Shed those flash-animated tears whilst burning your enemies alive.
Well it’s the start of the Winter anime season again, and this time we’re beginning things with an already-completed bang thanks to this new entity that is the completely original Netflix anime. As in a Netflix anime that wasn’t on Japanese broadcast TV a few months back but created exclusively for the platform, meaning we can binge-watch the entire thing with few complaints and if we’re mad, have one completed anime under our belt before the broadcast shows even premiere. And it’s not just anybody who created this anime. It’s elitist fan-favorite Masaaki Yuasa teaming up with trainwreck writer Ichiro Okouchi to bring to life an old Go Nagai property that most of today’s fandom aren’t aware of, but it’s Go Nagai so it’s going to involve superheroes and something raunchy. Oh happy day. Anime is saved. Bladeebladeeblah.
All joking aside, I’ve been avoiding most of the hype for Devilman Crybaby (if there is any besides from the loud Yuasa fanbase I mean) because quite frankly, I didn’t know what to expect from it. I’ve only watched one Devilman thing in my life and that was so long ago I might as well not have, so I didn’t know a thing about the property at all. The trailer looked visually impressive, but Yuasa has been doing his schtick for so long that he doesn’t score points anymore for what he can accomplish with flash animation. And every time I bothered to look at the pre-excitement my colleagues had for the anime, it was always “more Yuasa is a good thing”.
Here’s a fun fact for my readers: you never want to describe something as “more please” when it comes to praise, because “more please” implies you’ve settled into a comfort zone, which basically gives the creator free reign to hand us diminishing returns and as long as he meets expectations, we’ll never set him on fire. In other words, it’s a fast train to mediocrity combined with a sense of audience smugness that has even plagued genius auteurs like Suda51, and it’d be a shame for Yuasa to go down that road right after the creation of his new anime studio. Don’t get me wrong, I like his works and he’s one of the few anime directors I’ve seen to make four personal favorites of mine. But I also know the phrase “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”, and I already saw those warning signs when I watched his newest movies, Lu Over the Wall and Night is Short, Walk on Girl, at that anime con with the rabbid Yuri on Ice fans. In case you guys forgot my opinion of those films, let me say this: I haven’t thought about them once after writing those reviews aside from the latter getting a little worse in my mind overtime due to how much it rehashed The Tatami Galaxy.
So is Devilman Crybaby going to suffer the same fate as those movies? Or will it be another memorable hit in Yuasa’s line-up? Well here’s another sign that a director’s output is getting more lackluster over time: when it gets easier to summarize what the product is about. Mind Game was about a loser adult learning how to reclaim his life through a high-speed car chase followed by a psychedelic trip into Monstro’s belly (and even that’s not a very good summary). Kaiba was about an amnesiac being searching for his lost memories and discovering just how fucked up the new memory technology actually is whilst being at the center of a massive rebellion. Lu Over the Wall was about fish people cheering up a dude who has underdeveloped angst. You want to know my brief summary for Devilman Crybaby is? Superhero show about a devil who wants to be human, only for some really spoilerific things to happen in the second half of the show that challenge his viewpoints. So not quite Kaiba, but I guess it’s a bit too soon to count Yuasa out at the moment.
Devilman Crybaby is centered on a young plain teenager named Akira Fudo who is tricked by an old friend of his named Ryo Asuka into accompanying him to a very sexual party where it’s revealed to him that demons exist, and Akira ends up absorbing a powerful being named Amon into him during a violent scuffle, transforming him into the titular Devilman. As Devilman, Akira becomes an instant bad boy who eats lots of food and can have sex with a hundred girls at once, but he still has a human heart to the point that he cries whenever he sees something bad happen to somebody, hence the name of this show. As such, he resolves to kill the demons that threaten to eat the human race, whilst Ryo has other plans for him that will either make you hate his guts or fangirl over him so hard that the Yuri on Ice boys will get a little jealous.
But the show isn’t just about whether these two boys can make fujoshis cream their panties. We’ve also got a few side stories involving some of the supporting cast from the childhood female friend and star track runner that the lead fawns over named Miki, another track runner who’s also named Miki but is called Miko to avoid confusion with the much more talented person of the same name which causes intense jealousy, a rap gang who’d probably fit at home in the Tokyo Tribe universe, and a few more that I’ll let you guys see for yourselves. There’s also a really hard shift the story takes around the halfway point that I won’t spoil (although the Netflix summaries sure will), but let’s just say that the hatred Japan has for Logan Paul doesn’t even compare to how big the country’s fury gets in this show.
In short, Devilman Crybaby is a superhero story where the powers are demonic and the sexual content is incredibly high. And believe me, there’s a lot of sexual content in this show. This is a hard R-rated anime in every sense of the word to the point that I think this beats out Kemonozume for Yuasa’s most raunchy cartoon, which is saying a lot considering how much sex was going on there.
Devilman Crybaby’s first few episodes kind of sell the show short. Get past the visual noise, floaty tits, and gay sex, and you’re just watching another superhero show about a loser dude gaining powers and suddenly becoming a badass through them. Even the demonic twist to the powers has been done before by shows like Parasyte, Inuyashiki, and Tokyo Ghoul, and unfortunately Devilman Crybaby seemed to forget the characterization that its predecessors had, because Akira’s only personality seems to be “I’m badass, but I care about humans”. Doesn’t seem to have a reason for it either. That’s just how his character works in the same vein that his friend, Ryo, has a pessimistic view towards humans because the writers said so – although to Ryo’s credit, that does get clarified eventually.
