Demon Lord Dante Vol.1: Dante Resurrects Review
Manga to Anime adaptations are the bread and butter of the animation industry in Japan, but Demon Lord Dante took a little longer than most Mangas to make it to Anime form – almost 32 years to be exact. Back in 1971 a young Manga-ka (Manga writer) by the name of Go Nagai started a Manga series about a teenager merging with a huge demon to do battle with the human race. Combine gory horror with a heavy dose of action, nudity and explicit violence, Demon Lord Dante was deemed too graphic for Anime at the time and thus was never picked up. Not that it knocked Go Nagai off his stride, within one year he went on to become one of the most famous and influential Manga and Anime creators of all time with the release of not one but three immensely iconic Mangas: Devilman, Mazinger Z and Cutie Honey. They’re series that need no introduction, Devilman refined Demon Lord Dante’s premise to create one of the biggest series of the 70’s. Mazinger Z single-handedly created the Giant-Robot boom of the 70’s and 80’s, culminating in the epic Neon Genesis Evangelion. Cutie Honey kickstarted the Magical Girl concept and would be re-imagined years later by Evangelion creators GAINAX in New Cutey honey. So Demon Lord Dante isn’t your ordinary action-horror series, this one has a major pedigree and a long history behind it.
Ryo Utsugi is a brooding 18yr old suffering from horrible recurring nightmares. In them he witnesses the resurrection of a huge monster from beneath the Himalayan mountainside, a horde of demons butchering a race of cavemen and also sees himself growing into a gargantuan form in the middle of Tokyo. When these visions extend into daytime and evolve into premonitions of a young woman’s murder at the hands of a gruesome demon, he starts to wonder if he could be possessed by evil and begins and investigation into a series of murders in which each victim was found with their hearts ripped out. However, what Ryo discovers about himself is more horrendous than he could ever have imagined, for he is fated to resurrect the Demon Lord Dante, the king of monsters who has been trapped in a ice hell for over two thousand years.
It’s certainly been a while since I saw a good old-fashioned monster Anime – you know the type, ridiculous plotlines, even more ridiculous monster fights, non-existent characterisation and mountains of cheesy dialogue. Demon Lord Dante is undoubtedly a show stuck in a timewarp, with the production studio going to great pains to recreate the feel of the original Manga, from it’s mostly cell-shaded animation to the muted colour palette and atypically Go Nagai character designs complete with fluffy mutton chops for the male characters, everything about the show just screams 1970’s. This of course is a double edged sword. On the one hand it evokes a wonderful feeling of nostalgia within Anime viewers familiar with these older shows, but on the other it introduces the many plot contrivances and hokey dramatics that newer, slicker series ironed out a long time ago. Demon lord Dante is an EXTREMELY cheesy show, your enjoyment of the series depends on how high your tolerance for a bit of stilton is - I mean we’re talking about a story that starts off as a paranormal murder mystery and turns into some sort of neo-gothic war between demons and mankind, incorporating the mythology of various cultures but eschewing most of this rich, vivid history and imagery to focus on a teenager merging with a giant furball. If it wasn’t for Dante’s impressive set of gnashers he’d look quite cuddly really. Then we have the walking geyser of histrionics that Ryo Utsugi is, his sole characteristic seems to be that he’s a bit of a moody git who’s prone to spasms of uncontrollable laughter and sneering. Take the opening scene of the show for instance, after suffering his latest nightmare about the resurrection of the Demon Lord he wakes up screaming only to be comforted by his nubile 15yr old sister Saori – obviously there for some token incestuous suggestiveness – she informs him that it was nothing but a bad dream and as soon as she leaves the room Ryo’s face suddenly contorts into a sneer that Ming the Merciless would be proud of as his inner monologue camply reveals it’s not the only horrible nightmare he’s had lately. There’s just no context for this sort of menacing behaviour so early in the show and although this was probably an attempt at a moody opener it ended up warning me not to take proceedings seriously at all. Talk about bad first impressions!
After this I just let go and prepared myself for an hour and half of hokiness and ended up laughing quite heartily at times during each episode on volume one - which was probably not what the creators intended - but the narrative does have a lot of drive right through the four episodes, with enough plot revelations kicking in to ensure the pace never lags, yet I can’t deny that Demon Lord Dante hasn’t gotten off to a particularly good start, the series will have to improve dramatically to convince me that it was worth resurrecting from its 1971 Manga grave. Philestine that I am I’ve never the original Devilman, just the one episode of the remake years ago, so I cannot comment on how Dante compares to this mighty classic, but given given Devilman’s reputation, I remain highly doubtful that it suffers from the many flaws Demon Lord Dante does.
