Show: Devilman Crybaby
Years aired: 2018
So over 4 (going on 5 at the time of this writing) months after its debut, the hype around this show has died down, thankfully enough. The premature declarations of “anime of the year!” eight days into January were amusing while they lasted, and I can confidently say that this show is hardly “show of the year material”, relative to the hype it generated and when pruned over by a discerning eye.
It has taken a long time to adequately gather my thoughts on this show, despite watching it relatively soon after its January debut amidst an uproar of hype that seemed more like a byproduct of Youtube personalities and other such entities. Delay after delay plagued this review, and while I knew something about this show hadn’t sat right with me, it wasn’t entirely clear how to voice that train of thought yet. However, a bit of background research certainly helped to make things a bit clearer on this series.
Devilman is a beloved classic franchise in Japan, created by Go Nagai back in the 70’s. He also conceived the famous Mazinger franchise for mecha fans, which boils down to “he created some pretty influential works.” The original Devilman anime is pure 70’s cheese, with bad production values, and winds up being far more comedic than anything dark with its dated character models, bad pacing and monster movie villains. However, it was a decent bit of fun to dig back into that time and see what the original inception of Devilman actually looked like, which brings us now to the present.
Even underneath the silliness of the first show, it was evident how dark the plotline actually was, and you could get a sense looking back that with more focused execution, something truly bone-chilling could in fact be conceived. To that end, I think the Netflix series succeeded- boiled down into a concise 10 episodes, there’s nary a wasted moment of impact- but in saying that, what did this series trade-off in order to be the descent into darkness we got?
The answer to that was a resounding “no!” What was presented instead was an overrated vile, disgusting show that despite the thematic brilliance that boiled beneath the surface, was such a depressingly sad slog of a spectacle that I was tempted to simply quit halfway through a 10 episode anime. It’s the “edgy” interpretation of Go Nagai’s original series back in the 70’s, and what I think this show lack specifically is much in the way of “fun.” Animation shouldn’t be a chore to watch through; it certainly can be complex and thought provoking, but this was an instance of a show where I pressed on mostly because of an obligation to complete the show, rather than any true enjoyment of the various events depicted on screen. This is the Titus Andronicus of anime, except with none of the endearing factors and all the bloodiness and explicitness you’d might expect a modern-day interpretation of a show with demons as a central focus might have- and unless you’re specifically in that niche who loves obscene, disturbing imagery and plenty of blood and guts, this isn’t your show.
For more specifics, I think Crybaby is symptomatic of the problems that exist in modern day re-interpretations that try to be too faithful. Don’t get me wrong: I love a well-adapted show from its original source material, but in the case of this specific show, the lack of restraint on modern-day producers in terms of how content is portrayed is a double-edged sword. It means the haminess of the 70’s show is largely voided, replaced instead by a constant, lingering dread of doom that only thickens as the show’s events spiral downwards. Thematically, it all makes sense, but in terms of a watching experience? It’s simply uncomfortable and downright unpleasant most times, which is putting it mildly.
The anime Youtubers and many other fans who raved about Devilman Crybaby are entitled to their opinion, but to me, this was the height of just the worst kind of letdown. It’s a show that’s just plain disturbing on every level, and although there are some ambitious ideas that exist in the fabric of the end production, it’s overwhelmed by a tidal wave of tragedy, disgust and death. Approach it at your own peril. (And no, no one under the age of 18 should see this show.)
Animation quality: Modern 2-D anime. Truthfully, the show has some stunning shots, but on the flip side, what exactly it’s used for is highly questionable at times. There’s a lot of disturbing imagery that I’d argue goes too far a lot of the time, and while some people might call me “old-fashioned” for such a view, I don’t need highly explicit imagery at every turn for an enjoyable experience. Therein lies the proverbial rub- while the imagery the show often employs is effective in instilling the sense of chaos and horror it seeks, it’s often repulsively unenjoyable in doing so. 3.75/5 points.
Characterization: The story centers around Akira Fudo, a kind young man who gets unexpectedly pulled into a darker world than he ever imagined during a highly explicit rave party gone wrong. As a result of his run-in with a powerful demon named Amon, Akira somehow is able to claim the evil specter’s powers and body as his own, and becomes the titular Devilman, sworn to protect mankind from other such beings. Unfortunately, Akira is not nearly as good at his job as he was in the 70’s original, and so tragedy after tragedy continues to unfold in his life…
Akira’s best friend in all the confounding events is Ryo Asuka, a mysterious young man who appears on the surface to be a highly ambitious prodigy of the rarest sort, but what exactly his ambitions are leading to is an entirely different question. There is a cruelness to his character that simply does not exist in Akira’s profile before or after his transformation into Devilman, and all of these unsettling aspects are careful foreshadowing to the true background of this unsettling young man.
While there are a host of other characters in the show with supporting roles, the last one worth mentioning here is Miki Makimura, the beautiful daughter of the host family Akira lives with. In this interpretation of the franchise, she’s a star athlete in track and field, and has a pure, kind heart, but in turn, also has a naive nature that sees her into deeper troubles than her or her kind, loving family deserve. I could say more about her, but it’d be massive spoilers (and for people who have seen the series, you know what happens with her endgame.) 3.5/5 points.
Story quality: Devilman Crybaby is a tragedy- the kind that unfolds but consistently and calmly crushes any hopeful note that arises for the tide to turn. Heck, even the main antagonist finds themselves roped into this scope of tragedy and goes down with the proverbial burning ship. In that sense, the pacing is actually very good, but the delivery is so joyless on many occasions that one could hardly be faulted for wanting to quit on such a sordid tale. As it is, Crybaby’s brilliant moments are often counteracted by a sort of miasma that just comes from the repeated, worsening hard knocks. You need levity, in in the darkest of tales, and this show has too little of it. (Perhaps it should have taken a few hints in that regards from the OG series?) 3/5 points.
Themes: There’s a big, huge thematic expose of God and demons that exists in this show, but perhaps that was inevitable in something called Devilman. Seriously though, the thematic elements are thought provoking on some level, and you have to wonder if on some meta level, it was a criticism of today’s society and the dangers blatant immoraility could lead to, but far more likely is that it was just a more far more focused viewpoint on the implications of a show with shockingly huge stakes. 3.5/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: What can I say? NC-17 visuals in larges swaths of the show, moments that are literal acid trips, moments where it’s plain disturbing- well, you get the idea. There’s still a story underneath here though, and a pretty sweet remix of the original Devilman theme in the soundtrack as well, so it still counts as “redeeming values” here. 2/5 points.
Total Score: 16/25 (64%): A deeply disturbing horror show that takes the Devilman franchise in an edgier direction than it has ever seen, Crybaby suffered from both overenthusiastic hype and an often joyless presentation filled with extremes (from explicit imagery to just violence). That isn’t to say that the show didn’t do some things well, as was noted- but for as strong an emotional impact the show can have, I don’t like walking away from animation feeling repulsed. I suspect hard-core horror fans will eat this show up, but this is one re-interpretation that could have struck a far better balance in its levity and presentation.
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