Some Further Thoughts On Devilman Crybaby and Its Impact

After repeated failures in trying to write this article, I think I’ve found a way to express my thoughts in a way that you guys hopefully find readable.

When I initially watched and wrote my review for Devilman Crybaby, I did my best to completely shut out what everybody was saying about the anime so I could judge it fairly. I knew that people were going to go nuts over it solely for Yuasa’s name and I’ve gone on and on about how I can’t stand creator worship in the past – particularly when I wasn’t into his new movies and the fans weren’t giving me good reasons for why they liked ’em apart from maybe the cultural themes in Night Is Short, Walk on Girl. And if Yuasa’s name wasn’t enough, the other notable circumstances from being the first fully original anime series on Netflix to being a revival of an old classic weren’t exactly rusty hype machines either. On top of that, I knew it was going to get a huge hate base the moment the anime shoved tits in my face in an artsy fartsy way, so basically I was pressured to get that review out as fast as possible (which led to some unfortunate errors I have since corrected).

Since the review came out, I have taken a glance at the word and probably set a speed record for how many opinions I could read before asking Google Assistant how to delete all of Twitter, Tumblr, anime forums, and such. Dear lord are discussions of this show a minefield, not helped by how a significant chunk of fans have changed their avatars and handle names to represent this new Devilman. A friend of mine informed me that in addition to all the hype, the fact that Devilman Crybaby was released all at once on a platform that everyone has probably contributed to the volatility, and I have to say, for as much as I hated diving into that, I’m kind of glad this sort of discussion exists. I’ve said before how while weekly discussions aren’t inherently bad, most people seem to trick themselves into enjoying an anime more than they actually do through said discussions, so when they try to rewatch that show sometime down the road, they’ll find it holds up about as well as Gravity outside the theater.

As I’ve also said in the past, discussions keep an anime alive and personal enjoyment comes secondary to the impact a work has when you’re someone who criticizes the medium. Because without people talking and some controversy, creators will get complacent and innovation will cease to exist. That self-awareness also really helps when you’re drawing the line between something that’s bad and something that just isn’t for you, like how I feel for Breaking Bad. Basically what I’m saying is that for better or worse, the amount of attention Devilman Crybaby generated is really going to contribute to Netflix taking anime more seriously. And while I’m still staying away from the “why don’t you simulcast outside of Japan” controversies, I don’t have any qualms with creators making anime exclusively for that platform. Well okay, I do have one important qualm: don’t structure anime in a way that encourages binge-watching the way all the other Netflix shows do. Yeah anime tends to be poorly paced in general, but that doesn’t mean we should encourage the practice.

Because oh dear lord would Devilman Crybaby have frustrated me if it was airing weekly. I wasn’t kidding when I said in the initial review that I was forgetting episodes as soon as I finished them. For the lion’s share of the show, you’re watching nothing but really generic superhero plotlines combined with really arbitrary issues Japanese youths face except with flash animation and lots of tits. And whenever I saw someone praise the anime, it would always be “I love this combination of Yuasa visuals and youth culture” or “I think that running animation is funny”. What’s the point in having youth culture in your show if all you tell me about is is “oh, teens get jealous sometimes” or “yeah we can rap”?

Personally, while I never explicitly said that Devilman Crybaby was good in my initial review, I find my opinion on it worsening with each passing day. Part of the problem is that I haven’t found a single praise for the show that wasn’t as shallow as the characterization, whereas the criticism (from the sane people at least) tended to be more fleshed out, which is never a good sign for a product’s quality. But I think the big thing that really kills the appeal of the series for me is how it seems to come off like one of those nostalgia-bait titles catered towards people who yearn for a simpler time, ignoring all the storytelling evolutions that have come out since, and modern audiences realizing there’s a reason we don’t go back to the era of films when Harvey was a classic. In other words, it’s stuck in the past without realizing that said past is devoid of originality.

I mean even if you didn’t like them, you cannot possibly deny to my face that Tokyo Ghoul, Parasyte, and Inuyashiki had more unique visions on the whole demonic superhero formula, and these anime were pretty recent to boot. On top of that, there’s the entire Shin Megami Tensei franchise. I have played all of the PS2 games from Nocturne to Devil Summoner, so I’m way too used to the whole “demons vs angels” thing consisting of heavy religious themes, strong philosophies between the leads, and how flawed yet intriguing the sides of order and chaos can be. Not that Devilman Crybaby needed any of this, but what exactly does it have of its own that can compare? I really can’t recall anything about the series that stood out apart from the message that being Devilman sucks, but ultimately he is the one we should follow. And unfortunately, it’s not until the end when the series fleshes that out into more than just a story crutch – and even then it’s not fleshed out into something very unique.

