Review – Devilman Crybaby

My ongoing Netflix binge continues with a dabble into anime that is long overdue.

Quick note before we get started, this is a relatively family friendly website, but this is not a family friendly anime. Watch at your discretion, but you’re probably going to watch it.

The world is descending into hedonism, reaching heights of excess as yet unmatched since the days of Caligula. New drugs fill nightclubs, nightclubs grow ever more openly debauched, violence and crime are rife, and something terrible is happening as a direct result. Ryo – a very cold and brusque young man dressed perpetually in white – drags his friend Akira – deeply emotional and empathetic – to one of these clubs to a party called Sabbath, to convince him that demons are emerging into the world through the bodies of humans.

Well nothing happens, except Akira gets an experience that he doesn’t seem typically used to, so Ryo insists that demons are drawn to blood, so he smashes a bottle and starts slicing people up like a madman. Turns out he’s right, but we all knew that was coming right?

This kicks off a long series of events, demons invading the world, and Devilman shutting them down as best he can. It’s a tough thing, demons are illusive and cunning, until they lash out violently and destructively. With the power of the demon Amon tempered by the sheer strength of his humanity, Akira does his best to find others who can harness their demons rather than succumbing to them, in an effort to save humanity, only to watch things get worse and worse.

I dare not give away too much, there’s a lot to unpack in terms of plot. Huge emotional groundwork gets laid so that the show can break your heart later on, characters are built up only to be destroyed, and hope is squashed harder than George R. R. Martin could manage. No part of the violence or nudity is gratuitous, every fight tells a tale, every lustful moment is driven by either emotion, or to set a contrast against the horror taking place around it.

Like most of the Netflix original animations I’ve seen, frame rate is low, production quality is clearly limited, and you’ll be hearing a limited selection of music throughout the series short run, but it’s a show that goes into low-budget production with open eyes. The animation is consistent, no glaring flaws, just a little choppy, and use of repeated frames for dialogue or running is expectedly rife. I also have to give credit to the English dub, without which I probably would not have committed time to the series. They very sensibly leave the freestyle rap sections in the original Japanese, so as not to break the flow of the lyrics.

The twist will not be a shock to anyone who has seen the original 1972 series, but there are no small nods made to Devilman, who appears in posters, toys, and cat costumes throughout Crybaby. It’s a modernised take, with technology taking an important role in the way information spreads panic, and to lend a more familiar take on the growing hedonism of humanity before the chaos breaks out. There’s a familiar scene where Akira’s childhood friend, ersatz sister and pseudo-incestuous love interest, Miki, bares her soul online, and as she narrates over a moment of heartbreak on screen, we see a darkly familiar series of comments appear on screen, death threats, insults, and foul language.

Not being deeply into anime, I’ve never seen the original series, but from what I can gather it manages to squeeze nearly forty episodes of content into a ten episode series and still produce a coherent, enjoyable, and genuinely devastating narrative. Action takes a backseat to characterisation, that makes the action more poignant, Ryo and Akira butt heads – at times literally – while seemingly working towards the same goal, and their shifts in attitude are subtle, but powerful.

I watched a YouTube video entitled Watch Devilman Crybaby, You Coward by The Cosmonaut Variety Hour that finally pushed me to watch the series. It’s spoiler free, but also filled with the kind of language we tend to avoid on this website*, addresses a lot of criticism from fans of either the manga or the original series, and while I may disagree with a few points made in the video, I feel that we both took away the same emotional responses. I’d also like to echo his thesis statement:

Watch Devilman Crybaby…

You coward!

*Which I only noticed when I went back to listen and double-check, apparently bad language is so second-nature to me I simply don’t notice it any more.