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Akuma-kun

Entry updated 22 August 2022. Tagged: TV.

Japanese tv series (1966-1967). Toei Company. Based on the Manga by Shigeru Mizuki. Directors include Akira Kashima, Tsuneo Kobayashi and Koichi Takemoto. Writers include Masaru Inoue and Susumu Takahisa. Cast includes Jun Hamamura, Mitsunobu Kaneko, Kenji Ushio and Yoshio Yoshida. 26 25-minute episodes. Black and white.

When three children discover a corpse two run away, the third – Shingo Yamada (Kaneko), nicknamed Akuma-kun ("Devil-kun", due to his interest in the occult) – goes for a closer look, noting the eyes have been burnt out. He follows a departing old man into an underground cave and watches him call forth a giant subterranean four-fingered hand, then send it back to whence it came. The old man examines Shingo, noting a birthmark on his forehead and commenting "this boy has transcended good and evil", adding he was born to fight against misfortune, as foretold in a 3,000 year old "Judean prophesy". The old man is Professor Faust (Hamamura); for 300 years he has been fighting Yokai (see Supernatural Creatures) and now the boy will do so in his stead. He explains Yokai are the cause of all misfortune in the world and when Shingo defeats them it will be at peace; by way of example, he shows him Ganma, who steals human eyes and embeds them in his body. Fortunately Shingo will not be fighting alone: Professor Faust summons the demon (see Gods and Demons) Mephisto (Yoshida) to aid him. His appearance is of a man about town, with top hat, cape and cane (the latter a Magical weapon). Aware of Mephisto's unreliability (though he can be bribed with chocolate), Professor Faust forces him to swear loyalty to Shingo. After giving the boy an odd-shaped flute – once possessed by King Solomon – that compels Yokai to obey the player, he dies and vanishes. The first episode ends with Shingo and Mephisto defeating Ganma.

Various Yokai-destroying adventures follow. Resenting humanity encroaching into the skies, a giant crow attacks airliners; 600 years old, it has learnt Shapeshifting and Telekinesis. It offers Mephisto a contract where he gets to rule the Earth whilst the Crow people rule the skies and outer space: he happily signs, upon which the crow reveals a hidden clause – Mephisto will be a servant of Crow people. The crow is eventually frozen and dropped into a volcano. Another story features a witch, whose portrait fires beams at Mephisto: he throws a candelabra at it, damaging an eye – shortly after the witch is seen bleeding from that eye. Other episodes feature a long-tongued reptile that swallows both Shingo and Mephisto – when they cut themselves out through the belly, its leaking stomach acid digests its own body. Also appearing are a sea witch; a Yokai that ages children; Vampires; Werewolves; giant mummies; clowns; and invisible Monsters (see Invisibility). Because of their popularity at the time, many of the Yokai are indistinguishable from Kaiju.

Stories with strong SF elements include: a laboratory assistant who builds a machine that can shrink and enlarge (see Inventions, Great and Small): upset by experiments on guinea pigs, he turns one into a Monster that kills the Scientists. Siblings from the future visit the present via Time Machines built into their clothing, but criminals use their Technology to freeze time (see Stasis Field) so they can steal. A Mad Scientist and a caveman from the last Ice Age (see Prehistoric SF) appear in other tales.

Shingo is not the most memorable of leads, but Mephisto has his moments (both versions: Yoshida was replaced by Ushio from episode 10, who played his younger brother). The series is surprisingly violent for a children's show – including Shingo running through a witch with a rapier. The special effects (see Tokusatsu) budget for children's programming was small, and Akuma-kun was no exception (but it did overspend its allocation): the results range from poor to startlingly effective, with some reasonably disturbing monsters (though some silly ones too). The show's most iconic images appear in episode 6, "Neck Doll" (vt "Human Doll"): here a discarded female mannequin is possessed by a Yokai, its face becoming one giant eye and one giant mouth; from the latter it breathes a gas that turns humans into mannequins, emitting an unnerving "hee-hee-hee" all the while. [SP]

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