Think of it this way: Devilman Crybaby is Gantz on steroids.
After Adam Wingard's Death Note adaptation, I swore off original anime series and movies on Netflix, but of course, even as an average anime fan, I was intrigued when I saw 2018's newest release, Devilman Crybaby (directed by Masaaki Yuasa). I wasn't in the mood for anything kawaii, you know, a good Fruits Basket throwback; I wanted gore and the occasional joke. Netflix delivered…and then some.
If you're looking for character development—the narrative structure that details a character's history, intent, and moral compass—Devilman Crybaby will leave you a bit disappointed; our whiny protagonist, Akira Fudo, is possessed by Amon (a demonic spirit) and becomes Devilman 15 minutes into the first episode. But the story goes that anyone who survives his soul merging with a demon spirit is a devilman, so Akira isn't actually that special, nor is his journey that gripping. So again, there's a little bit of missing padding to Akira's character that leaves him a bit flat.
It's the type of thing Bleach did really well, about eight episodes of characterization before Ichigo accepted his destiny as a hero, the chosen one, the dude with unexplainable power, and the dude whose dialogue consisted of screaming and grunting like he's been awakened mid-colonoscopy (#AnimeScreams). Think of it this way: Devilman Crybaby is Gantz on steroids. Most of the on-screen characters die within minutes of being introduced, most of the monsters that appear are oozing some type of liquid from some exaggerated orifice, and there's also a weird sexual tension with LITERALLY everything and everyone.
Before you attach yourself to a character, remember their presence necessitates blood, gore, and limbs flying around the frame (similar to Go Nagai's 1970 original manga, which was far more grotesque). You're supposed to be disgusted by the mangled bodies and disturbed by how quickly the narrative continues, as if none of these characters were eating katsuobushi prior to being decapitated. You probably won't remember anyone's name in Devilman Crybaby—I certainly didn't after I realized no one was going to survive—which is fine, let's say, if you're into a show that's basically about genocide. There is no hope and the world is corrupt; death is the best thing that can happen to you in Devilman Crybaby, apparently.
Not quite a classic, not quite an anime worth revisiting, but also not quite forgettable in the least, I'm at odds with how to describe this series and its brashness. There's a lot of bad here—the lack of narrative heft, the lack of character arcs and resolution, the lack of anything related to a coherent story the audience will, in the very least, empathize with—but the parts that are good are really good, like really really good. For starters, there's the soundtrack, a mix between electro, club beats and rap sequences (performed by Japan's very own Ken the 390). The music showcases the electricity of the series—characters poppin' anime's version of molly, club orgies, and demonic monsters exploding to reveal other gross monsters—and it's what makes Devilman Crybaby so stylish, inside and outside of all of its youthful debauchery. The animation style is crisp and clean and has a unique aesthetic, and there's one particular scene involving a father and his son that is one of the most emotional and compelling moments I've ever seen in anime. The series also incorporates social media in its narrative, exploring how quick Akira's community is to judge and socially police, even vilify their neighbors.
Will it get another season—if you made it to the last episode without experiencing intense nausea, you'll probably argue no…unless it's a new beginning with a new set of victims. Devilman Crybaby will leave you with more questions than answers, like a big, muddled mess of violence and empathy, and occasional, frightening reflections of real life. There's a lot of good and a lot of bad in Devilman Crybaby, but maybe that's the point.
POP⚡ DUST Score: ⚡⚡⚡
Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.
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