Review: Devilman Crybaby

A classic franchise gets a facelift.

Advertisements

The Lowdown:

Show: Devilman Crybaby

Years aired: 2018

AniB’s Thoughts:

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 flawed compromise of execution juxtaposed against a show with unavoidably harsh themes.  As a result, 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.


Like what you see? Have some comments on this show? Leave ’em here!

Review/Rant: Family Guy

Brace yourselves: AniB digs into an overrated popular show.

The Lowdown:

Show: Family Guy

Network/Years aired: Fox, 1999-2003, 2005-

 

AniB’s thoughts: A long time ago, in a certain English class at my first university, a professor decided an episode of this show was worth showing to get people analyzing storytelling elements and humor. Needless to say, he made a bad pick. This review may prove be highly unpopular with some people, but the reality is that Family Guy never has been and certainly isn’t now a standout show; rather, it is symptomatic of the worst parts of Western animation and the “lowest common denominator audience” that many a network executive aims to shoot for, and so my disdain for the show has an entirely different basis than earlier review/rant pieces that I did; while Fanboy and Chum Chum, as well as Breadwinners were simply poor concept with terrible execution, they were still more niche in the sense that they were Nicktoons; Family Guy is a different animal entirely. It is a mainstream show that is globally known, and it’s had an impact that goes far beyond most animated shows for better or worse. However, I’m not here to debate the size of its pop culture impact, but rather, the show itself, and that, I’m sorry to say, is not good.

The reality about Family Guy is that it comes down to whether or not one thinks the characters are engaging in the show. Sure, they’ve gained a sort of iconic pop culture status in some circles, but that’s not the question. It’s whether they are good characters. Suffice to say, the show comes up woefully short in that regard, despite the few moments it managed to use its cast well over its long run. To start with, Seth McFarlane’s shows all stick to the “ensemble” format- a main cast that follows set roles and rarely strays from them. That’s not inherently bad on its own, but Family Guy just so happens to have an insufferable main cast, from Peter Griffin’s mind-numbing idiocy and bigotry to the abuse of Meg Griffin, down to the family dog, Brian- who despite his ironic reputation as a “voice of reason” is in face more akin to the condescending jerk nobody likes. Whatever its other failures and shortcomings as a show, it falls squarely at the cast’s feet- and seldom has there been a more boring, one dimensional, rude and boorish cast in the history of animation.

That scathing critique aside, I understand the why of Family Guy‘s continued existence: It makes money and its aforementioned director has been a major influence in Fox’s animation block for the better part of 2 decades, for better or worse. It’s a prime example of a “lowest common denominator” template that has proven to work in the sense that it draws viewers and is easily syndicated, and it’s in many ways to many people an “edgier” version of the Simpsons (but really, it was never anywhere near as smart or charming.) That said, understanding its success is also why it’s vital to be honest about the show we received, because it is a case example of why Western animation (and the entirety of animation on the whole) does not reach potential audiences with the sort of depth and critical acclaim their live-action counterparts do. If your casual viewer is spoonfed a diet of low-calorie junk like Family Guy, they will never develop a palette for something better, believing it to be the only sort of animated show for adults out there. As I’ve proven time and again, there are fantastic animated shows no matter where you look, from Disney XD to the Toonami block. Obviously, there’s still overlap for some people and that’s to be expected, but the demise of crude, cruel shows like this one would go a long way in legitimizing the short-form TV format for many a casual viewer, while spurning on a burst of quality that also makes money.

(Finally, one last note: Spare me the excuses about this show; I’ve explained my bit about why it’s simply not up to par, and frankly, I’m being too kind, both in my words and the grade I’ve come to assign it. That said, onwards to grading!)

 


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, done in a signature style of Seth MacFarlane. It’s got a pleasing color palette, pops visually, and overall is pretty solid, though not perfect. 4/5 points.

