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Demon City Shinjuku Anime DVD Review

9 min read

A true classic gem from the 80’s returns for another chance to win over new fans.

What They Say:
The near future. The glittering skyline of Tokyo now lies broken and crumbling under the weight of an oppressive evil: the tyrannical Rebi Rah. Rah has transformed Shinjuku, the heart of Tokyo, into a city of demons… and that’s just the beginning. There are only three days left until Rah destroys the world.

For years, no one has dared to cross the foul moat which Rah and his evil minions built around the Demon City – until now. Desperate to rescue her father, who was taken captive by Rah and his monstrous minions, the beautiful Sayaka Rama enlists the help of Kyoya, a streetwise Tokyo teenager. The two must bravely venture into the Demon City, where even the army fears to tread.

Even if Sayaka and Kyoya manage to defeat Rah’s army of monsters, will they be able to destroy the dark sorcerer? Or will they face the same fate as all those who came before them?

The Review:
This release has quite a few language options which is rather surprising. We get the original Japanese 2.0 language encoded at 192kbps, the Japanese 5.1 language encoded at 448kbps, a Japanese DTS 5.1 language track encoded at 755kbps and an English 2.0 language track encoded at 224kbps. While we sampled the other tracks briefly, we settled on the Japanese DTS 5.1 track for the main viewing and thoroughly enjoyed it as it had a new warmth to it, a certain richness and fullness to it that was definitely lacking in past experience with the stereo mix. There isn’t much noteworthy sent to the rears but the forward soundstage is very well off here and it uses the piece as a whole that gives it some good depth and some real clarity to the action sequences. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released in 1988, the transfer for this film is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The film was showing its age back when it was first released on DVD so even when it’s cleaned up, you can still see the softness to some of the backgrounds, the natural film grain and some of the other bits that come up with older materials like this. It’s never going to be a show that will stand out sharply, but it’s one that I’ll always hold out hope for when it comes to getting a high definition transfer of after a full on remastering. The materials here are certainly better than some previous DVD releases, but with the four language tracks here, it cuts down some of the space available for the video. But it’s not a huge loss and the show generally looks like a film from 1988 should and left me fairly pleased in that context.

Presented in a standard size keepcase, the cover artwork for Demon City Shinjuku goes for the tried and true artwork that we’ve seen on just about every release, which again points to the absolute dearth of materials available out there. The positive about it is that it’s one of the better cover pieces out there, especially from this time period, as the character artwork is great and I love the look of the city with the symbol over it as it all turns to hell. The logo is the main thing that’s changed here as it goes for a really classic font design that I’m not completely sold on, but I’m glad that they at least tried something a little different than doing the completely same thing over again. The back cover gives over a good third of the top of it to a good main cast scene that’s appealing while the center strip has a thick and easy to read summary of what the show is all about. The small strip of shots below it is decent and shows some different aspects to the film. The rest is rounded out with the production credits and the solid technical grid, though the language options aren’t as clear or full as they could be. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu navigation utilizes the same artwork as the front cover but it zooms in much more on Sayaka’s face than anything else, but with the symbols and colors, it works well to give it a very busy, vibrant and intense feeling. There isn’t any really high quality artwork available so you can see some blockiness in the logo but overall it’s pretty good and sets the mood well. Submenus load quickly and there’s a number of selections to be had in the language though there could have been a few more selections to make it a bit more configurable and a bit more clarity on the DTS track.

Though it may not seem like much at first, there’s a good bit to the extras here. The small stuff is the credits, which uses the original CPM post-credits English translated credits scroll, and there’s also the original Japanese trailer. The big piece is the 25 minute section of storyboards that’s set to the main audio track. It’s really neat to see the various elements of the show come together this way. It covers a few different areas and shows some fun aspects of storyboards to reality. Depending on the player, they may not play through together though and the last one may cause the disc to stop after it finishes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When it comes to old anime shows where nostalgia colors things, Demon City Shinjuku is not one of them. I thoroughly enjoyed the show when it was first released by Central Park Media and bought it on VHS and I believe Laserdisc as well. I ended up with two or three versions of it on DVD prior to this one. It’s a film that I’ve felt has held up well over the years because it has a certain simplicity to it and even though certain elements of it are dated, it has a timeless feeling about it as well. And a lot of that is owed to the deft handling of Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who served not only as director here but character designer as well. It has an old school feel about it, natural since it’s from 1988, but it deals with things in a serious and straightforward way that eludes a lot of shows today when it comes to sex and violence.

