Jun 1, 2004 (Updated Jun 1, 2004)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lifts UROTSUKIDOJI back to King of Hentai, cg animation, fantasy and eroticism

Cons:Marketed badly: misleading blurb, confusing plotline at times

The Bottom Line: UROTSUKIDOJI NEW SAGA Episode 1 retells the saga for a new age. As perverse as you'd expect, it's certainly the most visually impressive and imaginative hentai animation yet released.

The Legend of the Overfiend lives on...and on. Since arriving in the early 1990s with the feature-length UROTSUKIDOJI film, an instant masterpiece of cult viewing and controversy, there have been three sequels. First came UROTSUKIDOJI II, The Legend of the Demon Womb, then UROTSUKIDOJI III, Return of the Overfiend and finally UROTSUKIDOJI IV, Inferno Road; the animation quality eroding just as progressively as the stories became increasingly bizarre. The fourth instalment did at least have a proper ending (although no-one really understood what it meant) although its sensationalisation of underage rape left it banned in a number of countries.

Well you might wonder where director Toshio Maeda would take his saga of hell on earth next then. And, after the sorry mess of Inferno Road, whether we would see a further denigration of character design and storyboarding. "Well, yes," you might argue, "but this is hentai - design and storyboarding should be way down on the list of considerations. Just give us the tentacles and the fantastic sex that served to make the original such a fantastic success - that'll ensure UROTSUKIDOJI sequels will continue forever and a day."

Wrong. The first film may lack characterisation but the characters are central to a strongly focussed plot. This no doubt was also vital to its success both in Japan and abroad. The sequels are simply explicit sex and gore fests, lifted only momentarily out of that category by the odd battle sequence. Watching the first UROTSUKIDOJI film feels exactly like that, watching a film. The second and third instalments are, by comparison, episodes of a trashy soap-opera. They play around with the time-lines until the viewer is completely befuddled and many scenes unfold with no bearing at all on the conclusion. Then by UROTSUKIDOJI IV, Maeda loses the plot entirely, producing sketchy, foul, gut-wrenching tat that you feel ashamed to own.

The next stage, almost predictably for Maeda, is to rewrite the history of the Legend of the Overfiend with UROTSUKIDOJI NEW SAGA. Billed as "the newest chapter in the most ground breaking hentai anime of all time", episode one is available on DVD only and has a back blurb that runs thus: "An immortal vagrant with the sex drive of a beast, Amano Jyaku has escaped prison to gratify his appetites at Meishin College." The coverart is equally unimpressive with Anime 18 seeming almost deliberately to publicise NEW SAGA as some sort of college sex and slashing number. The logical next step, you may think. Maeda has completely sold out on his legend of three realms and now has his central character fighting lusty college professors and ogling big eyed girlies in the showers.

Thankfully, the reality is very, very different to what the publicity says. NEW SAGA, although it falls into some quite evident Maeda traps early on, is actually extremely good. The feature opens eerily with a recounting of the Legend of the Ultra God (That would be an alias of the Overfiend) reminiscent of the classic first film. But this is UROTSUKIDOJI revamped: the animation isn't the 2D fare of that cinematic masterpiece, this is digital 3D with 5.1 Dolby Stereo Surround Sound echoing through your home cinema system. And of course, the feature is in 16:9 widescreen with a choice of English or Japanese audio (and subtitles for the latter). Incredibly atmospheric, the film is intercut with layers of astounding computer-generated effects. Swirling snow, blood being washed from a face by the rain, a ride on an elevated train at sunset. This is not anime made on the cheap by a tacky production company trying to cash in on the UROTSUKIDOJI licence. This is big budget; perhaps even hentai for a new generation. And it shows.

For this first episode of NEW SAGA, there is basically one rule for us long-standing UROTSUKIDOJI sufferers. Forget everything you know about the UROTSUKIDOJI saga before coming to it. This is a recounting of a new legend of the Ultra God, introducing not just familiar characters like Amano, Ozaki and Nagumo but in addition Mika, Kimiko, Shinzo, Kengo and Yuri. However, some things are so central to the UROTSUKIDOJI formula that they never change - there's a still an army of extra nameless characters who make their entrance only for elongated sex scenes.

These are some of the traps mentioned earlier. The sheer length of many of the copious copulations distracts you from what is a much more relationship-oriented plot in NEW SAGA. The episode, which is not complete in itself, is roughly split 50:50 with progressing the plot and providing a wealth of bizarre sexual couplings. But the plot itself is, as usual, also extremely confusing. New sides to Amano's character are introduced; his mission to track down the Ultra God in NEW SAGA is also his own quest to restore the honour of his dead father. In a compelling scene early on, he is requested by the 'Beastly King' to undertake it; the King nursing a pendant which Amano's father once wore. The motivations however, are not explored any further throughout all three of the episodes that comprise NEW SAGA. Many questions therefore remain unanswered, one being why the Beastly King's daughter seems intent on blasting Amano to death before he even makes it through the portal to the Realm of Beasts.

Finally, as far as confusions go, once again it appears to be different translators who worked on NEW SAGA than on the rest of the UROTSUKIDOJI saga. Why, for example, do we have a 'Beastly King' and not the 'King of the Demon Realm'? Why an 'Ultra God' and not 'Overfiend' or even 'Chojin'? Why didn't the US team keep the translations used in the earlier parts instead of inventing even more aliases?

Now NEW SAGA's animation is, despite all the indications of the previous three films and the coverart, superb. This is not just the UROTSUKIDOJI saga updated for 2004, where every character now sports a cellphone - this is hentai on a whole new level. Forget any conveniently-placed pillars in the foreground of sex scenes in the early UROTSUKIDOJI films. In this 50 minute episode you have kinky x-ray videocamera scenes, demon sex, rough sex or sex in a toilet cubicle to jump to. However, unlike the original UROTSUKIDOJI movie, the rape scene at the very end is distinctly non-erotic. Despite the obviously fantastical elements, real emotions are at play in the characters of Yumi and Ozaki as it plays out. Amano, by the way, after 69ing queen Genyo in the Demon Realm, does nothing to "gratify his appetites at Meishin College".

The picture quality of the Anime 18 DVD is superb and it features five menus all resplendent with artwork. You can not only alter the language soundtrack or jump to a scene but view the storyboards of two of the sex scenes and the battle that concludes the episode. Also included are five trailers for other hentai releases and an art gallery of all the publicity material used on the DVD. There are also sketches of some of the characters but these are incredibly difficult to see, even if you change the contrast on your television or monitor. The dub is also quite nauseating and Japanese with subtitles is infinitely the preferable option.

Episode 1 of UROTSUKIDOJI NEW SAGA makes a clean break from the trash that followed the release of the original movie. It is a retelling of the saga for a new age and just as perverse as you've come to expect from Toshio Maeda. With the incorporation of digital effects, it is certainly the most visually impressive and imaginative hentai animation yet released. This, the host of sexy (and exquisitely animated) girls and the characterisation of the main players lifts it far above the original UROTSUKIDOJI movie. Hentai fans form an orderly queue, please.

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