I do have to ask something to the fans: what exactly do you like about the characters? And unless you’re one of those fujoshi who embrace the shallowness as long as the character traits appeal to you or something similar, please don’t have your answer consist of just one sentence, because that was my main problem with them. I still remember Chiaki from SMT: Nocturne and how she was an upper-class girl who upon having all her luxuries taken from her following the apocalypse, grew to realize that the only way to live a comfortable life with demons around is to become powerful. As such, she fused with a God and sought to create a world where only the strong survived, and I’m leaving out some key details because this isn’t a post on Nocturne. I’m not saying Devilman Crybaby needed a character that complex, but who does it have to match someone like Chiaki?

The only person I can think of is Miko, and how she gained demonic powers to surpass Miki, only to realize that she also sacrificed her humanity and ended up with a giant target on her back in the process. Now that I think about it, she’s probably the most interesting character in the show because of how she actually had humans flaws and made mistakes that she later paid for. It’s just too bad that the “rival” she’s jealous of is a generic nice girl who has no faults and only existed as development for other characters that took too long to even form. And that’s not even getting into her family, who have no role other than to be the mother, the father, and the annoying brother up until a certain scene where the show tries to make them important without any buildup whatsoever. Don’t even get me started on Ryo. He only explains himself at the end, and by then it’s too little too late.

But of course, the biggest problem was Akira himself. He didn’t have any personality until he got his powers, which only works if there’s a point to be made about personal identity, which I didn’t see at all in Devilman. And the personality he got was so lame. A demon who cries for humans, so he’ll protect them whilst killing every monster who decides it’s feeding time? Yeah I would do the same (well, minus the crying) in reality unless the demonic powers brainwashed me or something, but in fiction, this only works if there’s some context for the actions, and Akira only had “it’s because the writers wrote me that way, plus it’s common sense” to fall back on as a defense.

There’s a good amount of people who blame/praise Go Nagai for the writing quality, but I honestly don’t think that’s an excuse. I’m not sure how involved he was with the production, but the bottom-line is, if you like Go Nagai’s writing, more power to you (although some fans have informed me that they hated this adaptation for how it didn’t get certain manga scenes/characters right). And if you think he’s bad, then why didn’t the guys who made this anime update the formula beyond making the technology current? Battle Royale is a crappy book and yet the movie is a foreign classic to many people. Plus, Go Nagai’s formula and storytelling devices have been updated many times in the past in order to be used for works we’ve enjoyed. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tokyo Ghoul took inspiration from him, and that’s one of the most critically acclaimed horror manga of this generation.

On a final note, I didn’t realize this until later, but apart from maybe the finale of Episode 9, I can’t recall one time the animation jumped out at me watching this show. It’s still as expressive as we expect from Yuasa, but that’s part of the problem: it does everything we expect whilst adding nothing unique. And it was devoid of visual metaphors to boot unless there’s some deep meaning beneath the sex scenes that I was missing besides “badump-a-dump-dump”.

I think the worst thing I can say about Devilman Crybaby as of now is how the amount of attention surrounding it seems to come more from its circumstances than what the actual show delivers. There are plenty of shows I don’t like that I’d recommend to a newcomer because it helps to get them more familiar with the medium. Clannad is still a perfect representation of the strengths and faults of visual novel storytelling. Death Note is a good introduction to how anime can do thrillers as well as being the most accessible Shonen Jump series out there. Mobile Suit Gundam gets people familiar with the most popular mecha franchise ever whilst also showing how war stories could be told. Fist of the North Star gave birth to anime action cliches and made it acceptable for grown-ass men to cry whilst also representing the old-school style of anime very well. I don’t know what the fuck Devilman Crybaby is supposed to add to what anime can accomplish in terms of storytelling. The only thing it seems to represent is “more Netflix anime”, which is like a kid getting on a sports team because his rich dad bought him in.

