I was browsing the manga section of a local bookstore recently when I stumbled upon Devilman Grimoire Vol. 1. Having watched and enjoyed Netflix’s new addition to the franchise, Devilman Crybaby, not long beforehand, I decided it was a good time to check out an alternate take on the mythos. Grimoire features writing by original Devilman creator Go Nagai and artwork by Rui Takato, and is published by Seven Seas Entertainment. How does this version of the classic horror saga stand up next to the rest? Is it good?
At a first glance, Devilman Grimoire has many of the core elements the franchise is known for. Constant over-the-top nudity, violence, and gore fill the volume’s pages, and body horror is so frequent that it feels unusual to go five pages without seeing intestines peeking out of a mutilated corpse, or some other such disgusting image. With that said, Grimoire also takes some liberties with the series’ lore; rather than Ryo Asuka, it’s Miki Makimura who sets into place the events leading up to protagonist Akira Fudo’s possession by the demon Amon. In this version, Miki is a witch, which puts a unique spin on her character, and it’s nice to see her get so much narrative focus.
With that said, Devilman Grimoire doesn’t just differ from other franchise installments in its plot, but in its quality level as well. To put it bluntly, this volume just isn’t good. It feels like the creative team took most of the franchise’s identifying style marks and sapped out all of the actually interesting philosophical questions and subtext. It wouldn’t be fair to critique Grimoire solely for lacking other Devilman media’s thematic concerns, but when those themes lack adequate replacements, there’s a problem. What’s missing here is a reason to care; the volume may technically have a narrative arc but I felt little emotional response to any of the action, be it rising or falling.
Part of my lack of enthusiasm for this volume stems from how little development its characters get. Miki gets some solid focus up-front, but she blends into the background more as the story progresses. Akira, meanwhile, barely feels like a protagonist–he’s more or less just a vessel for Amon so far, and nothing interesting is done with that internal conflict. The villains don’t prove any more interesting, as their past knowledge of Amon is glossed over and a lot of the fight scenes don’t have well-defined reasons for taking place. Takato’s artwork at least livens things up a bit with over-the-top facial expressions, but even the visuals suffer from a lack of clarity and frequent overcrowded page compositions.
Overall, Devilman Grimoire Vol. 1 is a disappointing read. All the stylistic hallmarks of Devilman are present, but the usual character depth and thematic concerns are absent. That’s not to say that Grimoire bores because it is different from other iterations of the franchise so much as it just doesn’t deliver anything poignant in its own right. The art has some upsides and certain aspects of the premise show promise, but otherwise this is a forgettable volume.