Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Writer: Ichiro Okouchi
Studio: Science SARU
Aired: January 5, 2018
This was a pleasant surprise. I mean it was extremely violent and depressing so I shouldn’t really call it pleasant, but what would normally just be entertaining schlock turned out to be well written and emotionally engaging. See Netflix? You can make good anime related content as long as it’s you know, still an anime.
Devilman: Crybaby is the latest anime adaptation of Go Nagai’s Devilman manga from the 1970s. This series has had plenty of adaptations before, including a cheesy children’s show, two ultra-violent OVAs, and some sequels and spinoffs. I have no interest in the original manga because of its dated artstyle and other similar series like Berserk and Parasyte doing more with similar concepts originally found in Devilman. As for the other adaptations, they don’t adapt the story in full so I don’t see the point in watching them. What immediately grabbed my interest about Crybaby was that it had a genuinely unique visual style and it was on Netflix, so binge watching it would be easy. Still, I had no real expectations for it and went in mostly blind save for knowing the premise.
The premise is that Akira Fudou, a shy teenager is convinced by his childhood friend Ryou Asuka that demons exist in this world, and decides to help him by going to a sexually charged dance party known as a “Sabbath”. There, demons appear, and Akira ends up getting possessed by a demon named Amon. Akira manages to maintain his human consciousness and soul, but becomes much more assertive, stronger, and edgy, and can transform into Amon. Akira decides to become “Devilman” in order to stop demons from killing humans, while trying to balance this with highschool and family life. So it’s like Spider-Man but with sex and gore. If you can’t handle that, don’t even bother watching the first episode.
While the premise of Devilman: Crybaby can lead one to write it off as just brainless violence, that’s being unfair to it. Crybaby manages to use its insane premise to explore some genuinely interesting questions and themes about bigotry, how fear can lead to humanity doing truly awful things, and how people can be manipulated by those in power to rallying against a boogeyman. The world evolves as the plot progresses on, because realistically a secret like this would never be able to remain one forever, and even the early episodes have subplot where Ryou and Akira have to deal with a reporter who almost exposes their secret. Crybaby moves at a pretty quick pace, leaving you immediately switching to the next episode after the previous one has ended. This means the show doesn’t outstay its welcome, but some of the episodes do feel rushed and lacking in the character development department. While most of the characters aren’t neglected, there are some that we could have learned more about, but didn’t.
Crybaby stands apart from the crowd thanks to its unique style and direction. Instead of clumsily jamming 2D and CGI animation together, Crybaby manages to expertly combine them, to the point that you’ll barely even notice when they switch because of how seamless it is. The animation and artstyle work well together, because they were done in the interest of favoring fluid movement and unique visuals over detailed, realistic environments. Some might say this detracts from the extreme gore and sexual content, but I’d argue it only enhances it. When the action finally happens it is a treat for the eyes, and watching Devilman kill his opponents in the most gruesome ways imaginable. However, it can get a bit repetitive since it feels like he has no chance of losing, and the fights always end with him either punching or ripping apart the demons. Now luckily the anime fixes this by having him lose just when the team probably guessed that you were getting sick of him always winning. The downside to the animation is when the characters aren’t in action, it comes off as choppy and stilted at best, which takes you out of the experience.
English and Japanese voice actors are all pretty good, but I’d say go with the Japanese voices with English subtitles. Some of the Japanese voices have more edge to them, which fits the tone of the anime and some of the characters’ personalities, especially Akira post-possession. It’s easy to switch between the two mid episode, so decide for yourself which is better.
Crybaby’s music, while not original, is diverse and fitting for the setting and tone. Featuring musical styles from techno to ones that will make you start to bawl your eyes out. The opening is also catchy and memorable as hell.
The age of the source material can sometimes show its age while watching the anime. Now they made the smart choice of updating the setting to modern times, and even take advantage of this by having social media and the internet play roles within the plot, it does not entirely alleviate the problem. The original Devilman manga was a major influence on revered classics such as Evangelion and Berserk, which overall did improve on the original’s concepts. Without spoiling anything, the final minutes of the anime were a near direct imitation of The End of Evangelion’s, and the reveal of the villain gave me Berserk flashbacks. That may not be entirely its fault due to just trying to remain faithful to the source, but it would have been better to make changes that give the ending a less derivative feeling. On the other hand I love how unapologetically bleak and nihilistic the ending is.
Devilman: Crybaby is really, really good. While perhaps having too much of a derivative feeling, quick pace, and the animation style and direction not being for everyone, it is still a seinen horror anime that actually has heart and brains, like Parasyte. Unless you have a short stomach for some truly disturbing, dark material, there’s no reason not to give this one a watch. Show Netflix that there’s a demand for series like this.