UROTSUKIDOJI - Mania.com



DVD Review

0 Comments | Add

 

Rate & Share:

 

Related Links:

 

Info:

UROTSUKIDOJI

A legendary piece of adult anime, present uncut, in all its gory glory

By Steve Biodrowski     June 10, 2001


Amano, the ambiguous hero of Urotsukidoji.
© 1993 Central Park Media
The Urotsukidoji saga has attained a certain legendary statussome might prefer the word 'notoriety'for its animated depictions of graphic sex and violence. The OVA (original video animation) series has developed a considerable cult following, both in spite of and because of its X-rated nature. The first two series in this four-part saga are now available from Anime 18 (a division of Central Park Media) in a two-disc set DVD set (replacing a previous laserdisc release) that is called the 'Perfect Collection.' The supplemental materials on these DVDs are minimal, but the set is worth having just for the videos themselves, which features some of those most mind-blowing, incredible, and shocking imagery you're ever going to see. Put it this way: After you've watched Urotsukidoji, no one can ever again say to you, 'You'll never believe the movie I saw last night,' because you'll be able to come right back at them with, 'Oh, that ain't nothinglet me tell you about Urotsukidoji.'

THE EPISODES

If you've ever tried to rent or watch tapes from this series, you've probably run into considerable confusion. This is because the overall Urotsukidoji saga is divided into four mini-series, each with its own title, and those mini-series are themselves divided into individual episodes, also with discrete titles. To make matters more confusing, each mini-series has been edited into its own feature-length version (with much footage omitted), and these 'feature films' are also available on video. Consequently, it is completely possible to find an hour-and-a-half video titled Legend of the Overfiend on your video store shelves right beside another video titled Legend of the Overfiend, Episode One: The Birth of the Overfiend. Unless you're really paying attention, you might not realize that the second video contains essentially the first half-hour of what you would see on the first video.

The Perfect Collection contains the first two mini-series: Legend of the Overfiend and Legend of the Demon Womb, one on each disc. Overfiend, on Disc One, is divided into three episodes: 'Birth of the Overfiend,' 'Curse of the Overfiend,' and 'Final Inferno.' On Disc Two, Demon Womb is divided into the episodes 'Legend of the Demon Womb' (another source of confusion as the mini-series title and the first episode's title are identical) and 'Battle at the Shinjuku Skyscrapers.'

[IMG2R]

Urotsukidoji is built around the premise that the world is divided into three realms, inhabited respectively by humans, demons, and man-animals. In a cycle of destruction and rebirth, the Chojin (or Overfiend) is reborn from the human world every 3,000 years, in order to unite the three separate realms. In Legend of the Overfiend, we are introduced to Amano Jaku and his sister Megumi, inhabitants of the man-animal world who have come to our human world in order to await the birth of the Overfiend. Amano Jaku eagerly anticipates this event, which he believes will launch a new era of peace when the three realms have been united. Meanwhile, various demons are also on Earth, attempting to prevent this very event from occurring. Much of the action is built around battles between Amano Jaku and the demons, as each side tries to predict which of the human characters will transmute into the Chojin.

Caught in the crossfire are a variety of candidates, but in a twist, it turns out that the Chojin will not be born from this generation; instead, innocent teenagers Nagumo and Akemi will conceive the Chojin. Unfortunately, this entails Nagumo's transformation into a Godzilla-sized demonic monster who must first destroy the world as we know it in order to pave the way for the reunited world that will follow.

This complex story plays out as a series of violent battles and sexual encounters, each on its own easily enough to garner an NC-17 rating; the cumulative effect is almost unbelievable. What is really incredible, however, is that the human dimension is never lost amidst the excess of blood and semen. An air of inevitability hangs over the proceedings: Human beings are duped by demonic forces, but fail to carry out their plans when sentiment stays their hands; throughout the story, Nagumo and Akemi fall in love, but their long-delayed sexual union conceives the Overfiend; Amano Jaku fights to protect the coming of the 'God of Gods' but ultimately realizes that the Chojin is truly a demon of destruction, not a savior. In short, every attempt, good or evil, to thwart the destiny in motion, fails miserably. This elements helps elevate the story to the level of dramatic tragedy.

