If you’re up on your anime and manga history, you’ll know that winter 2018’s Devilman: Crybaby is a modernized adaptation of Go Nagai’s legendary 1972 manga Devilman. But you might not know that, before Crybaby, the only legal way to watch a Devilman anime in English was to pop in a VHS tape containing one of the most hilariously bad dubs the early ‘90s had to offer – the 1987 OVA Devilman: The Birth, and its 1990 sequel Devilman: The Demon Bird.
Both OVAs were dubbed by now-defunct British company World Wide Sound and released in 1994 by Manga Entertainment, which had seen previous success with their release of AKIRA. The story is a fairly accurate adaptation of the first half of the Devilman manga, but it’s infinitely improved (in our opinion) by the awkward voice acting that sounds like it could’ve come straight out of a middle school play, but with a heaping handful of swear words and awkward pauses thrown in for no real reason. So without further chattering, let’s explore this mangled masterpiece together!
A Perfect Storm of Awkwardness
It’s easy to find compilations online of all of the best moments from these OVAs, but trust us when we say that it’s absolutely worth it to experience the entire thing for yourself. The events covered in this adaptation are pretty intense in the manga, but fall fantastically flat here since none of the characters sound like they have any idea what they’re saying.
Akira is soft-spoken before his initial transformation, but still swears like a sailor (“No fuckin’ way Ryo, I’m outta here!”) and reacts with bland dispassion at Ryo’s story of his possessed father (“Your father tried to kill you? ...Incredible!”). Ryo himself is overly dismissive of everyone (“I don’t give a shit, this is very important.”) and even slips into a New England accent every now and then (“Let’s get da fuck outta heah!”).
There’s also a section near the end of The Birth that reeks of half-assed dialogue written to fit lip flaps. While cradling Ryo’s possibly dead body, Akira screams in anguish “WHY GOOOOOOOODDD!!” twice, in almost the exact same tone of voice each time. The awkwardness goes on and on, with hardly a minute passing between moments that will have you howling with laughter. Step aside, Sailor Moon SuperS – the Devilman OVAs are the true apotheosis of bad anime dubs.
How Did This Happen?
So how did this side-splitting dub come to be? Needless to say, foreign anime dubbing wasn’t a full-fledged industry in 1994, and tools like lip flap editing weren’t available. On top of that, anime wasn’t seen as a viable medium for Western audiences yet. AKIRA helped bring it into the spotlight, but its original dub was of questionable quality. Simply put, nobody could really be asked to make faithful adaptations of anime in the ‘90s – much less adult-oriented shows like Devilman.
So with the amount of care put into this dub, it’s no surprise that most of the actors weren’t exactly experienced. Alan Marriot (Akira) and Larissa Murray (Miki) were newbies who had few credits to their name at the time, and Adam Matalon (Ryo) wasn’t really an actor at all. Today, he’s better known for being a producer for Sesame Street. The dialogue writer George Roubicek had no other writing credits before this (and only one after it), and English may or may not have been his first language. We’re spoiled today by actors and script writers who have the experience and passion to do the job just right, but the dubbing scene of two decades ago was sorely lacking in both.
Despite the brain-dead line delivery and the lingering pauses that can last upwards of 24 seconds (we timed them), the Devilman OVAs are still worthy of praise. They were the first animated adaptations that closely followed the manga, and the choice of changing Jinmen’s victim from a little girl to Akira’s mother was even kept for Crybaby because of how emotional it was. It’s fun to compare this to Crybaby, and even later Devilman manga spinoffs, to see how times have changed in regards to foreign localization. But most of all, we love it for the endless fountain of memes and parody edits that emerged from it.
Have you seen the Devilman OVAs? What did you think of them, and what’s your favorite bad line or moment? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!