Reaper's Reviews: 'Devilman Crybaby'
Production: Science SARU
Format: 10 episodes
Release: January 5, 2018
Devilman is one of the most noticeable works by the famed mangaka Go Nagai, so noticeable that it is his most adapted work as well as having a fair amount of sequels, spin-offs and crossovers.
Not only that, but it's Devilman that gave birth to some of today’s most celebrated works in both anime and manga, including Berserk and 1995’s Neon Genesis Evangelion. So it’s safe to say that the titular human-demon’s adventures left quite a mark on Japanese media.
Cue Netflix wishing to grab a slice of Nagai’s magnum opus, thus leading to the funding and creation of Devilman Crybaby, a modernized and streamlined take on Akira Fudo’s crusade against the demon uprising.
Now given that Netflix’s involvement in anime-related works has been quite hit-and-miss, with distribution of lovely anime such as Seven Deadly Sins or Aggretsuko but also the widely disliked live-action Death Note movie…I was a little concerned.
But it turns out it was far from the cynical product anyone believed it would end up as.
Story & Setting
Before going into Devilman, let me just clarify two things; the first one is that no previous knowledge of the Devilman franchise is required to understand or enjoy Crybaby: it’s, from what I’ve been told, a faithful adaptation of the original 1970s manga re-imagined in a more modernized style.
And the second thing: Crybaby is a very, very dark and depressing series, with unrestrained themes and graphic violence, and so it is definitely not for everyone, especially not those who can’t stomach the vicious nature of Devilman’s setting and characters.
While at times it can be surprisingly heartwarming and even wacky, Devilman Crybaby is primarily a very dark and pessimistic look on the human mind and its wildest instincts. On paper all this can lead for a very apathetic watch, but Crybaby utilizes its blood-soaked presentation wisely, always going all-out to drive the point of how savage both humans and their demonic counterparts can be.
Violence and sex always reinforce the ruthless approach of the modern lifestyle presented in Crybaby’s setting over giving any resemblance of a fake illusion that it is supposedly “bold”, because Crybaby never sheds blood to give the impression that it is a super-serious and mature (otherwise known as ‘edgy’) series; it goes with full force to build up a thick, almost choking atmosphere of dread.
Our story already starts with showing how unforgivable our world is, with an argument between our two leads regarding the fate of an ill cat, and a somber aftermath revolving its death, which sets the tone for the increasingly melancholic tale of loss, love, hope and despair.
Akira Fudo is an overly sensitive teenager who, after a fateful reunion with his childhood friend Ryo and a rave party that went downhill, becomes a powerful demon-human hybrid referred to as “Devilman”, resolved to clean the world from demons alongside the enigmatic Ryo. But things aren’t as simple as that, they never are.
Crybaby’s first episodes may give a hint of a “monster of the week” formula, but the events unfolding quickly devolve into something much more sinister, even satanic, in nature. I won’t spoil too much, but let’s just say that Crybaby takes its ideas and events to their logical extreme, with breathtaking moments that will leave even the strongest in shock.
This is where Crybaby shines, with its unforgiving criticism of human apathy, over-sexualized media and habits, paranoia, self-doubts, loss of belief and the primitive resort to hatred and violence. Despite being well over 40 years, Devilman’s story is almost timeless with its fierce depiction of the rot in human culture and society.
I would have preferred if Devilman was slightly longer, however. It’s tightly paced and never slows down, but sometimes feel a little compressed without enough time to breathe. An episode or two dedicating to build the world a little further would have been appreciated, with some more meaningful showcase of demonic society structure and ideologies beyond making them simple malicious beasts.
A few more episodes would have also helped better transitioning the story from its first, more formulaic arc to its second saga, which could also avoid the series from leaping through several hard to digest elements including the very beginning of the end, which, while effective in first view, feel redundant over thinking and subsequent rewatching.
But if that was it. If all the blood and depressive tone were all the reasons to watch Crybaby, I might have just given up on it, but one thing the series does extremely well is not devolving into its own misery too often until it is absolutely necessary a la the final three episodes.
