Friday, August 14, 2020

Dejitaru Debiru Monogatari Megami Tensei (1987)

... aka: デジタル・デビル物語 女神転生
... aka: Digital Devil
... aka: Digital Devil Monogatari Megami Tensei
... aka: Digital Devil Story
... aka: Digital Devil Story: Goddess Reborn
... aka: Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei
... aka: L'histoire du démon numérique (The Story of the Digital Demon)

Directed by:
Mizuho Nishikubo

In March 1986, Ayu Nishitani released the first in a series of novels that would eventually lead to this popular 1987 OVA release and an even more popular role playing video game series, originally made by Namco for the Famicom, which we Americans know as the NES / Nintendo Entertainment System. The initial 1987 video game was followed by a 1990 sequel and then really hit it big with the release of Shin Megami Tensei in 1992, which was followed by a boatload of other games; some numbered sequels, numerous subseries' (like Devil Survivor and The Demon Summoner) and a number of other spin-offs. The series is still going strong to this day, with especially big fan followings in Japan and North America. The latest entry is slated for release on the Nintendo Switch sometime in 2021. This video release is an adaptation of only the first of Nishitani's three novels and runs a compact 45 minutes. Surprisingly, despite the popularity of the video game series, there have been no other film adaptations. At least not official ones that I'm aware of, though a few titles like the 1995 anime Tokyo Revelation, are clearly heavily inspired by Shin Megami Tensei.

Yumiko Shirasagi transfers to the secluded Juusei Academy. Upon being introduced to the rest of her class, she instantly recognizes the dark, deadly serious and brooding Akemi Nakajima. However, when she attempts to engage him in conversation, he says he has no clue who she is, swats her away and adds that she'd be better off not even bothering involving herself with him. Still, Yumiko can't shake the feeling that she knows him from somewhere...

Late at night in the school's computer lab, which ominously has a "Do Not Open" sign posted on the door, Akemi and some of his friends are busy conducting a demonic "holy ritual" that involves Mars and the Moon being in opposition, Pluto and the Sun being in opposition, a pentagram on the floor and, of course, computers. Akemi talks about the "World of Atziluth" (highest of four worlds in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life) and asks for help from the "Electronic Beast Cerberus;" the hell hound from Greek mythology that promptly leaps right out of a computer to help defend the ceremony once called upon. They even have a willing guinea pig in the form of teacher Mrs. Obara whom Akemi assures has a nice enough body "to satisfy Loki." Being the inquisitive type, Yumiko sneaks into the room to spy on them but she's quickly sniffed out by Cerberus. Akemi then comes clean about what they're doing.

It turns out the group have somehow summoned a demon via computer but it's currently trapped inside the computer and thus can't do any real harm... at least not yet. Through a piece of head gear, Mrs. Obara is able to "have fun" (i.e. have sex) with the demon, but that's not enough for Akemi, whose ultimate goal is to find a way for Loki to materialize in the real world. The demon demands human sacrifices, which the increasingly more obsessed student is more than glad to help him with. After all, Loki is now his Master. After enough sacrifices, Loki is ready to enter our world.

Before long, Akemi is chanting "Kill! Kill! Kill!" while Loki does his thing at the school. During an amazing bit, a computer monitor spits out a pink glob that eats the entire student body, erupts into geysers of blood and then transforms into Loki. Students get sliced with razors, are beaten, have their crotches eaten and more and it's extremely difficult to tell after awhile what's a nightmare / hallucination, what's a flashback / something from a past life and what's occurring in present day. Compounding the confusion further are Akemi's red-tinted visions, which seem to be flashbacks about a girl named Kyoko who led him on then had her muscle-bound new boyfriend humiliate him and then brutally beat him up.

As far as Akemi and Yumiko's connection is concerned, he's been having a recurring nightmare about an old witch coming after him in a cave and believes she and Yumiko are one in the same. That turns out to be somewhat true, though Yumiko was actually Izanami, the goddess of both creation and death, in her past life. So there's that. Once the demon has them trapped, another goddess informs Yumiko of her lineage. She is then able to fight Loki off with lasers, free Akemi and fly him away from the school. When they come to in a misty forest, the fatally injured Yumiko dies and the only way to revive her is to take her through the mountains to Izanami's grave. Using a laptop, Akemi is able to summon the hell hound to help transport them. Loki, who has a red, glowing literal third eye that forms on his forehead, tracks them down.

Back at the school, the possessed Mrs. Obara sends the pink glob after bank employees, presumably so they can rob them, though this isn't specified or even followed through with. We then return to the forest, where Akemi is attacked by Loki yet again. He's rescued by the heavenly goddess who brings him, Cerberus and Yumiko's corpse up to outer space (!!) where she encourages him to "Break through the darkness." Loki shows up trying to kill them with his pink glob stuff, which the dog can ward off with his green breath (?!), and it all ends in a battle taking place either on a distant planet or in hell. It's nearly impossible to tell!

Beautifully, colorfully and stylishly animated, quite gory and with some interesting ideas scattered about, this also boasts a few wonderful individual scenes and surreal visuals but is a colossal failure when it comes to coherent storytelling. I guess that's what you get trying to cram as much of a novel into a 45 minutes anime as could possibly fit. This would have worked much better as a longer series instead of a standalone as it needed more time to explain its various plot points and try to tie them all together.

Outside of its release in Japan, there were releases in France, Spain and (an English subtitled version) in the UK on the Kiseki Films label. A soundtrack album was also available.

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