Probably the first anime I ever saw any of as a kid was Demon City Shinjuku. I saw the opening sequence of the anime on the Sci-Fi channel on Saturday mornings. The opening of the anime was exciting, and the conclusion of that opening (with the protagonist’s father failing and Shinjuku being transformed into the titular Demon City) hooked me in.
And then my parents got up and I had to turn the TV off because my dad didn’t like the TV on early in the morning.
I wasn’t able to watch the film again, and with it see the whole story, until I was in high school, and I was able to get the film from the library. Since then I’ve watched the film a few times, and while I still view the film with a degree of nostalgia, I’ve developed a bit of distance from that original viewing, so I have a degree of emotional distance from the film, and can see some of the flaws that I overlooked before.
Demon City Shinjuku is a film that makes a lot of assumptions, and expects you to just roll with them. There’s a Global President who has managed to craft a lasting peace agreement in the Middle East, because why not? He comes to Japan with his daughter by space shuttle because why not? Further, the force responsible for Shinjuku’s transformation, the sorcerer Rebi Ra, targets the Global President for attack, in spite of him not planning to launch a spiritual attack against Rebi Ra, because why not?
None of those points, among numerous others are explained. While the film is based on a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, creator of Vampire Hunter D, the first book is effectively a stand-alone story (though there are later sequels), so there’s prior reading you can bring with you into the story, to help explain things. It’s a story that asks you to take everything at face value, while leaving an undercurrent of mystery underneath everything, with no promise that the questions asked by those mysteries will be answered.
That said, the film is a visual feast. This is one of the films directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (who would go on to direct adaptations of some of Kikuchi’s other work), and Kawajiri has a profound sense of visual style. His action is incredibly fluid and dynamic, without causing the viewer to lose track of the scene. Kawajiri is undoubtedly one of the best directors of action in anime (and sword fights in particular), and this film is a great example of why he’s earned that reputation.
That said, because this film is an OVA from the ’90s, it does run into the problem that it feels visually restrained. By which I mean it was made with a 4:3 TV aspect ratio in mind, so we get numerous sequences where as a view I want to see a little more beyond the edge of the screen, but we don’t get that. It makes me wish, somewhat, that this film had gotten a remake that could take advantage of the fact that everyone has widescreen TV sets these days.
Also, the film has many of the other problems that adaptations of Kikuchi’s work have with female characters. Women are generally written as either predators or passive. Even if they’re somewhat active characters, they’re still weak and vulnerable in the face of larger threats in the way that male characters aren’t – and such is the case here.
I still liked the film, but I simply cannot recommend the film without reservation. Demon City Shinjuku isn’t as openly hostile as, say, Ninja Scroll is. However, it’s still harsh and oppressive, and the way that the film’s female lead is written is rather eye-roll inducing. However, I think it’s more newbie friendly than Ninja Scroll is.
Demon City Shinjuku was license-rescued by Discotek Media a few years ago and is currently available from RightStuf and Amazon. Amazon and Rightstuf also have the novel as well, in a physical edition, and Amazon has it through the Kindle store.