Starring: Griffin Burns, Kyle McCarley, and Cristina Valenzuela
Series Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Writer: Ichirô Ôkôchi
Creator: Gô Nagai
Review by Evan Maroun
Boy, oh boy, oh boy.
Having recently come off binge watching My Hero Academia, (i’m very late to the fandom, I know) I was looking forward to a new anime to dive headfirst into. So, seeing Devilman: Crybaby freshly displayed on the Netflix featured header, it seemed like it was calling to me.
About 3/4 through the first episode, a hallucinogenic rave scene filled with nude neon partygoers that contorted into grotesque demons hit me hard with the realization: This was NOT some typical run-of-the-mill anime, and I should probably buckle up for the unfolding of this horrific acid trip.
Created by Gô Nagai in 1972 as a weekly manga series based on previous works of his titled Demon Lord Dante, an anime quickly followed, simply titled Devilman. Going into this series, I was not very familiar with the source material. So to find out that Devilman Crybaby is essentially the original story again, I felt relief as I wouldn’t have to have any prior knowledge…or would I?
The plot follows an emotional high school boy named Akira, who, at the beginning is pretty much your average anime protagonist. Along comes his childhood friend Ryo, who is (somehow a professor?) fully decked out in white with a long coat and a suitably colder, more mysterious personality.
After their reunion in the first episode, and during that bonkers rave scene I described, Akira is pulled headfirst from his naive worldview into the thick of the Demon world. He becomes inhabited by a powerful demon named Amon and wins the battle for control of his body–able to control his demon powers while maintaining the heart of a human. He then uses these powers to combat other demons inhabiting the world.
As someone who came into Devilman: Crybaby on a whim, and someone who has a pretty high tolerance for straight-up weirdness, I have to say, I think this series managed to surpass that threshold.
If you are turned off by the first episode, this show will not “get better around episode __ ” for you. It’s not one of those. It sets a very bizarre bar and then adheres to it. Some might say, pushes it further. So much so, that you start to ask yourself frequently, “wait, why are these things happening exactly?” and maybe that’s the wrong question to ask in an anime where a woman’s transformation into demon form concludes with her nipples biting the heads off two dudes. But hey, I like to be in the know.
The show is ten episodes in length, and while the first half of the season is competently paced, it doesn’t always feel like a natural progression in the story. The last few episodes also feel like they had far too much material to pack in still. The ending of the show will not sit well with everyone, but that’s the nature of this show. It features themes of religion, but also of xenophobia in its own way, which is surprisingly relevant for this type of show. However, it may be hard for some people to see these, as they may get caught on too much of the “shocking” material to take anything away from it.
Creatively, they took some bold decisions that didn’t really pay off. In the show, the original Devilman series exists. It’s a show people have heard of and its out there on the internet. So, what I couldn’t help but wonder is, if this show exists, and from what I understand, retains a very similar plot… wouldn’t they have known how this whole thing was all going to play out? Maybe longtime fans of the other series can enlighten me on this. Another thing is there is a group of wannabe rapper characters, and they rap in the show a few times… and it just didn’t vibe tonally. It was cool because you don’t see that in anime that often, but it felt like it was from another show entirely.
Inarguably, Devilman: Crybaby does nail one thing. That being it’s gorgeous and oftentimes trippy, animation style. Sometimes softly dreamlike yet simple in portraying the day-to-day routine of a high school student. Other times dripping neon and blood. Somehow, it works quite well; Separating the ordinary from the demon world lurking right under the noses of the humans. Knowing the director, Yuasa, who has worked on series like Adventure Time, Ping-Pong, and Space Dandy, it’s no wonder it has a unique style and feel to it all. Especially in the way many of the characters look and move, particularly in the track sequences after Akira obtains his powers. Originally played up for comedy, the demon-fueled running animations look incredible and animalistic in nature. After a few times seeing it, it’s no longer goofy, but just the nature of the demons.
By the time the credits rolled on the last episode of Devilman: Crybaby, I felt cold. If episode 1 goes 0-100 in the craziness category and keeps that up, episode 9 & 10 goes from 100%-300%. The story wasn’t all that gripping, and it felt a little all over the place. I stuck around for the great animation and the characters that weren’t bad per say. They just deserved a story that felt a lot more cohesive.
Verdict: Leave it. Unless… you are a fan of Devilman’s previous iterations, then maybe you would love this, I can’t really speak for them. For newcomers of the franchise though, like myself, this anime series is a hard one to recommend.