In an age where cute moe girls are enrapturing modern otaku under the potent narcotic power of “kyun~,” finding a good action anime is like finding a piece of pure gold in a deep pit of fetid shit. But there used to be an era where that kind of anime was plentiful. Based on a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, directed by acclaimed director Yoshiaki Kawajiri and animated by legendary animation studio MADHOUSE, Demon City Shinjuku (a.k.a. “Makai Toshi Shinjuku“) is a film born from that awesome era. Its vintage: 1988.
Like most anime of the time, it took a few years for Demon City Shinjuku to cross the ocean and eventually see a release in the United States. Although I can’t find a definite date, most resources seem to point to 1993. It was published by U.S. Manga Corps., a branch of the recently extinct Central Park Media. Demon City Shinjuku was also broadcast on cable, back in the day, by the Sci-Fi Channel. While I did watch some of the anime and OAVs Sci-Fi aired, I never caught this one. Because of that, it took me an even longer time to notice Demon City due to its fading into obscurity. But after finally watching it, I wondered why I didn’t pick it up sooner.
Like most awesome fightin’ movies, this one starts off with a good fight. The lone hero, Genichiro, faces off against the evil Rebi Ra on the rooftops of Shinjuku. Rebi Ra shows off all of the fancy-cool evil powers he’s gained from being possessed by demons: shooting lasers from his sword, quick regeneration and ripping open chasms in the ground. Sadly, the neck-bearded Genichiro and his magical wooden sword skills called “Nempo” are no match for him. After killing Genichiro, Rebi Ra proclaims his victory and the fact that in ten years’ time the world will become Hell. It’s a cheesy scene, but it works well.
The story then shifts forward ten years to Kyoya Iyazoi, son of Genichiro, who is almost immediately characterized as an uncaring perverted hothead, wolfing down his noodles at a restaurant watching the TV news of the world president’s arrival in Japan while flirting with the restaurant’s hostess. The world president arrives safely with his lovely daughter Sayaka, but unfortunately was given a bouquet of flowers, which Kyoya immediately senses as dangerous, and the president is trapped by the flowery grip of vine-like tentacles.
After this, Kyoya seems to go along with his daily routine. After a day of training kids and their fencing skills, he takes a moment of privacy in the darkness to practice his own somewhat crappy skills. He is soon visited by the astral projection of Aguni Rai, Genichiro’s and Rebi Ra’s master who fills him in on the excruciatingly long-winded details and implores Kyoya to take up arms and defeat Rebi Ra for the sake of the world. Kyoya declines, packs his stuff, and goes home.
As funny as it would be for the movie to end there, they unfortunately find a way to change his mind. While Kyoya is riding his bike home he comes across a cute girl who’s looking for him. She happens to be the president’s daughter, Sayaka. She begs and begs him to please help her defeat Rebi Ra and save the world, and that he’s the only one who can do it. Yet again, he declines. She says she’s going to go anyway and Kyoya advises her not to as she will die and decides to go along his merry way.
Soon after, that “crazy dumb girl” goes in to the titular city all by her lonesome self even though she’s the usual super-submissive girl you tend to see in these flicks. She then meets some thugs who seem to have a thing for having their way with her while asking about for Rebi Ra. Just as these thugs are getting started having their way with her, Kyoya appears, having followed the hollow-headed dame.
The lead thug goes “Well well well, what’s the matter? Do you want to take her away and fuck her yourself?” This probably isn’t far from the truth considering how the whole hero thing works (i.e. Save Princess, Get Poonani). He beats the thugs, gives the girl a stern lecture and off they go on their quest to defeat Rebi Ra.
From that point on their adventure through the city takes them into various situations and encounters with some of the few people left alive in the area, all while being attacked by Rebi Ra’s demons up until the inevitable fight to the death with the man himself. Even though the characters in this movie are, as you’d expect from a movie like this, as flat as cardboard, and the story plays out in a straightforward monster-of-the-moment format, it isn’t without its moments; ranging from the slightly gruesome death scene of the first demon, a powerful spider/man thing, to the somewhat hilarious end to a scene where Kyoya and Sayaka share a bed.
One of my favorite parts is the scene in a pool hall where Mephisto, a suspicious doctor who likens the follies of man to that of demons, fights against one of the other demons protecting Rebi Ra, a creepy shape shifting tentacle monster who turns into a red-headed dame. She was heading off to fight Kyoya, but Mephisto stops her and they begin exchanging flirty-yet-threatening dialog. As they get close she wraps him up in her tentacles and he tries to show her that he isn’t what he seems, coolly tossing a surgical knife that stabs in her shoulder. This doesn’t affect her and she tries to burn him with her acidic kiss, but alas, the knife was rigged to explode.
Recovering from the explosion she faces off with him. Mephisto jumps over the pool table, knocking the white ball into the others, while the demon wraps him up again and they fall onto the bar counter. He asks her what the effects of mixing alcohol and acid would be while shoving a bottle down her throat. She violently explodes and he calmly gives us a philosophical monologue on how the city is not unlike the myth of Pandora’s Box and how this box may be opened here and now. It’s such a cool and well-done scene.
The mood it sets is perfect and highlights what I feel is a strong point of this movie, a strong sense of atmosphere.
The background art is beautifully drawn and fairly detailed in some areas. Mostly using darker and muted palettes, it really highlights the bleakness of the situation at hand.
The animation is also very nice and detailed, although it’s bit too stiff for my tastes outside of the ridiculously detailed animation in a few scenes. It also helps that the character designs, by director Yoshiaki Kawajiri himself, fit really well. Sure, most, if not all, of the characters are flat, but their design bring out the best of them.
Finally, the soundtrack: when it’s not blaring 80s pop music, it’s somewhat minimalistic. Often it’s simply a bit of background noise, or some deep ominous tones to induce suspense. It’s nice and simple, but it works.
Also, I’d like to note that the English dub work in this anime is fantastic. Not in the way where they actually did a good job, mind you, but rather it’s so bad that it actually adds to the character of the film. Sure, some of the voices are lazily delivered, and they added a few F-bombs here and there, but besides that their choice of words really bring out the best of whatever is happening in the present scene. Sometimes even more so than the original dialog. There are so many choice lines in the film that you’re bound to get at least a giggle or two.
Demon City Shinjuku may be a forgotten relic from the past to most otaku these days, but it’s definitely a great watch. The plot may be as straight as an arrow, but it is a fun ride while it lasts. Despite the violence being a little too clean for my tastes, it’s a tasty little treat from a time where they didn’t have to jiggle a teat or flash some lace every chance they get for the guys watching their cartoons. It’s not as mind-blowing as some of the other stuff released in 1988, but compared with some of the stuff that’s coming out now, it’s gold.