The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 49 – Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend

Urotsukidoji, Legend of the Overfiend 1

This week we are covering rape. That got your attention, didn’t it?

I should stress at this point that this is only one reason that I am covering this particular anime – the most controversial animation ever released in the UK. Urotsukidōji is a series of Original Video Anime (OVA) made between 1987 and 1995, spread over six series. The most famous of these was the first series, which in the west was re-edited into a film subtitled Legend of the Overfiend.

It’s not just shocking in this country, but even in Japan too. It’s this series that gave anime its bad reputation in Britain, with the press denouncing anime in general for being violent and pornographic. Urotsukidōji is very gory and very graphic. But oddly, the rape depicted can be argued to be as a result of censorship.

The series mixes erotica and the supernatural. The story opens with a monologue which says that every 3,000 years our world, the human world, is united with the demon world and the man-beast world by the arrival of the “Chojin”, a kind of god. The central character is the man-beast Jyaku Amano, who seeks the real Chojin and hopes for a safe future for all the worlds. However, violent monsters from the demon world are constantly trying to kill the Chojin and stop the unification. It is up to Jyaku and his friends to stop them. Amongst the vile things the monsters do is rape women using tentacles.

Interestingly though, this anime differs rather considerably from its source material. Originally Urotsukidōji began as a manga created by Toshio Maeda in 1986, but the manga was more comedic and much less violent. It was only when it got animated the following year by a man named Hideki Takayama that it became so notorious. Also, while it is mostly remembered for “tentacle rape” as it has become known, it does not appear that frequently in the series. But it is the thing that is most remembered. So how did it come about?

While censorship is officially forbidden under Article 21 of the Japanese constitution, anime producers did agree to certain rules amongst themselves. One of these is that you could not show genitalia. While nudity is less of an issue and is more frequent in anime than it is on British TV, you could not show a penis or even pubic hair.

To get around this, at first producers of pornographic anime made series in which nudity was not the key to the eroticism, such as bondage. But then they can up with an idea: instead of showing a penis, they would show something that just looked like a penis, such as a penis-shaped tentacle. Not only did this legal loophole get around the rules, but it also had other benefits in terms of production. Because all you see is the tentacle instead of an entire human body, they discovered you could get better camera angles and see more of the action.

The big problem though occurred when the series was first released in Britain. When it came out newspapers, politicians and other people condemned it, both left and right-wing. Having said that, it was this kind of media coverage that some distributors were keen to attract. Many wanted to be seen as edgy and controversial. Some companies practiced something called “fifteening”, where if a series would have been given a “12” rating they would add extra swearing in the English dub to boost to a “15” in order to make it more controversial than it really was.

Regarding the impact the media coverage had, it actually totally backfired. According to Jonathan Clements’s book Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade, at the height of the scare in 1997 the average attendance at anime conventions in Britain was 500 people. In that same year Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend sold 40,000 copies, way more than many anime series even today. That meant people were buying it to experience the gore and sex scenes the papers told them about.

Since then other Urotsukidōji titles have been released, but they have been heavily edited. The original one is also rather shoddy. The animation is poor, over 45 minutes of footage has been removed, and it is only available with an English dub. Not only that, but the dub for the whole series was split across three different companies, used different actors and the scripts contradicted each other. Perhaps not surprisingly because of all these changes the series is very cheap. I have seen copies being sold in HMV for just £3.

Is it worth watching? Well, it is arguably one of the most important anime due to its impact, but the quality of the release is so poor. If you do watch it you should embrace yourself for the fact it has been messed about with and there is a lot of content which is highly objectionable.

All the Urotsukidōji titles are released on DVD by Manga Entertainment.