So those are my thoughts on the loud discussions surrounding Devilman Crybaby as well as my updated opinions on the show in general. Got to say, it was a nice series to start off this Winter season, especially since the initial broadcast stuff has been completely forgettable with the big shows people wanting to see being saved until the second week or more. Only time will tell how long this hype lasts, but personally I’m ready to move on. And judging by the amount of people I’ve seen who switch to Violet Evergarden avatars and are totally okay with pirating anime they can’t watch legally for a few months (addendum: actually, I found out after scheduling this post that the anime is simulcasting on Netflix in quite a few non-US countries, which is one of the most ironic things I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s also dubbed and the dub is actually pretty decent/fitting), some of you are too.

P.S. The English dub wasn’t very good either.

16 responses to “Some Further Thoughts On Devilman Crybaby and Its Impact

  1. The works of Go Nagai is way bigger elsewhere than in the US with hit shows like Grendizer in France and Arabic countries, Mazinger Z for Spain, Both and Koutetsu Jeeg for Italy.

    It’s just an adaptation of a classic 1972 manga that’s beloved by many, that is all. Yeah there are obviously stuff that came after and updated it, but as a fan of Nagai and retro, I don’t give a shit about those because I’m getting old for anime anyway. You ask why I enjoy the characters, well, given the number of manga and anime these characters have been in, I’m attached to them.

    Your complaint is a bit like why should I give a fuck about Dragonball Super? Well, I give a shit because it’s Dragon Ball. Here, I give a shit because it’s Devilman, and it’s Go Nagai. Some people may point out that there are better shows out there, but so what? I came here to see my favourite heroes duke it out. That is all. Netflix decided to air Crybaby on its platform, all for the better. Regardless of what you think of Crybaby, it’s not a standalone anime, and it follows a long line of Devilman related media that preceded it.

    Before Crybaby’s release, the Devilman fanbase was already present on tumblr for its gay content, and everywhere on the non-English internet, you have places like http://gonagai.forumfree.it and http://gettermario.dynamicforum.net who enjoy his works.

    Crybaby represents Go Nagai’s first major presence in the English speaking market since the 70s and 80s (Tranzor Z and Force 5 never really did well).

    • Spiderman is one of my favorite superheroes. Isn’t going to change the fact that I find all his shows, movies, and a majority of his games to be shit because the stories and villains he gets saddled with are awful. And I do a good job of seeing everything he’s in as standalone, so clearly we have different opinions on how to see legacy characters.

      • Umm…Spiderman 2 (2004) is a great Spiderman movie and one of the great superhero movies out there. I honestly think you should rewatch it and/or I wanna hear a more detailed evaluation on why you think it isn’t good?

  2. To further expound on that, for many, it’s a bit like discovering a new super hero they didn’t know existed. Did you watch Spiderman? Batman? Did you read their original Marvel / DC comics? No?

    Well, did you watch their latest movies? If you nod in agreement, then I should probably ask you if they deserve the hype they get, the same way you’re talking about Devilman at the moment. After all, Spiderman is just a guy in a spider suit who defeats baddies. Same for Batman. These concepts have been far better done in modern comics.

    But you probably like them because you saw many iterations of them over the past years that had different interpretations on the characters. Maybe the characterization of Batman was fucked up in Batman vs Superman, but it was done correctly in some other Batman media, maybe the Tim Burton’s version or Adam West’s version did it right. Or maybe even the animated series.

    Devilman is a classic iconic super hero character, as with Astro Boy and Cyborg 009 in Japan. Their stories have been changed and reinterpreted several times. Devilman at its core is just a guy who merges with a demon. It’s a simple concept that’s easy to grasp as with all these other super hero movies Hollywood likes to pump out every now and then.

    • The only superhero movies I like are The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Watchmen, and the 1989 Batman movie. The first Blade, Wonder Woman, and some of the other Batman movies are okay. And I should point out, I did not like Superman as a character until Man of Steel where they actually gave him real struggles and faults unless you count that Smallville show. I also prefer the Watchmen movie to the book. Yes Devilman’s core doesn’t have to be changed, but give him more than that. This isn’t the 70s anymore. This is 2018.

      Also, for all of Batman v Superman’s problems, the characterization of Batman was not one of them. He killed people in the Tim Burton films too.

      • I’m not in anyway defending Crybaby. You ask why people like these characters. I’m simply answering that Devilman is a very classic super hero character that people enjoy. That’s all. His characterization can change from every iteration to another. Just look at Amon The Darkside of Devilman for Devilman vs Hades for example. He’s a character that’s open to interpretations, and Crybaby is Masaaki Yuasa’s own interpretation of the story.

