It might just be me, but there's something about space that makes a bad story better.
This was the case of Shuten Doji: Nightmare, the second volume of Go Nagai's anime about a demon boy named Jiro. In volume one, Jiro fought back other demons intent on his destruction, and fulfilled his destiny … which apparently only requires him to be ugly and confused. At the end of that first DVD, we watched Jiro get sucked into a (time hole? Demon hole? Worm hole?) portal, where more demons await. Now Jiro is traveling with a demon who doesn't want to kill him, as well as his hot classmate who fell in love with him in volume one.
On the way through the portal, Jiro is separated from his demon and female companions, and gets sucked into space, where he's picked up by a space exploration crew of some sort. With the previous two episodes focusing mostly on Jiro finding and accepting his demon roots, this third episode was a nice change of pace. There's a distinct Alien-mixed-with-Robotech feel to episode three (one of two 45-minute episodes on this DVD), as Jiro teams up with a space ship crew whose members are slaughtered one-by-one. No creepy crawly is killing them, but instead an armored sergeant with a lot of firepower. I found myself playing that wonderful, old-time horror game called "Guess Who Survives?"
Episode three was sometimes sexy, sometimes interesting, almost always violent, and was a refreshing opening to this DVD. Jiro finds a short-term flirtation interest in a red-headed crew member, and the fight from room to room on the ship between the hunter and hunted was fast-paced and exciting. I'm a fan of mindless gore when it pops up in anime, and there are just a heap of wonderful death scenes in episode three of Shuten Doji. Guys getting sliced, guys getting crushed, guys getting cut in half by a closing pressure door, guys getting frozen and then shattered into a billion pieces. I'll give creator Go Nagai this: he does death well.
Continuity problems? Sure. Muddled plot turns dealing with time travel and ancient Japanese demon lore? Of course. Uninteresting characters? Yes, it is a Nagai demon tale after all. But episode three is an improvement over both episodes in volume one, an entertaining 45 minutes that's to be enjoyed mostly for its action, not really for its tale. Keep that mindset, and you'll be able to hang, at least until episode four.
That's when things devolve completely back into the disjointed storytelling that made volume one tough to sit through. Jiro is reunited with the good demon and his girlfriend, and they proceed (after slaughtering a few hundred demons thrown in for the fun of it) to the planet of Jiro's birthplace. Thrown in is a sideplot following Jiro's mom back on Earth, where she's hospitalized and slowly losing her mind. Jiro deduces that her insanity is linked to another bad demon, and that mom's soul may actually be trapped inside a demon picture.
None of this made any sense, and only the bloodshed and nifty eye-stalks coming out of that one demon's wounds made episode four enjoyable. The nudity too. Can't forget the nudity.
Shuten Doji is an old, confusing, so-so-looking horror anime that's often hard to watch, and in terms of entertainment value, it's batting .225, with only one episode out of four keeping my interest for longer than five minutes straight. Nagai fans will enjoy this for what it is, and that would be my suggestion to anyone else looking into this show: enjoy Shuten Doji for what it is.
The 4:3 full screen picture is spotty, with a lot of dust and scratches left over from the original source material, but for a 1989-1991 anime, Shuten Doji is cleaned up as well as possible. Little in the way of digital problems or color bleeding this time around, though many of the darker space backgrounds show little variation or depth in terms of shadowing and blacks, and the space ship's interior is drab and lifeless. At one point during episode three, black, shadow spots appear over some faces, a noticeable problem that probably couldn't have been fixed from the film for the DVD.
Simple 2.0 sound options with both Japanese and English with Japanese subtitles. The English dub is decent, with solid performances by the space ship crew going along with the ho-hum work by our main characters. Ambient noises are used subtly and without being over the top, while background horror music is used quite often. In the Japanese language track, both dialogue and background noise are more quiet and subdued. I'd normally recommend the original language track for any anime, though you won't be upset with the English dub for this DVD.
Bonus material is limited to six ADV previews and that wonderful standby of any DVD where you have nothing to work with, DVD credits. Move on, nothing else to see here. Not even a DVD insert.
For the Go Nagai fans, you already know what to expect: blood, guts, lots of demons whose lips don't move when they talk. Since I found volume one of Shuten Doji to be extremely underwhelming, I was pleasantly surprised with the settings and improved action in the second volume. Casual anime fans can Rent It if some old-fashioned horror suits your palate, while this DVD is a Recommended addition to the collection of the Nagai faithful.