Like a lot of other people, my first exposure to the Devilman franchise was the Netflix original anime Devilman Crybaby from earlier this year. The series immediately grabbed my attention with its over-the-top violence and sexuality, as well as its both its canonical and coded queerness. Ever since then, I’ve been eager to read the series’s original manga incarnation. Thankfully, Seven Seas Entertainment recently came out with their first volume recollecting the series: Devilman: The Classic Collection 1. This hardcover edition includes the first nine chapters of Go Nagai’s horror classic. Is it good?
This volume’s first couple chapters quickly establish the series’s core characters and themes. Nagai introduces the protagonists, Fudo Akira and Asuka Ryo, as well as the concept of ancient demons infiltrating human society. In order to gain the power to stop said demons, Akira merges with the demon Amon to become Devilman. As Devilman, Akira has all of Amon’s physical strength while retaining mental control over their combined body.
These opening chapters are excellent. Akira and Ryo are instantly lovable characters, thanks largely to Nagai’s charming art style and incredible pacing. Both Akira and Ryo frequently have delightfully over-the-top facial expressions, which make the series humorous without undermining its serious subject matter. The flow of movement across panels is also a fantastic source of comedy. Watching Ryo calmly pull a rifle out from under his trench coat and then open fire is hilarious. Everything about this series is extreme, and that’s mostly a good thing.
The first five chapters in this volume center on Akira and Ryo fighting various demons. Fans of Crybaby will recognize many of the demons featured, including Sirene and Jinmen. The Jinmen chapter is fairly enjoyable, thanks largely to the character’s design. Jinmen is basically a giant human-sized turtle with an elongated tongue and a shell made up of his victims’ faces; it’s exactly the kind of absurd yet demented concept that Nagai excels at executing.
Unfortunately, Sirene’s portion of the story is less interesting. She has major baggage with Amon, but Amon has no relevance outside of his bond to Akira, so he’s not much of a character in his own right. As a result, it effectively feels like Sirene’s vendetta comes out of nowhere and has no relevance to any of the actual protagonists. She’s not very striking design-wise, either. She’s basically just a generic naked harpy woman, the likes of which many readers will have seen before.
With that said, the Sirene segment is considerably better than the volume’s final four chapters. At that point the manga transitions into an episodic time travel story that does nothing to progress the plot or flesh out the characters. Even if Crybaby hadn’t been limited to just ten episodes, I imagine the creators would have skipped over these stories due to their sheer irrelevance. There are various things I look for in a Devilman story, but appearances by Adolf Hitler, Marie Antoinette, and Joan of Arc are not among them. Watching demons attempt to conquer humanity in the past is bizarre; they’re a big enough threat in the present that expanding their temporal reach feels unnecessary.
Overall, Devilman: The Classic Collection 1 is an impressive volume. The binding and paper quality are both high; Seven Seas Entertainment has done a great job with this reprinting. As far as the manga itself goes, the quality varies considerably. The first few chapters are excellent, and I initially thought I might end up giving this volume a 10/10 score. Unfortunately, the story gets considerably less polished and entertaining in the later chapters. With that said, this series’s strong beginning and historical significance help offset its cons. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in horror manga or the medium’s most classic works.