Before Go Nagai did his Devilman series in 1972-1973, which many consider his masterpiece and one of the greatest mangas of all time, Go Nagai did a manga called Mao Dante, which he never got to complete since the magazine who was publishing the story closed down before the work could be completed.
To set things straight, Mao Dante`s plot involves a young college student who becomes a very powerful demon and an important ally in a war between a satanist cult and a secret society working under the word of God, but whose actions may not be as pure as it seem. Just like Devilman, Mao Dante was a clever allegory on war and on the concept of 'good versus evil' perspective that soldiers and countries (like Japan) have during a war, where they are been told that they are doing the work of God, when this may not be so.
For years, Go Nagai never got the chance to complete Mao Dante; until 2002 when he released a new and complete version of his manga series, along with an anime adaptation done by Kenichi Maejima and Go Nagai`s company, Dynamic Planning. Unfortunately the two Mao Dante manga series were only available in Japan, so by the time I found out how to buy them, I had already finished the anime.
At the start, I hoped Mao Dante would give me the same thrills I got with the Devilman manga. But while the last episode finished, I told myself that this anime was one of the worst viewing experiences of my life.
As the first episodes went on, I understood that the director Kenichi Maejima, or the producers, wanted to tell the story as if this adaptation of Go Nagai`s manga had been done in the seventies, which means kitsch music, corny dialogues and, most of all, very dreadful animation. Now don't get me wrong, I loved his Mazinger Z, Great Mazinger, and UFO ROBOT Grendizer. But those series were products of their own time periods. Trying to do exactly the same three decades later, in a completely different time period, does not mean that the same good results would happen. Unless the people at the head of the project gave an excellent product.
But that is not the case with this adaptation of Mao Dante:
1. Animation: For its twelve episodes structure, this anime has been done on an uneven, but in the end, very limited budget. Indeed, with its still images, jerky and stiff movements, uses of animation cycles, cgi effects for smoke, ice shards and fire, and lots of pan-and-scan/tilt/zoom movements with the camera; the animation quality of this show goes below what most people would expect in an anime. Now sure, the first episodes (especially the third one) have a few clever camera angles, characters movements, backgrounds and lighting effects, but as a whole, this show's animation was dreadful, uneven and the credits show this for as the episodes go on, the number of animators and in-betweeners went down.
2. Voice acting : I didn't listen the series through the English dub, so I won't comment too much on it (though the few bits I heard lacked strength). But for the Japanese dub, I thought the actors would have been pretty good had they been given good acting directions from the director. Indeed, their voice acting is often forced and stereotyped, with the women and men talking just like the usual archetypes in a conventional anime.
3. Music: Since the show seemed to recreate the same kitschy atmosphere of the seventies' anime, the music, which I think was done on a single synthesizer, went along that line and succeeded that objective. But by doing so, it didn't know whether it was to be corny or dramatic. For if the dramatic music gave a decent atmosphere to the show ( e.g: when Ryo is in his bedroom and Medusa' human counterpart invade his television and plays a commercial) half the music tracks were corny and annoying to listen to, changing the tone of the scenes in the wrong way (e.g: Ryo`s secret nightmare, or when Ryo is being offered his motorbike, or when Medosa attacks four humans who try to rape her). In the end, the only best point I would have to give to the soundtrack would be to the ending theme track, which is called `Heal ` and is written and composed by Asuka Kuroki.
4. Censorship: Many of the violent and controversial shots of the show have been obscured for this DVD release by the sub-licensor Enoki Films. It is already painful to watch a horrible show, but it is dreadful to being treated with such a censorship that makes some scenes unwatchable since we cannot even glimpse and understand what is going on in those scenes.
5. Storytelling : Many who watched this series rolled their eyes in disbelief as characters and classical images from the Bible (God, Eve, Belzebuub, Satan, Sodom,Gomorrah, the four riders of Apocalypse and many other religious characters) get the Godzilla treatment in this show. If this point bothered many people, that aspect didn't bother me at all for it was a concept that I glimpsed in the few pages of the original Manga that I saw on the web. When I read the original manga, I felt that Go Nagai wanted to treat his story the same way as the Kikaijyu (monster) movies he loved to watch when he was young. In his original manga this concept worked well because Go Nagai, in the first place, is a better storyteller than the ones who worked on this anime. But in this series, the characters also got the same kitchiness of that film genre and seventies anime, along with some dreadful dialogues where they either acknowledge or repeated over and over again what they just said or have been told, instead of thinking and acting like real people. Not only that some of the comedy of the family scenes seemed stiff and forced upon the viewer and I didn`t find them funny at all, but instead stupid. For instance,taking a supposedly funny scene in episode 2 where Ryo, spotting a demon near his sister's school, enters a gym where girls are changing clothes and then scream, which school would be stupid enough to allow its girl students to change clothes in a gym whose exit doors are open-wide for everyone to enter and see? Was this supposed to be funny and plausible? I don't think so. And why do the characters have to talk and think in their head all the time? Can't the directors have just let the images speak for themselves, even though they are badly animated?
In the anime`s plotline, we have to deal with ten episodes of Ryo Utsugi moaning and shouting with himself that he is not a demon, but a real human being, all the while trying to deal - in a quick and not too climatic way - a fight with a secret cult, the D organisation, and the Fours Demons of Apocalypse. Of all the characters I hated, those four demons were at the top of my list. They were one-dimensional, and only served as an excuse for some useless sex and action scenes that didn`t had any eventual consequences to the main character`s plot. Not only that those characters were extremely dumb. Though not as much as the human public in the story. Who - as they were getting afraid of being attacked by monsters and demons - were too dumb to notice that the sellers who tricked them with dangerous magical glasses were demons measuring nine or ten feet tall, were hairy, had horns, and carried large swords and axes behind their backs.
Fortunately, eighty percent of the bad stuff in this anime (Riders of Apocalypse, magic sword, european princess, Saori's incestuous love for her brother Ryo,etc.) never were in the official manga versions, so I was reassured that Go Nagai didn't had anything to do with all the bad ideas in this show. Speaking of Saori's incestuous love, this relationship really disturbed me for not once are we being given good reasons as to why Saori would prefer to be in love with her brother instead of anyone else. Sure we have a revelation in the middle of the series about Ryo`s true family origins (nothing too surprising mind you) that would give us the excuse that this romance is okay since they are not really siblings. But this revelation was to me just a plot device so that the main character could have a romance that would go on after the end of the story, and would serve as a deus ex machina that I will not reveal, but that I absolutely loathed, and which was not in the 2002 and 1970 manga versions of Mao Dante, where Utsugi Ryo develops instead a true and healthier relationship with Medosa.
To conclude, I don`t think this anime would be a good way to introduce someone to japanese animation, and encourage anybody to buy the Mao Dante comic books, which were definitely better than this piece of trash.