Content warning: suicide and domestic abuse
If Shigeru Mizuki’s GeGeGe no Kitarō was his tribute to Japanese legend, Akuma Kun is his investigation into Abrahamic mysticism. In the context of this book, the title Akuma-kun is passed down from father to son. He is known for his extensive knowledge of angels and demons, owns “Solomon’s Flute,” and can cast spells in both Hebrew and Latin. It’s also significantly darker, which is saying something considering how gloomy Kitaro can get; Akuma Kun explores the darkness inside the human psyche rather than how the outside environment affects people, which makes it far less subtle than Mizuki’s other well-known folkloric series.
The parent/child dynamic is the most prominent theme among the many others in this most recent adaptation of Mizuki’s writing. This is something that’s always been there in the plot; Ichiro Umoregi, the current Akuma-kun title bearer, is Shingo Umoregi’s adopted son, who was the subject of earlier incarnations. Beside him are Shingo’s sister Etsuko and Mephisto III, the son of Shingo’s companion Mephisto II. The two younger generation members have somewhat different father-son ties. Mephisto III is keen to continue his work with an Akuma-kun and has a strong bond with his father. To his dismay, Ichiro appears to have resentment toward his father and prefers to study books over working toward the establishment of the utopia he is tasked with creating. He also appears to be reluctant to assist others with their demon troubles. It’s true that Ichiro gets off his behind and helps people—after all, there wouldn’t be much of a plot if he didn’t—but it always seems like he’s acting under duress, considering what he has to do rather than what he wants to. The main plot point for him is whether or not that’s true, and as the show progresses, it becomes clear that Ichiro may be more terrified of losing his father than he is of becoming disillusioned with him. Though it’s an immature method to check in on Shingo, acting like a brat is one way to keep him around.
Parent-child interactions are a motif that extends beyond the primary protagonists. The second half of the show centers on dads and sons, with one episode delving deeper into the role of fathers in families, while the first half of the show features two distinct tales concerning mothers and daughters. The intriguing thing about the mother-daughter stories is that they are more darker than the others, and they focus on the idea that daughters want to live lives that are authentically their own, not ones that are predetermined by their mothers. The most significant lesson here is that the mothers find it simpler to place the blame for their acts elsewhere than on themselves. This relates to how Ichiro views himself and Shingo. They can evade realizing what they did wrong by saying, “The demon made me do it,” and Ichiro’s job is to make them face their transgressions.
It’s not always a sure thing, no matter what the circumstances. This is especially evident in the stories, which cover various father stories, that make up episodes seven through nine. The episode where Ichiro’s landlord’s absentee husband reappears is the most startling. Even though he has returned home, we can see that he is still finding it difficult to accept his past deeds and the fact that the “home” he has returned to isn’t exactly the one he left. He has never met his five-year-old daughter Mio. Even after Akuma-kun assists him with at least one of his previous mistakes, he finally decides to take the easy route rather than take responsibility for the anguish he causes, which may or may not be comparable to the pain he feels. These episodes imply that parents may be self-centered, and every self-centered parent Ichiro meets intensifies his feelings toward and interactions with his father. This is something the main antagonist of the series is keen to take advantage of in the last parts of the story.
There are several parts in Akuma Kun where viewers can find themselves a little uneasy because the mythology of the show is based on modern, living faiths. The series’ 1960s–1970s origins can occasionally be seen in the demonic figure designs (especially in episode eight). Dub Ichiro refers to the Haitian Voudou deity Legba as a “loa” rather than a “demon,” although both his portrayal and employment of him in the narrative are a touch strange. The angel’s more Old Testament appearance appeals to me, and as always, the traditional Mizuki designs for Gremory and Hyakkume are entertaining.
One of the best things about this production is calling Legba a loa, especially because the subtitles continue to write “Akuma Kun” instead of “Akuma-kun,” which is rather obnoxious. The last three episodes suffer from white subtitles that are difficult to read against the surroundings, but the actors in both Japanese and English are superb. Cristina Vee is fantastic as Gremory, while Michael Johnston’s performance as Ichiro is better than Yuuki Kaji’s, who is still very good. However, Toshio Fukukawa’s Mephisto(s) performs better than Mephisto III by Kyle McCarley. Ultimately, though, everything boils down to personal taste, and both are valid. The artwork is equally delightful, featuring backgrounds that evoke Mizuki’s chaotic style while yet being worn-out and slightly dilapidated. It’s always strange to see female character designs modified to be cuter, but this works well. Although the background music has a tone that makes me feel uneasy, it actually works rather nicely. A few references to “Mizuki,” both as a character and as the name of a convenience store, are also amusing.
Even if, barring a second season, I’m not totally sold on the finale, Akuma Kun is still a worthwhile watch. It’s ominous and disquieting, but that’s exactly right. Attention to detail has been paid to elements like Shingo’s mature body language in spite of his outward appearance and the way Hyakkume and Komorineko are introduced gradually before their big reveal in the epilogue. If the episodes’ themes of cannibalism, domestic abuse, and suicide don’t bother you, then this is a worthwhile watch.