The film takes place ten years after an event in Shinjuku occurred that turned the night to flames and caused the entire section of the city to essentially separate onto itself. It’s not something that was ever explained to the world, but we see the fight that happened there between a man named Ra with evil intent and a man named Genichirou who tried to stop him. And he did, in essence, because the goal was to turn the whole world but Genichirou managed to sacrifice only a single city in his efforts to stop him. The city turned to ruin and ugliness after that as people avoided it, and now ten years later the story shifts to his son Kyoya, who has been told the truth by a mysterious man and is trying to get him to follow in his fathers footsteps to stop Ra from rising again and destroying the world for his goal. Suffice to say Kyoya is rather uncertain about the whole thing.

What changes things though is prior to this, he saw the World President arrive on Japan (on the space shuttle!) and end up being absconded with by some tentacle-like plants. What really captured his eye though is Sayaka, a beautiful young woman who wants to rescue her father. She’s a bit of a classic here, much as Kyoya is, with her very Japanese features, the pureness about her colors with the whites and pinks and her very deferential style even when pleading with him to get him to help. Kyoya is a fairly straightforward kid as well, an older teen who is definitely skilled with the sword but is adamant that he’s not his father and simply doesn’t want to get involved, not even for her. But at his core is a good guy and one that can’t help but to be drawn into things, both through circumstances and manipulations of others.

The show doesn’t take long to put Kyoya into Shinjuku, following after Sayaka, and we get to see first hand for most of the features just how demon infested the city is. It’s a great piece that shows a lot of simple but elegant designs when it comes to demons, not going so hugely over the top that you role your eyes, but rooted in a sense of the believable and definitely the sensual as well at times. The way they blended into the ruins of the city and provide a series of obstacles for Kyoya to deal with is expected, and it does admittedly just string things together in a very simple way, but it works well to give Kyoya a number of challenges to master before he faces Ra himself and has to really go toe to toe with one of the big bads of the world. Kyoya’s growth is definitely the type you get in a film of this nature so it’s not deep and he grows quickly, but it works well and I’m still amused even after all these years by the supporting cast.

With this being a Madhouse production, it’s definitely a feature that appeals to me visually as it has a lot of very distinctive material about it even as it plays within the realm of the familiar. The creature designs drew me in but I continue to like the human elements from the power that Ra exhibits to the cool and aloof nature of Mephisto. Even the kid didn’t bother me all that much. The core characters are what counts though and Kyoya really does shine because he is an everyman to some degree and is easily accessible, especially as a pure power fantasy for teenage viewers. And Sayaka naturally fits into that as well as a personification of the smart but somewhat subservient Japanese girl who does try to do what she can to solve the problem while still retaining her femininity. The pairing works well together and the personalities, when they clash at key scenes, resonate well because they are well done archetypes.

In Summary:
Demon City Shinjuku continues to be one of my favorite Kawajiri films and often feels the most accessible and “cinematic” in a way, the kidn that could be easily adapted across different mediums and to different audiences around the world with no localization issues. There tends to be only a few anime features that I’d love to see adapted into a live action feature film in Hollywood and this is one of them since it does allow itself to be altered easily for location while still keeping what works without changing it. This presentation is definitely solid and better than what we’ve seen before, but not in a huge way. It’s got some solid features to it and is definitely a great title to have out on the market again, especially after some of those early, awkward and poorly authored releases from the late 90’s. Very recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language, Japanese 5.1 Language, Japanese DTS 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Storyboards, Japanese Trailer

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Discotek Media
Release Date: October 18th, 2011
MSRP: $24.95
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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