Tentacle-Free Anime: "Devil Hunter Yohko" (1990)
- by Kazekun, 28 March 2016
Happy 100 to me! Today's review marks my 100th article for Trash Mutant after several years of publishing every other week. Good job me, you deserve a pat on the back. And because I'm a sucker for milestones, I decided to take on an anime that's quite underrated in its cultural significance to the U.S. anime industry. Sure, it didn't immediately gain as many fans as something like, say, Akira but it was the low key beginning of something big...
With my 100th article looming, I wanted to do something different for it, something that wasn't just a review. However, time got away from me as it generally does, so I figured if I was going to review something, why not a well-known and important milestone for the U.S. anime industry? No, too easy. Hmmm... what else is there? Then I thought about some VHS' I had laying around – that I actually bought recently – of an older series which isn't popularly remembered, but did have an impact on the industry. If not by simply existing and being the first chosen in a game of imported red rover.
But Devil Hunter Yohko doesn't necessarily have anything special about it. It was simply the first pick by ADV to be brought over stateside and began a revolution for what success they must have somewhat found with their edgy, adult devil hunter title. Why I consider it important is directly related to ADV's importance as a company and the fandom. The fact that it started with this criminally underrated series makes it all the cooler. This is all at least in my opinion.
Devil Hunter Yohko is an odd OVA series from that time period in Japanese Animation where it could take literal years inbetween episodes, and in fact that is what happened. All 6 episodes were made over the course of 5 years between 1990-1995. And all to varying degrees of length. Episode one is a 45 minute adventure, episodes two and three are both standard 20-30 minutes. Episode 4 is the most inquisitive of them all for it is not an episode in tradition but a 30 minute montage of different music videos set to the music of the series. Shifting between animated music videos and live-action. It's a really fun oddity when calling “episode 4” of a series and yet here we are.
Episode 5 is almost an hour long at 55 minutes and episode 6 brings it all to a close in a twisty 45 minute mini-movie. And as you can probably guess, the animation gets better and better with each episode as well. The final 2 looking the best out of all of them. I especially love the dark visual aesthetic to episode 6 it really looks and feels like a movie of the time.
This strange series of releases caused ADV to release the series over the course of 5 wonderfully and comedically packaged tapes. The first VHS takes us so far back that there are literally no trailers for other ADV releases before the show starts. I've never gone that far back before in a company's catalog. It was quite thrilling.
This series is a lot of fun. For many fans at the time of its release, I was still but a wee one, there's a better chance they were watching it not for the story, but because every single episode features quite the hefty amount of bare chests. And back then anime characters were able to keep their ages in tact so most of the nipples you see are of the 16 year old Yohko. Our main character.
However, watching it from a story standpoint as an adult, there is a lot to admire and appreciate. Now, don't get me wrong, the narrative is very cliché and there are often moments throughout that left me wondering if they'll answer that question I had later. Sometimes they did and other times they did not. But I never found myself disliking DHY.
It follows your standard tale of a girl born into greatness without ever knowing it, until the time comes in her life that it is suddenly thrust upon her. In this case, Yohko has gone 15 years of her life without knowing of her family's great and long history of protecting the world from demons. Now that she is turning 16, that is all over with. She must protect her virginity so that her powers may activate and then after she becomes a full-fledged demon hunter, she can sleep around all she wants.
I'm not making that up. Though contrived and it leads to Yohko nearly getting raped in the first episode by a possessed version of one of her best friends, the idea is solid. The number 108 is significant in Japanese culture as the number of Earthly desires one must overcome to stay pure (or something close to that – this isn't an exact science). Well, Yohko just so happens to be the 108th Devil Hunter in her family line and sex is very much an Earthly desire to overcome in order to stay pure.
So I do get where the writers were coming from, even if the execution isn't as great. The first episode is a lot of fun for what it is, however. The villains aren't really fleshed out, just the fact that they're demons should be enough to persuade us to care about or hate them, right? It is a major flaw, but the final fight between Yohko and the big baddy for that episode after she becomes a full-fledged Hunter is one great fight to behold.
Episodes 2 and 3 take a different route and make the stories a bit more low key and, honestly, these two have the weakest narrative of the entire series (unless you count a literal montage of music videos). These two are the weakest of the series. In terms of both story and animation. They also introduce a new character, a distant cousin of Yohko's in the form a young girl named Azusa.
Because the story demands it, the girl is also able to become another Devil Hunter (though not a “fully fledged” one) like her older cousin. The reason for that is never addressed in the series, even though she has a magical girl transformation, just like Yohko, into her devil hunter attire. I do like Azusa though, she becomes a surprisingly refreshing addition to a series that has spent less than a single episode on Yohko as a full-fledged hunter and now we have two? Okay.
Sad for Azusa though as she is never recognized at any point later on – even by older Hunters through a time-travel story – as another Devil Hunter outside of the episode she was introduced in. Episode 4 is, like I said, literally a string of music videos of varying degree of enjoyment. They're mostly the various opening and ending songs to the first 3 episodes but there is one stand-out song, with its animated music video made specifically for this “episode.”
“Not So Fast, Sexy Girl!” by Kaori Honma is the feminist anthem every girl these days needs. And if you don't believe, go listen to it. You're welcome. This music video collection is also culturally significant for being – as far as I can currently tell – the very first time a company subtitled the original Japanese Romaji spelled out with English letters next to the actual English subtitles. Something that has become a staple in many translations over the last few decades.
Episode 5 really brings the series to its end, with Yohko really coming into her own as a Devil Hunter when she must face the king of Demons, who has been fought and withered down by every Hunter from the first to the 107th. His power decreasing with every fight. However, with it being Yohko's turn up to bat things go awry and the demon king gets all of his sealed away power back and unleashes a true hell on Earth.
Thanks to some good ole fashioned time traveling however, Yohko is able to demon up with the very first Devil Hunter and every generation thereafter in one big fight with the demon and is then recognized by those before her as a true Devil Hunter. It's a sweet moment and one that really brings her story full circle.
And then episode 6 comes around and decides to add a bit of retcon into the mix. Turns out Grandma had a long forgotten twin sister and this sister has a granddaughter who happens to look exactly like Yohko. Ayako has been training her whole life to take the Devil Hunter moniker from Yohko. The two fight the bitter fight, but eventually come to an agreement and even friendship, before a common enemy – another powerful demon – appears to kill them.
Azusa isn't in episode 6, but there is an “Azusa 2” (yes, that's her canon name) in the episode who works under Ayako. This Azusa looks just like our Azusa and though Yohko actually makes mention of this, the show literally shrugs it off as “one of the great wonders of the world.” I think it really was Azusa who had been spying on Yohko all this time, but we shall never know as the story doesn't bother to tell us. It's aggravating and it's a missed opportunity to have two Yohko's and two Azusa's fighting one another on screen.
This series is far from perfect as you can tell and is more interesting by its storied history rather than its actual story. However I do firmly believe DHY is a classic that people should watch at least once. Whether you groan or cheer at its many cliches and grasping animation you can't deny what it was accomplishing from behind the bleachers as Akira was on the court scoring dunks.
Go check out Devil Hunter Yohko. I watched the sub, but I've heard the dub adds something to it as well. Although what that something is I don't know. And if you're feeling especially bold watch it on its original VHS. See what it was like in the wild western days of the then budding industry of the west.
Final Score: 3 Accomplished Devil Hunters out of 5
How about that for a history lesson?!? Have you seen the underrated "Devil Hunter Yohko"? Let us know below!