* Prices may differ from that shown
Devil May Cry is a popular action/horror video game series made by Capcom, the Japanese developer best known for titles such as Streetfighter, Megaman and Resident Evil. The original Devil May Cry was actually intended to be a Resident Evil sequel, before taking a life of its own and blossoming into its own franchise. At the time of writing the series spans four games and is set to be rebooted early in 2013 (providing that the Mayan apocalypse doesn't strike and ruins all our Christmases.)
The twelve-episode anime adaptation I am covering today aired on Japanese TV back in 2007, coinciding with the release of the fourth game (in case your interested some of the cut scenes of that particular title can be found under the DVD's extras section.) As a fan of the games I decided to pick up this set after spotting it at HMV for a bargain £6. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I should have remembered that video game animes are seldom any good.
Chronologically speaking, this anime series takes place sometime between the first Devil May Cry and the fourth game (Devil May Cry 3 is a prequel and confusingly the events of the second game take place after DMC4.) As with the games, the anime follows the exploits of a human/demon hybrid named Dante, son of the powerful demon lord Sparda (not to be confused with the barely clothed chaps from 300.) Devil May Cry is technically speaking a detective agency, but in reality that's just a cover for Dante's real occupation - demon hunter.
I wish I could write more about the show's plot, but alas there isn't a one... or at least an ongoing narrative spanning the dozen episodes that comprise this set. What we have here are pretty much standalone cases, although some effort is made to weave them into one big conspiracy during the two part finale (although to be honest tying the unconnected stories together at that point feels rather forced.) Most episodes have Dante being hired to protect someone or to take out a demon. The quality of the stories range from mildly entertaining to downright dull. There are a few twists, intended to keep the audience guessing, but when the revelation is sprung it feels like something you have seen elsewhere and done better.
For the most part Devil May Cry treats itself seriously, but there are times were it tries to inject some comedy to proceedings. The more lighthearted capers, such as the episode involving a diner patron who tries to woo a waitress by mimicking Dante, were amongst my favorite of the twelve cases but alas the gags don't always work. One such example is Dante's love for strawberry sundaes. The writers seem to think that a badass ordering a girly dessert is hilarious and keep repeating the joke throughout the series. It barely registered a chuckle, from me, the first time and got tiresome by the end. In a similar vein we are supposed to laugh at Dante's bad luck with money, which stem from his terrible gambling skills or blowing his mission rewards on repair bills incurred by his destructive battles. What a hoot... not!
One of the bigger disappointments in the anime adaptation of Devil May Cry would have to be the writers' take on Dante. In the games he's a smug hero who takes down evildoers in the flashiest, most badass, way possible. He's so popular with players that there has been a massive outcry over his redesign in the upcoming reboot. The anime version of Dante is however one of the most apathetic protagonists you will ever find. Despite his financial woes he's reluctant to accept any jobs, instead preferring to stay in his office gobbling capacious amounts of beer and pizza. I'm not sure how viewers are supposed to get behind a hero who is averse to going on missions, particularly as the noble tasks save innocents from the impending demonic threat.
Stunt man turned actor Reuben Langdon voices Dante, as he does in the fourth video game. For consistency sake, fans must be pleased that they secured the services of Dante's video game vocals, but I wasn't too impressed with his performance. Reading a few sporadic lines for a game isn't quite as demanding as carrying a TV series and it shows. Perhaps I am being too harsh though given that the unemotional cartoon version of Dante is one of those silent types who don't get phased by anything.
Speaking of voice actors, I was disappointed to learn that one of my favorite anime actresses (Hilary Haag) was forced to play the part of Patty Lowell, the show's most annoying character. Patty is a young orphaned girl who Dante saved in the first episode. After putting up with her infuriating escapades, for a few hours, I wish he hadn't bothered. Patty is another prime example of comedy that falls flat. She's there to bicker with Dante about fixing his busted TV - so she can watch soaps, decorate his gloomy office with cute stuff and beat his ass at poker. I'm not sure what my real life casino employers would make of an animated program that promotes underage gambling, but whatever. Needless to say the show would be better without her inclusion, but thankfully her presence doesn't pollute the bulk of an episode as she rarely joins Dante on missions.
To finish off I should also mention that two ladies from the video games also feature in the anime. Out of the two gals in question Lady is the one who gets the most screen time. She's a capable human demon hunter who Dante owes a load of money too (way more than what appears on my credit card bill.) There's a recurring theme of her manipulating Dante into helping her out with a job, only for her to take his cut of the profits when the mission is done. The other lass from the games is the blonde bombshell Trish, who is a friendly demon with the power to command lightning. In the games it's hinted that Dante may have a thing for her, which is somewhat disturbing given that she is the splitting image of his mother. I wonder what Sigmund Freud would make of that.
Even though six quid for twelve episodes is good value, and some of those episodes are watchable, I'll have to give Devil May Cry a paltry two stars. Anything higher would be generous based on my many complaints and when taking into account the grade I've awarded other animes. I wasn't expecting anything epic from the series, but some flashy mindless action akin to what we find in the games would have been nice. I'm surprised to learn that one of the writers of the recent games was involved in the project, given the contrast in tone between the cartoon and its source material. The video games are high octane spectacles were you constantly fend off legions of enemies. The stories that make up this anime are however slow plodding affairs with barely any action.
Veteran anime studio Mad House animated the series, which makes the lack of action all the more puzzling. These guys are after all the brains behind thrilling movies such as Ninja Scroll. On the few occasions Dante fights, the encounter is over all too quickly. Whether he is facing a lowly demon servant or a creature capable of enslaving the entire world, Dante triumphs with one slash of his oversized skull hilted sword. Mad House's artwork is sufficiently detailed, but in addition to the mediocre action they also seem to have taken shortcuts with the character designs. In some shots Dante looks like the lead of Mad House's Highlander cartoon, wearing a silver wig, instead of his in game likeness. I also didn't like how the women were drawn. Despite sporting an oversized chest, Lady looks masculine due to the contours of her face.
Normally when we get a subpar licensed release I can at least say that fans of the game may enjoy the anime, but I cannot put that disclaimer on this review. The cartoon doesn't feel like the Devil May Cry games at all. If I didn't known better I would say that they were working off an existing script, about a detective that takes on supernatural creatures, and tweaked it ever so slightly to use the Devil May Cry rights. Stick to the games I say and if you really must watch some animated monster slaying check out something like the Vampire Hunter D movies or Hellsing Ultimate instead.