    • I’m simply answering that Devilman is a very classic super hero character that people enjoy.

      Yeah, all seven of them.

      Oh I’m kidding. Still, I’ll never understand that whole “legacy” appeal, as it’s right up there with liking a show because you like the guy who made it in terms of reasoning to me.

  3. I’d argue there have been quite detailed arguments both in favor and against the show, but obviously that depends on wherever you are looking for them.

    Most visibly popular shows will get loud shallow praise, even the really great ones, and this isn’t much different in that regard yet it is not too hard to come across more nuanced positive opinions. I don’t know if you actually want anyone else to drop any names or links here, so I’ll restrain myself from doing that.

    There is a small vocal minority of negative manga people, no doubt, yet there are also other manga readers who have come to a more positive conclusion about Crybaby. So there is not exactly any grand consensus among this faction.

    Therefore, the reality about the state of critical commentary about Devilman Crybaby seems more complex than what is being reflected in your description.

    In terms of storytelling per se, I’d argue the show uses many of the characters as vessels for emotions or even as symbols and representations of ideas rather than strictly giving them much depth.

    In many ways, Go Nagai effectively provided a lot of ideas, depictions and themes as raw material for future creators. Shin Megami Tensei and Evangelion almost certainly wouldn’t exist without Devilman.

    Yuasa was one of those influenced by Devilman back in his youth. With Crybaby, Yuasa wanted to tell his own message while still depicting the same ending of the Devilman manga, so he didn’t move as far away from the source material as these other unrelated works were free to do.

    Ryo realizing things far too late is sort of the heart of the work and also of Crybaby in Yuasa’s view. Except the original conclusion from the manga was more about his misguided motivations rather than about finally overcoming his unnaturally restrained emotional development.

    I could go over what I took away from each character or how they interact as part of the message of Crybaby, but I wonder if you are interested in that sort of approach? That can be quite interesting if the analysts really get into it, even though obviously there is a degree of subjectivity involved.

    This was also mostly true about the manga, which didn’t have any truly deep characters by 2017 standards in my opinion. You get more exposition about certain things, like Ryo’s rationalizations at the end of story, yet also some more stereotypical portrayals in the original source material.

    To go back to the eariler point: Devilman’s depth as a whole, if we want to speak of such a thing, is more thematic than narrative-based or even character-based. I believe that is true of Crybaby as well, together with some very compelling sequences particularly during episode 9.

    Most of the changes made to the characters were good, though I can understand a few complaints about the turtle demon, for instance, losing some of his cooler lines from the manga.

    I agree about finding Miko the most interesting, at least comparatively speaking, among the new characters. By the way…Miki’s father wasn’t very deep, yet I thought the final scene with his son justified his existence here. Some folks might find it silly, but I felt very empathetic towards him at that moment.

    To say one final thing about Akira, I don’t think the point was about his personal identity. It was about more his capacity for empathy and the limits/benefits of having it, in contrast with Ryo’s general inability to have it until far too late.

    • The closest I’ve seen to a positive response that I found satisfying was Gigguk’s, and he kept talking about the visuals and the uncensored content whilst barely talking about the substance other than it was something you don’t see in anime (which I call bullshit on). Maybe that’s a strong defense to you, but I prefer defenses/criticisms to talk about something that could only be applied to that anime in particular, and I was seeing more of that in the criticisms. And no, I don’t want any links. I think your defense alone is fine.

      Also, I never mention the size of the supporters and the haters. I said the show drummed up a lot of controversial discussion. Hell, you even accused me of saying that a lot of manga readers hated the anime, which I never did. I just said some manga readers told me they didn’t like it.

      In terms of storytelling per se, I’d argue the show uses many of the characters as vessels for emotions or even as symbols and representations of ideas rather than strictly giving them much depth.

      My problem is that the ideas the characters are meant to represent aren’t fresh or interesting to someone like me. I like my demonic superhero stories to have a little more ambiguity, and full of characters with interesting flaws. And most of the ideas the characters stood for felt like they came from a bargain bin.

      Go Nagai effectively provided a lot of ideas, depictions and themes as raw material for future creators. Shin Megami Tensei and Evangelion almost certainly wouldn’t exist without Devilman.

      Give me some credit. You think I don’t know this?

