WARNING: Devil Hunter Yohko is rated 17+/TV-MA, and due to its graphic yet campy nature, discretion is advised.
Devil Hunter Yohko, also known as Mamono Hunter Yohko, is a six-part OVA first released in 1991, with the final part in 1995. It is widely known among anime trivia buffs for being the first VHS released by dearly departed anime licensor ADV Films. “At the time, no one in the US had seen anything like this,” ADV co-founder Matt Greenfield says in the first part’s commentary track. The basic plot – a typical 16-year-old girl goes to school by day and fights off demons by night – might suggest otherwise. The 1991 US release of the first OVA in the series, however, predates Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sailor Moon, two very different phenomena that Devil Hunter Yohko nonetheless has more than passing similarities with.
And in a market predominated by mecha and sci-fi anime such as Robotech and Akira, Yohko became a fairly refreshing option for otaku looking for a fantasy fix. Indeed, subsequent episodes were released almost concurrently with the magical girl boom of the early 90s. The very copious amounts of fan service (especially in the jarring first episode) and ultraviolence might have also helped. Now, this horror-magical girl hybrid doesn’t hold up exceptionally well, but it still provides an entertaining watch for fans of anime cheese.
Since the beginning of time, female members of the Mano clan have been kicking demon butt for 107 generations. A very old woman named Madoka, the latest member of the family, busily trains her granddaughter Yohko to become the 108th. Yohko’s mother Sayoko would’ve become the 108th Devil Hunter, but she lost her virginity before she got the chance. Which is to say, Devil Hunters are pure in both mind and body, and sex is simply unacceptable. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Yohko is boy-crazy. Yikes.
In the first episode, the demons hatch a plan for Yohko, already pressured by everyone around her to have sex, to lose her virginity to her crush Hideki. This leads to some fairly graphic sexual tension of the “brainwashed female” variety found in such shining examples of art as Fight! Iczer-One. Double-yikes. Even without the presence of tentacles, Yohko ends up baring almost all in a fairly creepy context, making the first episode highly unsuitable for young viewers…that is, until Madoka shows up in hilarious fashion and reiterates that Yohko should stay a virgin. Now that’s good parenting, something even Yohko’s own mother doesn’t possess.
Yohko’s creed to stay pure of mind and body pays off, as she gets Super Special Awesome Devil Fighting Powers(™). Which is to say, she can kill any demon with her bare hands, but certainly has trouble with some of the more complex aspects of demon hunting, as well as keeping her other, ahem, endowments covered at all times. In the end, despite the hilarious banter in the the first episode, it has a considerably dark streak to go with its giddy demon-eviscerating and sex appeal, also from a technical standpoint. Murky colors and washed-out animation throughout clearly scream low-budget. This applies even in the “Special Extended Version” of the episode, which beefs the runtime up by a whopping fifteen seconds and is—get this—dub-only. Yes, you read that right.
Luckily, the actual quality of each OVA episode gets progressively better, the mood grows considerably lighter, and the series finds its true niche with a hearty balance of innuendo-laden comedy (mostly about Yohko’s chastity), the occasional nudie transformation sequence, and loads of demon butt-kicking, with a few fairly shallow stories that mainly serve as fodder for the sometimes gratuitous fanservice and insane action set pieces. Episode 2 introduces the perky, blue-haired Devil Hunter sidekick Azusa Kanzaki, a mysterious young girl whose powers come from a bracelet that her “auntie Madoka” gave her. And if that’s not enough, Yohko’s charming best friend Chi-chan becomes the self-described “Devil Hunter Manager.” Yohko questions Chi-chan’s involvement in this, and we do learn that she’s planning on profiting off of Yohko and Azusa’s supernatural-killing abilities. You know, like Ghostbusters.
