There are benefits for going into Devilman Crybaby fairly blind because it was nothing like the trailer led me to expect. Based on the original manga by Go Nagai, it’s certainly as twisted and bizarre as the preview indicated- but this show is far more artistic and nuanced than I was anticipating.
Some of my early impressions included, ”is that…is that a boob-bird monster? We’ve got a boob-bird monster, ladies and gentlemen! This show’s off to an ambitious start. Why does that winged creature have a mouth and tongue for a butt?”
Lead animator Masaaki Yuasa cites Tex Avery as one of his main influences, and that’s extremely apparent with how visceral and intense his visuals are. Combined with Ichiro Okouchi’s daring and often vulgar, but still somehow empathetic writing, this isn’t a series for you if you’re uncomfortable with unsettling imagery or extremely dark moments. It was the sharp execution of all of these elements that made me enjoy this show so much.
Awkward, nerdy protagonists like Akira Fudo (Koki Uchiyama) aren’t uncommon in anime, but his relationship with a young professor named Ryo Asuka (Ayumu Murase) is anything but ordinary. Charismatic but manipulative, Ryo has returned from an expedition to the Amazon, and now says his mentor transformed into a strange creature before his suicide.
When Ryo convinces Akira to attend a rave party called Sabbath where he claims demons lurk, things get out of control fast in a gory, explicitly sexual freak-out sequence. I would not be surprised if it gave some viewers nightmares.
Akira wakes up the next day in a far more powerful body, which he puts to good use training for an upcoming track meet. The schoolgirls now start to flock over him in a manner that reminded me of the teens who annoyed Jotaro from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
Sucks for them, because Akira’s more interested in the demure, friendly track runner Miki Makimura (Megimu Han). Any potential budding romance, unfortunately, has to wait- because Ryo then informs Akira his new physical makeup is the result of a demonic possession.
Naming himself “Devilman”, Akira begins helping Ryo expose and fight various demons hidden throughout the town with his new powers. As the public is gradually exposed to the monsters living among them, panic erupts throughout society, and the political structure of the entire world begins to shift.
The current real-world concerns aren’t lost on the writers of this show, and there’s an aura of incoming doomsday that comes into the forefront as the story progresses. The dynamic between the two friends also starts to evolve, as Akira fights to keep his human heart and empathy intact while struggling with his demonic impulses.
Aside from the two main characters, there’s also a fun supporting cast that keeps things interesting between the drama. Miki’s younger brother Taro has some cute moments with Akira, and I really liked the rap group that hung around by the city docks who basically serve as the show’s “Greek chorus”- they had some nice beats and flows, on top of some rather in-depth lyrics.
Not to mention Miki also gains an overzealous rival naked Miko (Ami Koshimizu) who doesn’t just want to beat her in the big race, but also take her name “Miki” as if it were a championship. Because trophies and ribbons are so 2017. This is a new era, baby.
The art direction takes some getting used to, but the designs and animation are very fluid and expressive. I’m not surprised that the run cycles of the characters have become so memorable (enough to spawn memes, even), it’s incredibly distinct. Sometimes the jiggling chests on some of the characters can feel a little crass, but there’s plenty of memorable and dare-I-say beautiful imagery in this series. The sharp cinematography goes a long way in that regard.
Devilman Crybaby is a show where things go from bad to worse to far worse rather quickly, and I’m sure I’m putting it mildly. Fortunately, that’s countered by the heart and conscience of the title character. It’s quite surprising how the series evolves from what seems like senseless mayhem into a genuine call for peace and understanding among people.
The graphic nature early on will probably be hard to stomach for some viewers- nothing in this show is appropriate for kids, like at all- but there are some interesting ideas and impactful moments for those who are willing to stick with it.
There’s a twist towards the end that I felt played into some interesting theological ideas, ones that aren’t explored often in popular media. That’s not to say Crybaby doesn’t merge those with its own unique ideas, though.
I won’t pretend that it isn’t bleak- this ain’t a happy show by any stretch. But I thought the manner in which the plot unfolded and its (very tragic) conclusion was rather clever, and there is a degree of affection and a strong moral code in Okouchi’s story. It’s certainly motivated me to check out the original Devilman property, so I’ll gladly recommend it on that basis- as well as if you’re looking for some great, gorgeous animation, or something that will leave a strong impression.