 
Characterization: Needless to say, while my thoughts expressed a clear level of disdain… This might be the most annoying troupe of characters I’ve ever had to deal with watching a show, especially when you discount the pop culture significance of said individuals. On top of that, they’re damn unlikable for a variety of reasons. Peter is an imbecile with loose lips and a looser moral code; Stewie is an unnaturally unnervering presence, and the show’s treatment of Meg is downright shameful. Mean-spirited and downright morally reprehensible beyond any sense of humor, these fools get no credit from me. 0/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic, with some loose canon elements, though not really. This show’s storytelling is the equivalent of the mystery box- you have no idea what you’re going to get, and most of the time, it descends down a rabbit hole of insulting anything and everything in the name of “creative humor.” Some folks find this fun. It’s likely more insulting than anything. That said, there’s the occasional clever moment. 0.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Based on the above categories, do you really think Family Guy has any themes worth mentioning, let alone worth following? No, it doesn’t. It’s worse at social commentary than South Park, lacks anything nutritive unlike other shows with family ensembles, and while all of this might be excusable if it was entertaining…it’s really a matter of taste, which in this case was not a very good one.  0/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Family Guy is a mean social critique and satire of anything and everything. It makes me cringe almost constantly, which no cartoon should do. But it’s an adult show! some say. It’s still highly questionable even with a higher tolerance levels for such attributes. Finally, it was canceled twice. What does that tell you? 0/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 4.5/25 (18%). Good animation aside, Seth MacFarlane’s most well known work is ultimately a terrible show disregarding its significant pop culture influence and unlikely 16 year run (not counting its short cancellation period) on TV. It has ultimately lost its fundamental comic heart and soul; it is not funny, and serves more to take a dump on just about everybody. It makes a true animation fan cringe and shake their head. There’s nothing against trying new things in the medium, but when it’s pushed in such a way as here, there’s nothing but a cold husk of cold “humor.” Some people like nasty. I find it tends to ruin the show. And so it goes.

Review/Rant: Fanboy and Chum Chum

Dumb and dumber: The tale of a bad Nicktoon.

The Lowdown:

Show: Fanboy and Chum Chum

Network/Years aired: Nickelodeon, 2009-2014

AniB’s thoughts: Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Let me preface my thoughts by saying that Fanboy and Chum Chum brings some levity to the reviews here, which have been loaded initially with some of the best shows both East and West have to offer (including fellow Nicktoons Avatar: The Last Airbender and successor piece The Legend of Korra), and it was about time to show off an example of what not to do in a show. Enter the highly forgettable entry that is the subject of this review column, and prepare yourself, because it ain’t pretty.

I really do make an effort to be as unbiased and objective as possible with every show that’s reviewed. Unfortunately, even with that fair ideal in place and a grading system that can also be described as such, Fanboy and Chum Chum is a mess of a show in almost every possible aspect. Where do I even start? Bad CGI, bad script-writing, bad music, and horrible characterization makes for an explosion of awfulness that in some ways, can only be explained as a byproduct of the era in which this show was hatched. 2009 was admittedly smack dab in the middle of the worst mini-era of animation in at least the past 30 years, and while Nickelodeon was struggling as a network like everyone else, it did itself no favors with its pick of shows, and of that inglorious bunch (which included “gems” like The Mighty B! and T.U.F.F. Puppy), Fanboy and Chum Chum might unequivocally be the worst. What makes this assertion even more accurate is that Nick execs had a choice of  shows to greenlight from pilots; they picked this heaping pile of garbage up instead of another little show you might have heard of- Adventure Time– that went on to became a massive success on rival Cartoon Network en route to becoming the very representation of a new wave of Western animation in the 2010’s. But enough about a show I’d rather talk about- we’re here for the choice Nick made instead.

This show really does one thing well: showcasing to aspiring show-runners mistakes they should avoid making, and this unfortunate reality has a two-fold crisis in Fanboy and Chum Chum: The animation style, and the inability to write anything resembling cohesiveness. Shows have distinct animated styles, but different character designs also have natural proclivities to what they’d look best in. Gravity Falls, for instance works perfectly in 2-D; while Star Wars: The Clone Wars was very good in 3-D (and is an example of versatility in styles.) Fanboy and Chum Chum has the unfortunate distinction of having 2-D designs cast in a 3-D world. The end result is incredibly unnatural, jarring character models (which you can see clearly in the picture for this piece) which would have been at home in the 2-D style exaggerated character designs like these have been in forever, but for some reason, from the word go (which included the pilot), the creators decided 3-D was a good idea. (It wasn’t.) Add in janky colors that are almost too bright, and the low-budget CGI production that is also evident, and it’s a disaster of equal proportions. While this aspect alone sapped a great deal of any promise from the show, it still might have had a chance if the writing was there…except it wasn’t.