Plenty of scenes and moments help showcasing a more lighthearted and upbeat side to Devilman, and they tend to involve familial ties, romantic relationships, desire to become better people, attempts to be accepted by the other and etcetera.
Even if many of this little moments get brutally subverted by the grand finale, they do a sublime job at showing the bright side of humanity’s potential and helping the viewer in investing in Crybaby’s otherwise heartless world. And a big contribution to that is the characters.
I wasn’t really expecting much from Crybaby’s cast, mostly because the only thing I ever heard about the Devilman franchise up to that point was that the main deal with it is the merciless story and loads of gore. But I was ahead of myself, for it is the characters who really drive the story.
In a story about demon slaying and world apocalypses it was surprising to find so many genuinely sympathetic, understandable and relatable characters that I found endearing.
Main protagonist Akira Fudo is definitely a high point, with a solid balance between his overly emotional, empathic nature that cries for others and the bloodthirsty yet righteous Devilman persona who despite his ruthlessness will always risk himself to save people. Akira is just such an adorable lead, who in contrast to so many other main protagonists, is interesting because he doesn’t hide his sensitive side.
This provides a distinctive contrast with Ryo Asuka, Akira’s best friend and a supposed demon hunter; a cold and seemingly emotionless young man, Ryo provides the harsh logical wall against Akira’s gentle personality, and him being a human against Akira’s demon status make for some intriguing differences in their actions and philosophies.
They drive the story and alongside each other’s character arc, with a very dynamic relationship that triggers their conflicts. All this leads to a somewhat predictable yet effective conclusion to their heartbreaking story.
The last main character is Miki Makimura, whose family took Akira in, and she is one of the most adorable characters to ever come out of anime. Her unshackled optimism and hope are nothing short of inspiring, and her support in Akira results in a strong bond that deepens both characters. Despite being a naive, plucky girl, Miki comes off more as a beacon of warmth and hope than an annoyance.
While the supporting cast ranges in terms of importance or screentime the majority of them get just enough presence to flesh them out into their own personalities, and they grow beyond being typical archetypes or background crowds.
Whether it is fellow demon-human hybrids who struggle with their new dual lives as well as guilt over their tragedies or jealousy towards another cast member, family members who despite the increasingly bleak reality stick to their own ideals, or humans who succumb to the hate and confusion, Crybaby presents a cast of colorful and distinctive figures that feel just as interesting and complex as the main trio.
Characters like Miko who struggles with her inferiority complex or Koda who can’t stop himself from taking the blame over his boyfriend’s demise are just as developed as Akira, and you have people like Noel, Miki’s father, whose devotion to both religion and his family are beyond remarkable, as well as his pain as a patriarch of a family doomed to tragedy.
Perhaps the only part that is disappointing is Devilman’s adversaries, the demons. They are treated as malicious and feral beasts and most don’t get too much of characterization beyond being unambiguously evil creatures.
Even when Crybaby decides to shed some more light on them, it feels like too little, too late.
Of course there are some exceptions like the harpy-like demon Silene and her companion Kaim, with cleverly subtle cues and heartfelt moments that help molding these specific demons into more sympathetic beings, or logical creatures who can believe in loyalty and trust between themselves.
Animation & Art
What’s interesting about the production of Crybaby is the choice behind its director and animation studio; let’s start with the studio, Science SARU, a fairly new and unknown company who is behind two 2017 movies with… unique styles. And then I checked the director, who is also the studio’s founder: Masaaki Yuasa, the director of the highly acclaimed 2014 anime, Ping Pong.
And Yuasa’s style is written all over Devilman Crybaby, for better and worse. On the plus side, it gives Crybaby a one-of-kind identity as it mixes Yuasa’s surreal and freeform designs with the bleak and sharp colors and aesthetics of Go Nagai’s masterpiece, creating a truly bizarre and downright trippy experience of broken shapes and hellish nightmares.
