Review for Devil May Cry: The Animated Series
Do you want to know how high my Blu-ray and DVD backlog is? I picked up Devil May Cry on Blu-ray in an opportunistic sale, and put it at the bottom of my to-watch pile, and waited for it to work its way to the top before actually watching it. In the intervening months, the Devil May Cry Blu-ray went out of print, and then went out of stock, and then fan interest in it rose to the point where Manga Entertainment renewed the license and printed off a new batch of discs. And guess what? It’s now become scarce in retailers again. I’ve been quite fond of Devil May Cry since I first watched it on DVD, despite my prejudices about translating videogames into passive entertainment media. Also with the anime created by Studio Madhouse, it’s a show where the visuals are of sufficiently high quality to warrant the best possible presentation, and this show is of that era when anime on DVD came to the UK in soft, fuzzy, standards converted form. It’s one of the earlier Manga Blu-ray releases, practically the first series they released in HD, and when it came to upgrading the DVDs, it came down to a choice between this, and Shigurui Death Frenzy. I didn’t even have to think twice.
Manga Entertainment release all 12 episodes of Devil May Cry, spread across two Blu-ray discs thus...
1. Devil May Cry
Dante, owner of the Devil May Cry demon hunting business, finally has a job that may help him claw his way out of debt. He has to ensure the safety of heiress Patty Lowell, keep her alive long enough so that she can get to her late father’s mansion, and claim her inheritance. The problem is that she’s the result of her late father’s dalliances, and his brothers, who stand to inherit the lot if she doesn’t show up, aren’t above a little underhand scheming to make sure she doesn’t. Still, it looks like a simple enough job for Dante, until he hears a voice in his head, “This girl’s life is mine!” Then the demons start crawling out of the woodwork.
2. Highway Star
Patty’s making herself at home, and cleaning the premises. She thinks that a more inviting appearance will help draw the punters in. Of course the sort of clients that need the services of a demon hunter, aren’t too bothered about the soft furnishings. Then the last client that Dante wanted walks through the door. Lady is a strong demon hunter in her own right, and Dante’s in debt to her up to his eyeballs. Which is why she can twist him around her little finger when it comes to jobs needed doing. This time it’s the Devils Biker Gang terrorising the highways. Except that they are called the Devils, they are in fact human, and Dante can’t do anything to humans.
3. Not Love
It seems like a match made in heaven, a young heiress, daughter of the city mayor, is out walking one night, when she trips and falls. But there is a handsome young Good Samaritan, with a healing touch, and an ability to soothe sprained ankles. Naturally the young woman, Angelina, and the young man, Brad fall in love. But there’s no happy ending where the Mayor is concerned. First he imposes a curfew, then he locks his daughter up and posts a guard, and finally he hires Dante to kill Brad. Of course if anyone has a supernatural healing touch, he can’t be anything other than a demon.
4. Rolling Thunder
A church is being terrorised, its congregation attacked, and the terrified priest has hired Lady to take out the despicable demon, a statuesque blonde woman who shoots lightning from her fingers, and fires two guns. Their first rooftop encounter is inconclusive, although both try their best to kill the other. Their second in a clothing boutique is a little less violent, although a little more catty. Lady decides to call in part of that debt, and enlist Dante’s help. It’s just that description of the demons sounds awfully familiar to Dante.
5. In Private
A young man has a thing for waitress Cindy, except that she doesn’t like the eager puppy dog type. She prefers to chase, rather than be chased, and she points out a likely customer as the sort of man she goes for, in the hope that he will buck his ideas up. She points to Dante, who is currently enjoying a strawberry sundae at the bar. The trouble is that young man gets the wrong message. Rather than work on his image, he decides to follow Dante, and prove to Cindy that her ideal guy is in fact a creep. He has no idea what he is letting himself in for.
6. Rock Queen
Dante isn’t too protective of his equipment, kicking a jukebox into submission when it stops working. But Patty is surprised to see one record venerated, and even framed on a wall. It’s an album by Elena Huston, a voice talent that could even make a half demon like Dante feel. Coincidentally, his next job involves protecting a group of treasure hunters as they explore a previously hidden store of LP records. Only one of those pristine LPs is in high demand by a rather familiar sounding demon.
7. Wishes Come True
When a demonic looking genie offers a fisherman a wish, it’s bound to be a double-edged sword. Sure enough, not long after a distressed young girl is at Dante’s business asking for his help in getting her brother out of jail. Kerry was arrested for murder after his best friend Claude disintegrated. Now he’s locked up in the notorious Devil Prison, from where no one has ever escaped alive. Of course to get Kerry out, the first thing that Dante does is get himself arrested.
8. Once Upon A Time
Now Dante’s past is knocking on the door. Earnest was best friends with a boy named Tony, 20 years ago on Morris Island. Then a fire ravaged the island, killing most of the residents, and the survivors blamed Tony and his mother, who both had no choice but to flee. Earnest believes that the fire was started by demons, and he’s determined to clear Tony’s name. It’s an obsession that has claimed his life for the past two decades, and he believes that Tony is actually Dante.
9. Death Poker
Another damsel in distress calls on Dante to save her loser husband. Paul is a gambler, and since he regularly started losing the shirt off his back, their marriage has fallen apart. She wants Paul saved, but Dante isn’t interested, not until he hears tell of a demonic gambler named King, a gambler who brings death to all who lose against him. Soon Dante is on an exclusive shipboard casino, playing high stakes poker, with his very soul as the ante. The trouble is, there’s a reason why Dante owes so much to Lady, he’s a lousy gambler.
