Before I go off reviewing probably one of the most unfairly hated anime titles in existence, I'd like to share some personal history I've had with this anime.
It was Friday afternoon back in September of 2002, and my fascination with anime was still potent since I've only been a fan for two months. I wanted to rent more anime tapes, so me and my brother went to Popeye's Chicken after school for some good eatin', and we went to the now absent Hollywood Video in our region. I went through the anime aisle and these four tapes each entitled Doomed Megalopolis caught my eye (each tape contained a different installment in the OVA). I though the titles sounded awesome and the cover art was pleasing for my adolescent male brain (one of the tapes, I believe, had Yukari depicted with slugs crawling up one of her legs). I picked up one of the tapes and read the back description, and with the noticeable “Not for Kids” sticker on the front, my brain screamed with joy and I came home that evening with all four volumes of Doomed Megalopolis and waited for everyone to go to bed. Once everyone was asleep, I watched all the tapes in a row and despite the total three hour running-length, I wasn't bored once and I went to bed that night pretty freaked out by what I saw, and since then, Doomed Megalopolis has been a favorite of mine for nearly nine years.
The story for Doomed Megalopolis is that in early 20th century Japan, an evil spirit named Yasunori Kato (who dons a military outfit that makes him look kinda like M. Bison from the Street Fighter games) attempts to awake Masakado (the guardian spirit of Tokyo), which would cause death and annihilation at a grand scale. However, his initial efforts prove unsuccessful, but as some years pass, he sees an innocent young lady named Yukari Tatsumiya and decides she's a perfect tool for awakening Masakado. Shortly after kidnapping Yukari, he possibly impregnates her with a child and as the years go by, Kato plans to use Yukiko (Yukari's daughter) as an even stronger tool to awake Masakado.
Doomed Megalopolis, being a horror anime, has some of the creepiest and unnerving imagery and atmosphere in the horror anime niche, accounting for most of this anime's high score. One of the “horror” things that DM does well is fuse fantasy and reality. While not done quite as well as anything involving Satoshi Kon, it's done well enough for the desired effects, and are the effects intense!! Rintaro, being the wise fellow that he is, decided to avoid repetition by mixing it up with the “fantasy meets reality” visions by making some of them fake and some of them really effecting the character. For example, there's a scene in Part 1: The Haunting of Tokyo, where Kato possesses Yukari to have her see the annihilation of Tokyo and after collapsing, he tries to take her soul. Not too long after, there's a scene where Junichi Narutaki (Yukari's friend) sees living black ooze crawl out of a prayer stand and consume him, but it was just a terrifying vision, so you can't really tell what will be real or fake. Though the best “realistic nightmare” vision has to be when in Part 2: The Fall of Tokyo, where Yukiko is possessed by Kato and is engulfed by a giant, black oozing mouth with razor-sharp teeth. There's moments where Kato's possessions are fairly simplistic yet so brazen in their evilness. An example would be when Yukari sees a circle of kids playing and singing. They start off singing “Close your eyes and don't be scared, the evil will never find you” (not quoted verbatim), but Yukari gets encircled by those kids and the song turns to “Close your eyes and be scared, the evil has found you.” Doomed Megalopolis also uses violent and sexual imagery very well to enhance the terrifying atmosphere it sets out to make. Fine examples of this would be a scene in the first part of DM where Koda Rohan finds Yukari's inanimate body by a river, and when she gains consciousness, a phallic demon slug crawls out of her mouth. The other is when in Part 3: The Gods of Tokyo, Yukiko is naked and consumed by the Underground Dragon's heart (though some may be really turned off by the fact that she's only 13). Then there's scenes that are just plain messed up for no particular reason, especially when in Part 2, when Yukari is cutting off fish heads in her kitchen, she says to Narutaki “I don't know why, but I've been feeling much better today.” with a really creepy face while stabbing at the fish violently. There's plenty more, but I don't want to give you every little detail about the fantastic horror tactics in this anime.
Depending on who you are, your glass is either half-full or half-empty in this area. To me, my glass is half-full because the characters range from being interesting to so-so. Examples of the interesting characters are Kato and Yukari's older brother, Yoichiro Tatsumiya. Kato is interesting because not only is he one of the most intensely evil characters in anime (I had to reference him in my review for Morbid Angel's “Altars of Madness” because of how evil he is), he also has some intriguing reasons for his detestable actions (which is covered towards the beginning of Part 2, so pay attention when watching it). Tatsumiya is also interesting because of his slimy nature and his really mixed feelings about his sister, Yukari. In the past, he had a murky encounter with Yukari and has been haunted by this for a long time. After finding out about her supposed affair with Kato, he commits incest against Yukari in her sleep. I guarantee that you'll want to shank Tatsumiya repeatedly with a sharp, rusty improvised weapon after seeing that. Yukari and her daughter, Yukiko, sorta fall in the middle ground between interesting and dull because while they're certainly the lifeblood of this anime, you don't really get to see them in depth, other than to see their super passive personalities; even though the creators of DM were really pressed on time and money, it would have been nice if the relationship between Yukari and her daughter was fleshed out more. Though in defense of the way the two are fleshed out, it was probably because Japanese culture (especially prior to their defeat in World War 2) tends to bend their women into being passive and invisible when put up against the males. However, Keiko Tatsumiya (who'd be a crucial character in Parts 3 and 4: The Battle for Tokyo) is an interesting female character since when compared to Yukari and Yukiko, stands out due to her backbone and immense supernatural powers, but also has the will to confront her husband, Yoichiro, about his contempt for Yukari and Yukiko. However, some characters, like Narutaki and Koda just seem there to propel the story along. Which is a shame because they had some potential. All in all, the characters are decent, and certainly light-years superior to the walking cliches in Elfen Lied.