While I have tried my best not to reveal too much about each episode in these synopses, please bare in mind that the second episode and onwards may feature spoilers for the episodes prior.
Episode 1. Nightmare: Suffering from a recurring nightmare about a horrific demon resurrecting from within the Himalayan ice, Ryo Utsugi starts to wonder if he may be possessed by a devil. The one person he confides in is his beloved sister, Saori, who laughs them off as ordinary bad dreams, but Ryo isn’t convinced. The next day his nightmares evolve into horrible premonitions of demons attacking women and things don’t get any better when Ryo’s best friend, Sosuke, bumps into him and reveals that he’s investigating the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful class mate of his. Could she be the one from Ryo’s new premonitions?
Episode 2. Ritual: A mysterious old man steals the Holy Grail and Menorah from the Duomo in Milan, whilst in Cairo a team of men in black robes steal an ancient Sarcophagus. Both robberies appear to have no common link, but when some Japanese police officers are killed trying to stop a group of men from smuggling illegal goods into the country it becomes clear that these worldwide heists are linked to a mysterious new sect that has landed on the shores of Japan. Who they are is unknown, but one thing soon becomes clear – they spell big trouble for Ryo and his family.
Episode 3. Resurrection: With their Black Mass ruined by the Christian strike force, the Satanists decide that one of them must be a traitor, but for now he is of little concern to them for they are too intrigued by the arrival of Ryo Utsugi on the scene. They chose Saori for the ritual because she was a Child of God, but they immediately sensed that Ryo belongs to the demon world just like them, and it doesn’t take them long to realize he may be the key to resurrecting their long lost lord. Their next step is obvious, they must forge a plan to lure Ryo into the path of the sleeping demon king and hope that this confrontation will prove to be the Catalyst in the reawakening of Demon Lord Dante and the start of the war against God.
Episode 4. Madness: After freeing Dante from his icy prison, Ryo and the beast are still at large. His sister Saori refuses to believe anything bad has happened to her brother anxiously awaits his return at home. Kosuke on the other hand is taking a more proactive stance and continues to comb the mountainside for clues on Ryo’s whereabouts, but when a vision from God appears and informs him of Dante’s resurrection the stage is set for the ultimate war between mankind and the demons to finally begin.
PresentationPresented in the original 4:3 ratio, Demon Lord Dante has a very muted colour palette and a rather heavier reliance on cell shaded animation than most contemporary shows - all in keeping with its retro stylization of course. So although Geneons transfer definitely feels rather bland in comparison to their usual output, they’ve still done a very good job with this dreary show. Colours are deep and generally well defined but there are areas exhibiting some minor bleeding – usually when a character is wearing a brightly coloured top among grayish backgrounds. Compression is very solid, but again because of the muted scheme you will spot noise in the greyer shades and mosquito noise in the finer areas. Contrast levels are good, but the brightness levels are not, resulting in quite a dark appeareance and a general lack of any shadow detail in some scenes – again I feel this is intention on the animators’ part though. As for sharpness, well obviously it’s going to be a little softer than what we’re used to, but I thought the image looked reasonably sharp considering the limitations of the design, there is some Edge Enhancement applied but it is extremely minor.
The usual choice of Japanese or English DD2.0 surround is provided here and they are very loud tracks, so loud I found myself cranking the volume DOWN rather than up for once! Having primarily listened to the Japanese track I can report that it’s up to Geneon’s usual standards, dialogue is clear, bass is deep but perhaps a little muffled at times and the dynamics are pretty rich, ensuring that each audio element is nice and clear when there’s a lot going on.
The Japanese track threw up no surprises, but I was a little shocked to discover that the English dub hasn’t been mixed well at all, it may be DD2.0 surround like the Japanese, but for some reason all dialogue has been mixed across every speaker, destroying any spatialisation. Also the entire track is even louder than the overloud Japanese and even then dialogue is higher up in the mix, washing out the score at times. Fortunately (or maybe even unfortunately given that the Japanese actually sounds better for once), the dub itself is pretty good and matches the tone and characters quite well.
Optional English subtitles are present with no spelling or grammatical errors I can recall.