10. The Last Promise
There’s a tall powerful demon in town, dressed in white, gunning for Dante, and looking to take his soul. At the same time, Dante encounters a mysterious demon all clad in black, who shares an appreciation for strawberry sundaes with him. As fate would have it, black and white are brothers, and it all has something to do with Dante’s father Sparda, and the power he possessed. Meanwhile, the schemes of demon snitch Sid are coming to fruition.
Yet another damsel in distress shows up at Dante’s door, with a demon-attracting pendant that is causing her all manner of trouble. The pendant is Nina’s family legacy, and it’s been entrusted to her to safeguard. But of late, more and more demons have been showing up looking to steal it for its hidden powers. Nina has been advised that Dante would be a better guardian for the pendant, apt as he is to slaughter wayward devils. But at the last minute, Nina changes her mind. Meanwhile, Dante and Patty have been annoying each other more than usual, and Patty has opted to go for a sulk. Suddenly the orphan sees her mother on the other side of the street. And that’s all that demon snitch Sid needs, Patty, her mother, the pendant, and an altar that opens a portal to the underworld, bestowing ultimate power on him, and bringing about the end of the world.
Devil May Cry gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution on these discs. Well, I say 1080p, but it quickly becomes clear that this is a show that was animated at lower resolution and up-scaled, most likely 540 lines. It’s not a great transfer to be frank, although given its lower than full HD roots, to say that it is soft and not too dissimilar in detail levels to an up-scaled DVD would be no surprise. While digital banding is surprisingly light, what I found surprising was the degree of posterisation and noise around fast motion, noticeable even during normal viewing. If you had the NTSC DVDs, you probably would notice little difference. However, compared to our standards converted discs, with their blended frames and ghosting, these discs do present enough improvement to warrant upgrading. And certainly despite the posterisation, there is significantly less compression noise to mar the viewing experience, particularly in action sequences. Colours are richer, and the Blu-ray format handles the hazy scenes and moody darkness with greater aplomb compared to the DVD. There’s also a little more detail to appreciate, particularly Patty’s freckles.
For the Blu-ray, Funimation gave Devil May Cry Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround tracks in English and Japanese, along with an optional translated subtitle stream. There is no signs only track for this release, and given its setting, one isn’t required. For this review, and to freshen up the experience, I watched half the episodes in English, and half in Japanese. The HD audio certainly serves the show well, giving a richer and more vibrant experience than the DVD. The show’s music comes across with clarity, and the action sequences definitely have more impact. The dialogue is clear in both versions, but it’s still the Japanese audio which has a consistent standard to it. The English dub casts the main characters very well, particularly that of Dante, who shares a voice actor with the Devil May Cry games, if not the same sassiness of script, but the guest stars for each episode vary significantly in quality, with some living up to the standards of the main cast, and others just phoning in their performances.
The subtitles are timed accurately and free of typographical error.
Both discs present their contents with animated menus.
The only extras are on disc 2, and simply repeat that which was on the DVDs.
There is an interview with Toshiyuki Morikawa (Dante), who talks about his character and the show for about 5 minutes.
There are 2 snippets of preview footage for the Devil May Cry 4 videogame from the E3 2007, and the Tokyo Game Show ’08. You’ll also find the short and long trailers. There is also some Final Footage from Devil May Cry 4 in two more trailers.
Finally, you get to see 7 cut scenes from Devil May Cry 4 in their entirety.
All of this is presented in 480i resolution.
The textless credits for the anime are in 1080p.
I should have thought twice... I’ve heard about Blu-rays that fail to significantly upgrade the DVD experience, and have even avoided one or two through judicious reading of reviews prior to purchase, but this time I got caught. It isn’t unusual for anime to be animated at less than 1080 lines of resolution; in fact the reverse is significantly rarer. Most anime on Blu-ray is scaled up from lower resolutions (albeit higher than 480 lines of SD) and will look much better than their DVD counterparts. It isn’t a surprise that Devil May Cry looks lower than full HD resolution, it’s that it looks so much softer and less defined than I would have hoped for, that I’d guess that it was animated at 540 lines of resolution and scaled up, if not just an upscale of SD content.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood Blu-rays originated at a similar resolution and look fantastic, while Samurai Champloo is an upscale of genuine SD material and it too looks very impressive. Not so much with Devil May Cry, as while you do get the benefit of watching the show at its native frame rate, without the blended frames and ghosting of the DVD, the compression applied to this transfer is similar in quality to that of a DVD, with posterisation and macroblocking visible even during normal playback. Darker, and smokier scenes don’t fare too well, which given the setting for much of the show means that this is the first time that I haven’t been impressed by an anime on Blu-ray.
The second problem, and more significant for me, is the re-watch situation. When I first saw Devil May Cry, I loved it; it had great characters, witty dialogue and some seriously impressive action sequences, backed up by excellent animation from Studio Madhouse. It came surfing a ‘best thing ever’ wave and I got picked up along with it, clinging on for the ride. I’ve watched it a few times since, and I have to say that beneath the snazzy visuals and engaging characters, there idles away the underpowered engine of a very mundane narrative. These are stories designed to get characters from a to b, to hasten the arrival of a blood and guts action sequence, and to do so without any detours, red herrings, or tantalising surprises.
That isn’t to say that Devil May Cry isn’t enjoyable. You can easily lose twenty-odd minutes to an episode, again mostly for the characterisations and the energy and pace of the story. You don’t have to strain the grey matter to do so, and these are very much episodes that you can have on in the background. Devil May Cry is a fun series that is well worth watching, and if you haven’t seen it before, then this Blu-ray release, if you can still find it, is the obvious way to go in this HD age. But if you have it on DVD, and are pondering upgrading, then it’s best to save your pennies for something new, as there just isn’t enough over the DVD release to warrant double-dipping.