Thursday, November 19, 2009

There's a special hell for underachievers

Here in 2009, with the ongoing Animepocalypse in full swing, Bandai Visual/Honneamise's ridiculous business plan seems even sillier than it did at the time. For those of you coming in late, the label started out well, positioning themselves as sort of a Criterion Collection for anime, rereleasing a handful of prestige titles in both no-frills regular discs and lavish, feature-packed special editions for people with arguably more money than sense (er, guilty).

So, promising start, but within months of those initial releases, they started cutting back not just the extras, but on standard features like dual language tracks and per-disc episode counts, and even had the gall to raise prices. Complete fiasco, worked out about as well as you'd think, and the company was dissolved and the more saleable licenses reverted to the more sensible Bandai Entertainment. Incredibly, it looks like the home office in Japan didn't quite learn their lesson, but I'm getting sidetracked.

Anyway, during this second, lesser wave, they released a lot of series that were obscure even at the time, and the laughable prices they were charging made sure they stayed that way. Picking through the wreckage a couple years later, I'm a bit more inclined to take a chance at $5 a disc than $40, and hey, turns out Demon Prince Enma is animated by the usually decent Brains Base and directed by Mamoru Kanbe, who helmed the infamous, hilarious Elfen Lied. I'll gamble a stamp. Well, the thing about gambling is you don't always win; I'd love to say this was some kind of overlooked gem, but frankly it's average at best. I will give points for the terrible pun of naming the decrepit old magic hat "Chapeauji".

OK, so this is a four-episode sequel/updating of an old Go Nagai series no one in America's ever heard of. The cute little demon kids are all grown up and now they're sexay demon hunters, because this is a Go Nagai OVA and that means sleaze, gore, and sleazy gore! Both episodes on the first disc involve sex workers, and if you've ever seen any Go Nagai show that isn't Cutey Honey, you know that most people you see will end up dead. We have all the ingredients for, if not a good show, at least an enjoyably trashy one. And for a while, it's OK, depending on how low you're willing to set your brow, but it can't manage a baseline level of quality for long.

First and foremost, this is not the kind of show you watch for the characters. Impulsive dick Enma, icily irritable Yukihime, and dissolute kappa Kapaeru are incredibly one-note, practically ciphers, which means all the enjoyment comes from watching them do crazy magic stuff, but demon-smacking is at a bare minimum. This is more a horror show than an action one, so the monster of the week has to stumble around offing hapless victims for a bit before our heroes get around to doing their job. There are a couple other recurring characters, including a spunky tabloid journalist and a hard-bitten cop we immediately renamed "Detective Frankenstein", but they don't quite manage to shore up the gaping charisma void left by the leads.

Still, the two episodes on disc 1 are at least watchable, and lay a decent enough foundation that could lead somewhere interesting-- so of course, it completely collapses halfway through episode 3, when the story we've been watching gets literally interrupted by another one of dubious quality, and the ostensible lead characters vanish until the very end. Disc 2 is almost perplexingly bad all the way through, full of awfulness like a mansion rendered almost entirely in GONZO-worthy clumsy CGI, and strange storytelling choices like lingering shots of someone's head bobbing up and down, staring at an eerily dribbling basketball. Even before this dive into ineptitude, the animation quality was basically on a TV level, and almost embarrassing for an OVA. Charging $20 an episode for this is practically a crime, and I feel sorry for anyone who got suckered.

There are a few nice, small moments here and there, for true subculture vultures, but there's a reason no one talks about this one. Much like the company that released it, Demon Prince Enma returns to the hell that spawned it, unmourned, and mostly unknown.

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