During Legend of the Overfiend, Amano Jaku receives a prophetic glimpse of the future, a time when people flee in fear of the Chojin. This is his first indication that the destiny he hopes to see fulfilled will not turn out the way he expects, but don't expect any elaboration on that destiny in Legend of the Demon Womb. This two-part mini-series actually takes a step backward in order to fill in more exposition and thus set the stage for subsequent mini-series.

Strangely, Demon Womb is not exactly a prequel (except for a prologue set near the end of World War II). Instead, it seems to take place at some point during the continuity of Legend of the Overfiend, but I would defy anyone to find a way to edit the two together to make sense. The events of Demon Womb are simply too catastrophic to have occurred off-screen at some time in between the scenes presented in Overfiend. As if to account for this, there is a brief moment near the very end that shows Nagumo walking home alone, asking himself, 'How did I get here?' Presumably, we're supposed to believe he has forgotten all the events of Demon Womb and therefore accept that that's why these events were not shown during Overfiend.

If one ignores the continuity problem, Demon Womb stands fairly well on its own as another entry in the Urotsukidoji saga. In this story, Takeaki, a friend of Nagumo, is chosen by Munchausen the Second (written as Munhi Hausen II in the subtitles) to be the Lord of Chaos, who will oppose the Overfiend. Given a transfusion of Nagumo's blood (after a plane crash arranged by Munhi Hausen), Takeaki soon mutates into monstrous form and begins a rape-and-murder spree he is unable to stop (much like the Wolf Man, he is unable to control his alter ego). The story climaxes with a battle between Nagumo and Takeaki, but the final fadeout makes clear that this is merely a prelude for later developments. As in the first mini-series, an air of inevitability hangs heavily over the proceedings, lending a sense of tragedy that infuses the sexual violence with some kind of dramatic resonance, turning even the most horrible excesses into dramatic plot points. This is horror taken to almost the ultimate degree, but it is seldom if ever simply gratuitous.

[IMG3R]

Taken together, Legend of the Overfiend and Legend of the Demon Womb represent some of the most twisted imaginative ravings ever committed to celluloid. A catalogue of the sex and violence would defy credibility; this is something you just have to see to believe. The inconclusive nature of these two mini-series is frustrating. This is particularly the case with Demon Womb, which clearly exists to lay the groundwork for future developments. Ironically, Overfiend, the previous mini-series, seems somehow less incomplete. The exhausting nature of the action makes viewers willing to accept an ending that implies the horrific details to come without actually subjecting us to them.

The animation is typical for anime standards of the era (ten to thirteen years ago, depending on each episode). Often, the animation seems limited; emotions and characterization are conveyed through poses, fixed expressions, and lighting. On the other hand, much effort goes into the set piece scenes, which results in heavy-duty visceral impact. There is the occasional use of repeated footage, and sometimes a cycle of drawings is used over and over to convey a continued piece of (usually sexual) action, sometimes flopped left to right to 'disguise' the repetition.

With a combined running time of 250 minutes, these two mini-series contain something like forty minutes of footage not seen in the feature-length re-edits. Much of this is recapitulation, as each new episode begins with a rehash of what came before, but there are also several new sequences that will alternately shock or delight viewers (depending on your point of view). These new scenes don't affect the overall plot to a great degree, but they do work well within the context of an episodic structure, broken up by stops and starts. With the continuity already interrupted, extra discursions and tangents are less disruptive than they would have been in the feature-length versions.

THE DISCS

The Perfect Collection presents these two mini-series on two separate discs, contained in a slightly fatter than usual box, featuring some original artwork not seen in the actual episodes but suggesting the sexual nature of their content. The full screen image is as sharp and colorful as you could expect, and the sound is presented in Dolby Digital stereo. You get only the original Japanese dialogue (no English dubbing), with the option of watching with or without subtitles. These English subtitles sometimes clash with previous Japanese subtitles (seen when characters are speaking German, for example); otherwise, they are clearly preferable to an English-language track.