Character writing 101 was left on the doorstep of Fanboy and Chum Chum. As anyone worth their salt as a critic, an animation fan, or a purveyor of entertainment in general will tell you, characters are the hook into your narrative. They flow with the story you’re trying to tell, and as a baseline, the main cast should have some dynamism and your main protagonists need to be easily likeable.  This show failed miserably at this most basic of tasks- the titular characters are two of the most annoying tone-deaf, brain dead individuals ever conceived in an animated show, regardless of target audience, and it is so bad that anyone who actually continues to wade into the sludge of this show’s depths will only find themselves rooting for Kyle- the middle guy in the article picture- a wizard (don’t ask) who is incessantly pestered by our supposed “heroes” in such a way that I at least found myself rooting for his schemes to destroy the little bastards. The main goal of Fanboy and Chum Chum as individuals is- get this- to get a special kind of Slurpee they particularly love, to goof off and (un?)intentionally annoy people, begging the question what the actual gripping concept of having these two wack jobs dressed up as knock-off superheroes in the first place was, or even more generally, what was goal of the show? To be honest, I’d write a better script for this abomination in two seconds: A Codename: Kids Next Door hybrid meets Teen Titans, cast in tasteful 2-D, give our main men actual brains (which they remove in the show we actually got, to “comedic effect” at times), and overhaul the entire cast, colors, music and everything else- wait, scratch that. I just said to scrap this show essentially- which should have happened in the first place! Anyways, here’s the gory details in all their graded glory:

 


Animation Quality: 3-D CGI, and not very high budget at that. A quote I read somewhere online a while back summed it up best: “This is what Ren and Stimpy would look like if it was in 3-D.” It’s fairly stark for a show released in 2009 that ran into 2014, and the character designs don’t really do it any favors. On the plus side, the color palette is bright. That’s about it though. 1/5 points.
Characterization: The major problem with this show is its titular characters. For the viewer, they are incredibly annoying “protagonists” and they seem to revel in their awkward stupidity. As I highlighted in my thoughts, when your show has unlikable main characters by any stretch, you’ve got serious problems.

Fanboy and Chum Chum are the two leads. While separate characters, they essentially are two sides of the same coin, meaning “not very bright, impulsive as hell, and likely to get diabetes at some point.” Fanboy’s the skinny one in mostly green, and Chum Chum’s the fat, short guy in orange. (Apparently, wearing underwear on the outside of your clothes emulates heroes’ spandex, but it’s not very becoming here.) They engage in random acts of..randomness (think involving a giant wad of chewed gum FB and CC are hiding in their school desks (which is disgusting, not funny, especially when they talk to it like a young child), which then, upon bringing it back to their hideout/home in the town’s water tower, it turns into a sentient monster who’s equally as thick as his new friends.) What?

 

The supporting cast is very weak and stereotypical; Kyle’s probably the best of the bunch (largely because he’s aware of just how stupid FB and CC are.), but unfortunately, he’s the punching bag- a inferior Squidward clone. As mentioned, the character designs simply look ugly in 3-D. They would have worked much better in 2-D, as most atypical designs do. 0.25/5 points.
Story quality: Episodic. Terribly contrived plots- I don’t think I was very amused at any point watching, and frankly, the show didn’t do anything spectacular to really warrant praise. The lack of character development, the consistently annoying premises, and the unfortunate truth that I wound up rooting for the “antagonist” in just about every episode sums it up. There’s a lot more nasty things that could be said, but simply, the episodes are dull exercises in futility. 0/5 points.
Themes: The power of friendship? Seriously, the show doesn’t even try to wedge something of nutritive value in. Thematically, the show’s a waste of time when your main characters are more interested in obsessions over sentient pieces of gum (for one strange example), a conspicuous lack of attention or basic listening to other people, and the fact that they don’t even try to work the superhero angle in. (They would be the lamest superheroes ever, but it’d be a start…) 0/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: This show is catering to kids, and not in a good way. It’s a brain dead show with generally unfunny attempts at humor, an unlikable set of main characters, basic CGI, and a slew of other problems. It also has an awful music track, simply adding to the misery of what was an unpleasant experience. 1/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 2.25/25 (9%). Fanboy and Chum Chum is a truly awful cartoon with little sense of pacing, character, story, or really anything of worth. Its most significant achievement was somehow surviving for 5 years on Nickelodeon (how it did is still a mystery to yours truly). It’s not vulgar, but it lacks any intelligent writing and nothing particularly stands out. It is, in a word, awful. Avoid this at all costs- there are far better pieces of animation to consume.


Like this review? Actually enjoy this show? Or here to parrot the same convictions? Leave a comment!