Go Nagai is the original bad boy of manga. His series “Shameless School” (“Harenchi Gakuen”) cemented his status as the inventor of the hentai (erotic) genre. “Shameless School” debuted in the first issue of Shueisha Inc.’s Weekly Shonen Jump, Japan’s best-selling manga magazine, in August 1968. The adult shenanigans and sexualized students Nagai depicted rendered him the target of national media, Parent Teacher Associations and women’s groups — and an infamous artistic pioneer.
Over the past year, both Nagai and Shonen Jump have been celebrated for their 50th anniversary milestones. But one of Nagai’s later manga has gained immediate relevance. The animated adaptation of his 1972 “Devilman” series, “Devilman Crybaby,” directed by Masaaki Yuasa and released on Netflix back in January, has become one of 2018’s most talked-about anime and biggest international hits, despite its source being 46 years old.
Now 73, Nagai looks like a professor -- which, in fact, he is, albeit one with a flair for smart jackets. In 2005, he started teaching character design at the Osaka University of Arts. The soft-spoken former troublemaker admits that he may have been ahead of his time.
“‘Devilman’ came out over 40 years ago, and maybe the work itself was too early for the audience,” he tells me over coffee in Los Angeles. “Up until very recently, only one volume was translated into English. I think it’s Netflix that has driven my reputation here in the United States.”
Director Yuasa, 53, was the featured anime artist at this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. He brings his signature visual contortions to “Devilman Crybaby,” while updating its specs: characters communicate in rapid-fire text messages and post bigoted rants on social media; a street gang’s disenchantment is sung in hip hop verses; and the story’s principal young women, Miki and Miko, are edgy, self-possessed and impatient, showing nary a trace of anime’s conventional kawaii cuteness, often preferring one another to men.
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