On the other hand, Yuasa’s works, Devilman included, often possess mediocre to bad animation. It’s hard to tell when exactly the usage of poor details, junky movements and off-model sprites is intentional, and when is it really due to budget or time constraints. A lot of fights end up being less than satisfying due to clunky animations and simplified coloring.
It’s a hit-and-miss aspect of Crybaby, and while some may be turned off by the off-and-on quality, other may be drawn in solely because of how different it looks than anything else that aired in 2018 thus far. For all my criticisms, backgrounds and some scenes are vivid and eye-popping, and it is a big factor in the extreme air of atmosphere in Crybaby.
Of course I should probably close that section with mentioning the gratuitous amounts of fanservice and ultra violence. And they all can get extremely zany and hellish with genitalia that turns into shark teeth or bodies being torn apart with a shower of blood, so if you can’t stomach that, it’s better to get away from this series.
Audio & Sound
Devilman Crybaby features, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, one of the best soundtracks of 2018, if not the best. It was composed by Kensuke Ushio, who aside from composing music for Ping Pong, also worked on A Silent Voice and Space Dandy.
It has so much attitude, just like the show itself, providing a rebellious vibe in its tunes with outrageous club beats and insane dubstep, such as the track “Judgement”. Every scene is charged with unstoppable noises of worrying beats or dramatic tunes that is simply soul-crashing when in line with the series’ events, like “D.V.M.N” and its orchestral style, or its counterpart “Crybaby”.
And when it wants to it can even be downright pleasant with tracks that sound as if they were taken from a slice-of-life anime by Kyoto Animation. There are also campier songs, like a cover to the original Devilman anime from 1972, which dear god is catchy as hell.
The opening theme “MAN HUMAN” by Denki Groove is also an interesting bit, with its capturing the nightclub style of the entire soundtrack. I didn’t like it at first because of how different it was, but it slowly grew on me as I continued through the episodes, and its bizarre nature really helps enforcing Crybaby’s wild and unpredictable nature.
The English dub is fairly decent overall and for the most part is well-acted. Griffin Burns’ soft-spoken portrayal of Akira makes the character feel emotional, adorable and attachable, while Cristina Vee and Kyle McCarley do excellent jobs with the plucky Miki and stoic yet merciless Ryo, and they tend to have a good chemistry more often than not.
It can get a little hammy or cheesy sometimes, though, with Burns’ declarations of being the titular Devilman getting a bit too silly, for example. It’s not a serious issue, but it’s worthy to point out.
Oh, and before anyone will remind me of this: the Japanese rap from the gang that takes a liking to Miki is amazingly sang, and I’m glad they kept it for the English dub.
Devilman Crybaby is a bizarre yet welcome by-product of Netflix’s continuous attempt to become more involved in the anime industry, and definitely its best one to date. It’s a vicious, bold and loud series unlike any other show, but it’s also complex, thought-provoking, immersive and sensitive beyond anyone’s expectations.
It’s obviously not for everyone, and some people will undoubtedly hate its guts, but that’s the beauty of Devilman; it’s unashamed of itself in the slightest, and boasts a terrific style that not even its lackluster production values can hold back. If you can stomach the gore and sex, then you are in for an amazing, one-of-kind experience.
- Dark, gritty and immersive like no other series
- Outstanding multi-layered characters
- Excellent soundtrack
- Could use a couple more episodes
- Mediocre animation is more cheap than artistic
- Violence and gore will turn off the faint of heart
& the Ugly:
- Apparently being a Devilman grants you the ejaculation capacity of a whale
Now, I'm not going to pretend that I have the perfect recommendations for you if you loved Devilman Crybaby, but there are two particular options that come to my mind:
The first one would be Berserk, the 1998 version. One of the few true dark fantasy anime out there, and an excellent piece of storytelling, it's a very well-written adn well-directed series in spite of its ending. Plus, it owes part of its existence to Devilman.
The second recommendation is Parasyte: The Maxim, another modernized take on a classic horror-drama manga that uses dubstep for its background music. Similarly to Devilman, it also explores the pits of the human soul when pitted against an unknown predator. So between these two, you will hopefully find something to your liking.
© 2018 Raziel Reaper