This course of action proves to be a fruitful one in episode 3, where the team rescues a pair of handsome royals named Prince Biryu and Princess Yanagi from the former’s evil father, the Great Dragon King Ryuuou. Episode 4, dubbed “4-EVER,” is actually a music video compilation that takes musical selections from the show and edits in – what else? – the humor, sex and violence from each episode. At least the suggestive scene in Episode 1 isn’t dwelt upon. On the other hand, there is some adorable SD animation created specifically for the special and some live-action performances by Yohko’s seiyuu Aya Hisakawa. If you’re into anime music and insert songs, by all means give it a shot, but the rest of us can skip it entirely.
Then, we move on to episode 5, which has the very first Devil Hunter, named Haruka, going to the present day and helping Yohko and Azusa fight Tokima, the most powerful devil. With every successive Devil Hunter generation, he frees himself from the seal created by the previous one, but always gets beaten and sealed away again in some sort of vicious cycle. The series closes with Episode 6, which features Yohko’s bitter rival cousin Ayako Mano, who, through a complicated set of circumstances involving their twin grandmothers, is another candidate for the title of 108th Devil Hunter. It doesn’t help that this antagonist also looks almost exactly like Yohko, and has her own sidekick, creatively named Azusa-2. This bitter rivalry creates a good setup for the final and unexpected battle.
Some fairly well-known individuals in the world of anime, such as Katsuhisa Yamada (director of Record of Lodoss War), Hisashi Abe (chief animation director of Chobits), and Akiyuki Shinbo (director of too many bizarre and brilliant anime series to count) all worked on Devil Hunter Yohko, and the animation was produced by Madhouse. In other words, there was quite a bit of talent put into the making of this series, and even though the animation is not up to Madhouse’s very high standards, it gets the job done, especially in subsequent episodes.
For those who might be surprised at the creation of “4-EVER,” the music throughout the show is fairly good and fits its campy mood. Also, there is a very eclectic selection of insert songs and closing themes. Some are wistful (“Love Coup d’Etat, Go Go,”) some are a bit bland (“Touch My Heart,” which closes the series). But “Not So Fast, Sexy Girl,” the second theme, fits the entire series in a nutshell. It contrasts nicely and hilariously between a teasing, suggestive ballad and a riot-grrl, man-averse hard rock song.
The voice acting also does the show justice, with Hisakawa fitting the bill for Yohko and performing most of the closing themes as well. Considering that almost every anime fan knows her more for, say, Sailor Mercury, Skuld or Miki Kaoru (among countless others), she has yet another great role in her repertoire here. The other voice acting is nothing special, and the English dub with Amanda Winn-Lee in the title role is just okay, but for a cheap thrill like this, there’s not a whole lot to complain about.
Even more interesting than the show itself is the way ADV has presented it here. The DVD was initially released during the 15th anniversary of ADV Films proper, and it shows. I am a huge fan of movie/video studio vanity plates, and the ADV logo history at the beginning of the second DVD is a pretty cool touch. Plus, the aforementioned commentary on the first episode, dubbed a “historical” commentary, features ADV co-founder Matt Greenfield, ADR director David Williams, and DVD coordinator Janice Williams, who have all been at ADV since its foundation. I did not live in the initial “anime boom” of the late 80s and early 90s, but that commentary track inserts so much nostalgia that any anime fan can learn about it.
Anime as a medium has come much farther than ADV’s very first release. Even during that time period, Devil Hunter Yohko was never considered high art by any means, and the things it does have been attempted with much more success in later years. Regardless, I consider this cult curio to be a mostly fun, cheesy, and hilarious way to spend an afternoon.
Devil Hunter Yohko was released on VHS and DVD in North America by ADV Films. Oddly, the “Special Extended Version” of Episode 1 is an English dub only, while the regular version is in Japanese. All other episodes have English dubs and the original Japanese with English subtitles. It is rated 17+ (TV-MA in later pressings) for graphic violence, innuendo, fanservice/nudity, and a fairly explicit and jarring sexual scene in the first episode.