Each disc begins with a stern advisory: 'Warning: Viewer Discretion Strongly Advised,' below which is some small type insisting that the violent and/or sexual nature of the material to follow should be viewed only by those over eighteen. This is immediately followed with another card that states, 'Absolutely No Minors!'not a redundant warning about viewers but a disclaimer about the age of the characters depicted. These warnings play out every time you insert either disc into the machine, or when you access the trailers (which contain many graphic scenes). These disclaimers can be frustrating for those over 18, but if they keep lawsuits from would-be censors at bay, then it's worth it, I suppose.

After sitting through this (you cannot fast-foward), you finally get to the main menu, which offers the same features on both discs. (Although this might seem redundant, you will appreciate being able to access the features without having to change discs and, consequently, sit through the disclaimers yet again.) The menus are not interactive. Instead, each menu option is presented on top of a still-frame image from the episodes. The main menu gives you buttons for Subtitles, Play Program, Select Scene, Meet Mr. Maeda, Promo Page, DVD Rom, and Want More.

The Select Scene options gives you access to the chapter stops, which are somewhat limited. Each episode (three on the first disc, two on the second) is divided into only four chapters, and of those, there is one for the opening credits and one for the closing creditswhich doesn't leave much for scene-specific chapters. Additionally, the chapters are titled but not illustrated, and the titles give little indication of their content. Consequently, you will still find yourself jumping around and fast-fowarding quite a bit to find your favorite scenes.

The 'Meet Mr. Maeda' button takes you to a brief description of the career of Toshio Maeda, who created the Urotsukidoji manga that were eventually adapted into the anime videos. He is also responsible for several other familiar anime titles, including La Blue Girl. The Promo Page contains a list of comics for sale from the distributor, plus a montage of trailers set to a fast-paced piece of background music (which will be familiar to anyone who has seen previous Central Park Media DVD releases). Included are scenes from all four Urotsukidoji series, plus La Blue Girl, Demon Beast Invasion, Adventure Kid, and some soundtrack CD images, also for sale.

Also available is an option called 'Anime Artform,' which gives brief background information on the history of anime. You'll hear why the characters have big eyes (they look friendly), why there are so many different hair colors (it makes the characters easier to distinguish), and why female characters speak in high-pitched voices (it's considered more feminine). You may be amused to hear the gentle narrator's voice using phrases like 'cultural and historical background' in connection with an anime whose appeal resides in almost non-stop sex and violence, but you will really find yourself laughing at the reason for the depiction of naked characters without pubic hair: Until recently, it was illegal, and an informal consensus has formed due to fears of adverse reaction. Adverse reaction to pubic hair? You mean it's all right to portray a woman raped in every bodily orifice by a demon with multiple phallic tentaclesas long as you don't show any pubic hair? What's up with that?

Finally, the DVD-Rom page offers a link to Central Park Media, where you can access comics and an art gallery. And the Want More page provides separate trailers for several other Central Park titles available on DVD, including Demon City Shinjuku, Beast City, and Midnight Panther.

Conclusions

Like it or not, Urotsukidoji is a landmark of Japanese animation. Its depictions of sex and violence (particularly sexual violence against women) are not for every taste, but their impact is undeniable. In some ways, this series is the motherlode of horror stories, going farther than anyone else would ever dare to imagine (Hellraiser is a gentle fairy tale by comparison). As such, Urotsukidoji deserves credit for fusing its visual excesses to struggle of epic scope between cataclysmic forces beyond the control of helpless humanity. Beneath all the lurid trappings, there really is something of substance here, even if it is the visceral impact that forms the major appeal of the series.

The Perfect Collection DVD bills itself as complete and uncut. The later is true, even if the former is not. There are still two other mini-series (Rebirth of the Overfiend and Inferno Road) that are available in other forms. A truly complete collection of this monumental saga does not yet exist, but don't let that stop you from picking up this DVD set. It's absolutely wild beyond imagining.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES



Be the first to add a comment to this article!


ADD A COMMENT

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Please click here to login.

POPULAR TOPICS