I couldn’t help but feel like this new Devilman was going through the motions a lot of the times to the point that I was forgetting scenes as soon as they happened. A friend of mine informed me of how a scene involving a ceiling spooked him out in the middle of the show, but I couldn’t recall what he was talking about for the life of me. Was too busy thinking “oh no, that bland female childhood friend has been kidnapped and now he has to rescue her” or “oh no, that mother we barely see got assimilated” or “wait a minute, isn’t this just Sakamichi no Apollon except with all the jazz metaphors and realistic grounding replaced with generic superhero antics and flash animation?” A lot of the conflicts just came off as arbitrary with the characters only having one quirk to call a personality, and sometimes they don’t have a quirk. They just have a role that could barely fill a sentence on Wikipedia.
The show does make a point regarding how demons will never be accepted by humans early on, but that’s just common knowledge, especially when the non-Devilman monsters are about as sympathetic as the maggots from my trash can, and the humans who are killed off to keep the secret aren’t much better. That was one thing something like Tokyo Ghoul had over something like Parasyte: you saw the sentient monsters trying their best to fit into a world where their very nature is challenged. If neither side makes a good point regarding compromise, then how am I supposed to take one, let alone find the conflict interesting? Maybe the ideas the creators had for Devilman Crybaby sounded a lot better in their head than it did on-screen, but that doesn’t really excuse the lack of momentum and unique character in the show, now does it?
After pushing through the first six episodes of standard demonic shenanigans, teenage angst, and sexy times, ready to dismiss this anime as just another superhero show except with Yuasa visuals, a certain event occurs that changes the entire status quo and guess what? It turns out all the important climactic stuff was contained within the second half of the series, NiER:Automata/Steins;Gate-style. Also technically Kado: The Right Answer-style too, but I think a lot of you guys have already forgotten that anime by now, so let’s move on.
Dear lord does Devilman Crybaby get bleak as it goes on. And it’s the good kind of bleak too for the most part. Have you guys ever played those Devil Survivor games or saw that rather horrible anime adaptation from years back? The series about demons invading Tokyo, causing it to get locked down and inducing widespread panic along with the breakdown of humanity? That’s what Devilman Crybaby when it gets good reminds me of, and there’s a reason why I think the show’s quality increases at that particular point. Because it actually calls the protagonist’s “technical pacifistic” views into question around then, and it doesn’t cop out with the answers either even though it could have eased up on the bleakness a bit.
The last two episodes in particular managed to make me sad even though I completely saw them coming and they mostly involved characters who I didn’t particularly care for outside the context of the story. I’m actually not really sure why they made me sad looking back on it because by the time the anime finished, none of the characters ever got proper development. Yeah you threw the nice shallow childhood friend into a bonfire and had her run away from all the hoses, but she’s still just the nice shallow childhood friend. Akira, Ryo, and that Miko girl I referenced earlier are probably the closest who come to growing throughout the course of the show in my opinion, but not enough to the point that I’d cry when the people they love are affected by their actions. Of course, I was binge-watching the anime and I tend to get more attached to characters when I spend so much time with them, so maybe that’s why when Akira shed the cries to end all cries, I felt for him as well.
The ending confused me when I first watched it, but after discussing it with some friends, I realized what the show was going for and I think it largely succeeded even though I thought Akira’s final fate could have been changed a tad without damaging the credibility. Basically, the show wants you to side with Devilman, but just remember that doing so hurts ALOT. Like a whole lot. You’ll probably shorten your lifespan into the negatives if you follow his ways, regardless of whether you have superpowers or not. But hey, convincing God to change his mind is no easy task, right?
And that’s what Devilman Crybaby at its best does. It handles prejudice and calls into question what it means to be human in a decently insightful, if not original, way. And as long as you’re not turned off by exploitation altogether (which apparently is a lot of people. Come on guys, have you never watched an exploitation film before?), there’s nothing that’s really bad about the show other than starting off a bit too plain in terms of substance. Although given how this anime was made exclusively for Netflix, the model that encouraged the whole binge-watching trend, maybe that’s the point.
Devilman Crybaby ended up having impact on me in the end, but it’s worth noting that I’ve never been a fan of that “it gets better later” excuse, and while the first six episodes aren’t bad persay, I was close to writing this show off as a less inspired Tokyo Ghoul before then. My advice to the writers would have been to integrate the demon discrimination into Akira’s early characterization at the start or have Akira be more than just a technical pacifist (and he didn’t even gain that character until after he transformed). Also it would have been nice to have better characters in general, because the more I look back on them, the more I realize how underdeveloped they all were. I remember Miko and her jealousy issues more than I remember Mika and her…being setup for a very obvious fall.
Basically, this anime fits right in with most other series on Netflix at its core. Generally
good quality well-made. Nothing that I’d rewatch by choice. Could have stood to have better pacing. Yep, this is the new era of TV that we’re living in.
- I know it’s been said already, but fuck yeah to the death of Anime Strike!
- Yes I’m aware that the anime about the girls going to space or whatever actually got subbed before this did.
- End of the F*****g World is also a nice watch on Netflix in case you were wondering.