The animation, while overall decent, can be inconsistent at times. There's some scenes that are beautifully animated with great artwork, some other scenes look visually inferior and unfitting stylistically. However, these stylistic inconsistencies don't happen much, so they really don't effect the grade that much. The character designs have their good and bad sides. While the appearance of the characters themselves look quite pleasing (especially Yukari in Part 1, since I think she's one of the prettiest ladies in anime), they could have had some more stylistic diversity. The biggest problem is that once Part 3 begins, it can be difficult to distinguish Keiko from Yukari (especially at the very start of Part 3), but after a while, you can distinguish the two from each other. The background art is very painterly and finely detailed. Contrary to Charles Solomon's disdain for the color-scheme, I love the colors used for DM since they really make you feel unnerved and combined with the amazing soundtrack, also gives an ethereal feeling on some occasions. Also contrary to Solomon's critiques, I felt the characters were drawn pretty well; I don't recall much, if any “awkward” poses. The shape-shifters created by the occult parchments look like abominationss Don Hertzeld would see if he listened to a lot of early wave death metal (such as Morbid Angel and Nocturnus) while inebriated on large amounts of vodka and marijuana. In other words, they look quite creepy and bizarre. Because this was a low budget animation created in collaboration between Toei and Madhouse from 1991-1992, the grainy picture quality and minor imperfections (nothing terrible) in the artwork enhance the unnerving atmosphere this anime already generates, making it even better.
Doomed Megalopolis has one of the absolute best soundtracks I've ever heard in any anime. Infact, the soundtrack is so amazing, it's one of the extremely rare anime soundtracks I own in CD format. Kazz Toyama really pulled a doozie on us with this soundtrack since the only other anime soundtrack I know he did was for Cyber City Oedo, which was late 80's instrumental synth-pop cheese galore (though a guilty pleasure, nonetheless). However, for Doomed Megalopolis, Toyama uses keyboards, synthesizers, intense drums, and shredding guitars to create a truly chilling and heart-pounding sonic experience that really bolsters the fine qualities DM already has going for it. The keys and synths are used to employ organ-like sounds fused with more traditional horror-entry atmosphere with Steve Vai (not really him that did it) occasionally popping in to mangle his guitar to make it sound like hell in shred guitar format. However, it's not all doom and hellish excitement; there's some piano-driven pieces used for more peaceful and ambient effects in the few “brighter” areas of this anime. Toyama struck gold with this soundtrack and sadly, he doesn't get credit for doing so. All in all, the soundtrack alone is one of the best of its kind and if you can find it, I recommend getting it just so you can get an exhilarating audio experience.
Doomed Megalopolis takes a smart path by incorporating themes in a subtle manner to actually make the audience think and not look at all pretentious. The two most prominent themes in DM are its use of history to build upon the story and the use of Eastern religion. An example of the former is the use of the Great Kanto Earthquake in the story and an example of the latter is embodied with Keiko's character since she's believed to be the Goddess of Mercy, or in more proper terms, a Kannon. There's also achieving the status of Bodhisattva (enlightened being) and the Buddhist principles of love and hate. I recommend you conduct some research on these topics so you can understand DM's ending better. There's even the use of traditional Japanese spiritual beliefs concerning paying respect to the dead since this is a big factor with the evils at work. While less implied, I believe there's a theme of the struggle between Japanese traditionalism and Westernization embodied in Yoichiro, since he often wears Western clothing yet maintains his devotion to rather misogynistic principles that were commonplace in Japan in that time.
This is an anime that you should never let your kids see because of how disturbing it is visually and mentally. There's quite a good helping of gore along with the previously mentioned nudity and sexual content. However, as stated before, I think for the most part, they're used very well to further the disturbing concepts at work and not just for the sake of having them.
While I rarely engage in the following behavior, I feel it's necessary to vehemently counteract the negative publicity surrounding this anime because most of the critiques it receives are really unfair and inconsistent. So right now, I'll protect Doomed Megalopolis much like Ellen Ripley defending Newt in Aliens from an incoming horde of aliens with an M41A pulse rifle/flamethrower. Many people have complained about the misogynistic content in this anime, though it's not really that much greater in magnitude when compared to other adult anime from the same time period since that was a selling point for anime titles (such as Wicked City) in the then fledgling anime market in the US. What people don't really like to acknowledge is that as stated before, Japan's culture had strong amounts of misogyny prior to full scale Westernization, and since DM took place at a time when Japan resisted Westernization, I felt the creators were only being historically accurate about these unpleasant yet true acts that were common back then. The acts of gory violence are also condemned, which doesn't really make sense since it's roughly on the same level as popular titles from the early 90's like Ninja Scroll, so that critique right there is inconsistent. What gets me irritated even more is that many of the people who decry Doomed Megalopolis for its intense violence and sexual content, praise really trendy yet detestable anime titles like Elfen Lied and Gantz, conveniently overlooking the fact that both really outdo DM in terms of violence and sexual content. For those who hated DM for its extreme content, what were you expecting this to be? Smurfs dancing in the fields and picking flowers? The notoriety surrounding DM somewhat reminds me of the bashing movies like The Thing (1982), Alien 3 (1992), and Event Horizon (1997) received for being “too creepy, violent, and disgusting.” While all three films managed to rope in respectably large cult followings and even newfound respect in more mainstream circles, DM unfortunately still lingers in obscurity without a noticeable following. I hope this review can get people to think about this anime and give it a chance.
Doomed Megalopolis isn't for everyone. However, if you're looking for a horror anime that will really freak you out all while delivering a unique and intriguing story, then Doomed Megalopolis will reward you greatly.