      To say one final thing about Akira, I don’t think the point was about his personal identity. It was about more his capacity for empathy and the limits/benefits of having it, in contrast with Ryo’s general inability to have it until far too late.

      Yeah, but as I said in the review and this post, this point only really comes into focus at the end of the show. For the majority of the anime, you’re just watching Akira go through formulaic superhero stuff with Ryo hinting that he has a plan up his sleeve. Crybaby should have started with this contrast being the main focus like how Inuyashiki did rather than just slowly build up to it over time.

  4. People say it’s rushed, but at the same time, 70s manga weren’t the long behemoths that we get today. The problem is that we got so used to shit like Naruto and Dragonball that we almost forgot the typical length of what a series usually should be.

    10 episodes was fine, but the problem comes from Yuasa where he added too many side characters leaving not much focus on the main ones (Miki, Akira, Ryo). He also forgot to mention that there is a time skip in the final chapter of the manga. This whole conflict took like 20 years to reach its apocalyptic ending.

  5. The biggest appeal of the show to me is the visuals, and part of that being the gratuitous scenes. (It seems like Yuasa has really been focusing on visuals lately; I wish he’d write more material like Mind Game and Kaiba) I don’t think the characters really had enough depth to carry the show, but Miko’s character arc stood out as a good one to me.

    I read the manga a while ago, so I don’t remember if the characters had any more depth there than they do here, but I’m not going to judge the show based on its source material. Overall, the characters were weak (with few exceptions) in this adaptation, and that’s what matters.

    • I kinda enjoyed the rampant sex at first, but it just became visual noise after a while. Didn’t really care for the violence due to how wildly it was shot. And really, this animation is pretty standard for Yuasa. Looks way too much like his other stuff, and not in a good way.

  6. I understand the complaint about sweet generic girls in anime, but Miki was the girl next door character executed well. She’s not meant to have an extreme personality, the only people with extreme personalities are the ones with demons in them. And your description about Akira and Miki glosses over a lot about their characters because you seem focused on wanting a flamboyant character that you can describe in broad strokes rather than well executed simple characters.

    Akira had abandonment issues, I thought was pretty spelled out with the entire episode with his parents. Part of why he’s also so emotional over being abandoned by humans when he becomes a Devilman, of course, you can forget that if you’re only focused on the moment. Miki had a friend that hated her for just being who she is, which is something notable to live with even if it’s not something as dramatically heavy as “my parents were raped and murdered.”

    You can give a character an interesting backstory, and execute them poorly. Or you can give a character an average backstory and implement them decently, or amazingly. I’m not going to say Miki was a fantastic execution of a human being, but it was decent. I’ll take that over Miko who like you described, has more interesting motivations, and starts off with an even more generic personality until she becomes a demon. Then she’s just a generic excited anime character. She’s the kind of character that seems better written to hipsters with shallow knowledge of storytelling.

    It’s kind of funny that you cite Nocturne. I do actually like that game a lot, but complex characters are the last thing I’d accuse it of having. Most fans of the game compliment the game’s atmosphere, not writing, and for a good reason.

    • And your description about Akira and Miki glosses over a lot about their characters because you seem focused on wanting a flamboyant character that you can describe in broad strokes rather than well executed simple characters.

      You obviously don’t read my blog much if you think I enjoy flamboyant characters. I like characters with strong philosophies, relatable flaws, and the potential for growth.

      Akira had abandonment issues, I thought was pretty spelled out with the entire episode with his parents.

      How does him having abandonment issues make him more interesting? Vash from Trigun had a good backstory regarding why he never kills. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s utterly stupid and unrelatable when his pacifistic ways aren’t challenged.

      Miki had a friend that hated her for just being who she is, which is something notable to live

      I don’t see how Miki having a friend who hates her makes her any more interesting. It sounds like the friend is more interesting judging by your description because that’s the one who’s doing the hating.

      You can give a character an interesting backstory, and execute them poorly. Or you can give a character an average backstory and implement them decently, or amazingly.

      You can give whatever backstory you want, but if their philosophies aren’t interesting and their personalities aren’t interesting, then why should I care?

      It’s kind of funny that you cite Nocturne. I do actually like that game a lot, but complex characters are the last thing I’d accuse it of having. Most fans of the game compliment the game’s atmosphere, not writing, and for a good reason.

      And most fans are wrong. I happen to think the characters in Nocturne were all very well-developed with minimal screentime to boot.

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