all intense. By the time Akira and Ryo are slugging back whiskey in a basement full of half-naked hippies doomed to be possessed by hideous demons, we have moved into new and disturbing manga territory.

Certainly this is not what Americans were expecting from their Japanese comics in 1986 - if it didn't have slick Studio Nue mecha and cute pastel-accented idol singers then America simply wasn't interested, thanks. Alternatively, had an enterprising publisher delivered DEVILMAN to American audiences in 1972, the decadent, violent saga would fit perfectly with your Stooges records and your 42nd Street grindhouse shockers.

raw power can destroy a man
Viewers of the excellent 1987 DEVILMAN: THE BIRTH video know where the story goes - the Akira/Amon combo defeats a room full of grotesque monsters and realizes his devil-fighting destiny. That's how DEVILMAN: THE DEVIL'S INCARNATION ends, Akira and a battered, unconscious Ryo surrounded by the bloody remnants of a devil army, wondering what the future holds. That's a good question. Will this be the only representation given to 45 years of Go Nagai's manga in North America? Or will there emerge a publisher with taste and vision to deliver the raw power of DEVILMAN once again to the English-language world?

Thanks to Mike Toole for inventing the phrase "Devilman Saves Christmas". Happy Holidays to all and see you in 2012!

2020 UPDATE: Yes, Satan and/or Seven Seas Entertainment heard our pleas and DEVILMAN has at last received a proper English language release here in the West - one you don't need to haunt used bookstores to find! Thanks, Seven Seas!

-Dave Merrill

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Anonymous said...

I love the Devilman Manga. Hippie Death Orgies beat radioactive Spiders and being born on another planet every time.

Anonymous said...

"Drink up. The whiskey's been drugged."

That is a very difficult book to find...even I don't have a copy ^_^


Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas to you too! I hope I will see your answer about Ranpou in 2012.

d.merrill said...

Not really sure what the question is/was, but thanks anyway.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I'm sure there were many questions asked to you Dave over the years you haven't gotten to, but perhaps you'll find time for them in the coming year!

See you!

Devilman7 said...

Ugggh I am a hardcore Devilman fan! I didnt know the manga was ever released here in some way. I only knew about the bilingual mangas which are also extremely rare and I was lucky to get myself a full set. I really want this book though, any ideas on how I can snag myself a copy of this Merrill?

Salvatore said...

Excellent post! Devilman doesn't get enough love in the states. Although you can find tons of Devilman figurines all over NYC (usually in the village).

I'd love for some Devilman to be released in the states. The OVAs need a rerelease without the cruddy dub. The original TV series would be excellent too, but a hard sell.

Anonymous said...

"Drink up. The whiskey's been drugged."

Indeed, Carl.

Keep acting like Black Sabbath.


Anonymous said...

Being a Devilman/Go Nagai fan myself, I gotta say I am very excited with your post. Please, write more on the Master's awesome work, it is truly worth it.

Anonymous said...

As a fellow Devilman/Go Nagai fan myself, I am very excited with this post. Lets hope that one day we'll see the Master's work finally published in English (Devilman, Devilman Lady, Violence Jack, Cutie Honey, Kekko Kamen, Abashiri Ikka, Shameless School, Mazinger Z, etc.).

Alex Cohen said...

I've never read the manga, but I've seen the Devilman ovas. The first two were pretty awesome, but that third one... man, was it out there!

Undergrounded said...

I have a copy in good shape...will be listing it on ebay today!