DEVILMAN Crybaby (2018)

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Almost out of nowhere, Netflix has started to become my go-to location for watching new anime – even over Crunchyroll. This is largely because instead of simply streaming properties that were made in Japan, Netflix has been funding original content and taking huge chances in an industry that has been going through various stages of stagnation for a number of years. After last year’s Castlevania, a witty, dark adaptation of an old NES game, the company has set to dip into the more brutal side of anime yet again with DEVILMAN Crybaby.

DEVILMAN Crybaby is based on the legendary manga and anime by Go Nagai – author of other popular series such as Cutie Honey and Mazinger Z. The property had an odd, almost simultaneous release as a  39-episode anime series which was developed by Toei Animation in 1972, and as a manga in Kodansha’s Weekly Shōnen Magazine barely a month before the anime series started. The series has since spawned numerous OVAs, manga, novels, and films. Today we will be talking about a BRAND-NEW remake of the franchise in DEVILMAN Crybaby, the surprise hit of the year in the anime world.

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When I started watching this, I was immediately enthralled by the opening theme song and video which is a bizarre, simplistic electronic dance song that basically just has the lyrics “MAN MAN MAN MAN MAN MAN MAN HUMAN MAN MAN MAN MAN MAN HUMAN HUMAN!” playing against a trippy background reminiscent of watercolor inkblot tests. I’m not sure why, but this song, perhaps in it’s simplicity, is a total earworm and gets stuck in your head immediately. Whenever Netflix would try to skip the intro I was like “OH HELL NO!” in the same way that I always must watch both the Doctor Who and Game of Thrones intros to completion.

In DEVILMAN Crybaby Demons invade humanity after being frozen in ice for millions of years. Akira, a timid boy, is tasked by his friend Ryo to merge with one of these demons in order to be able to fight back against them for the sake of humanity. Akira has been chosen because, as the title would suggest, he is very very emotional – sobbing uncontrollably at the drop of a hat. It’s this susceptibility to extreme empathy that makes him the perfect candidate to become a demon as he can control the impulses that usually turn people into inhuman creatures of pure impulse.

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Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, a man that is perhaps my favorite surrealist anime director considering I LOVE his films Cat Soup and Kick Heart, which the latter was reviewed here from back before I merged my blogs together. He is one of those guys that usually makes short films rather than long-form pieces such as a full-on TV series, but I’m glad he is branching out and trying things like this. I’m not sure how much Netflix has to say about funding decisions such as this, but I feel Japan would have likely skipped on something like this on their own since it won’t sell body pillows.

I think I was sold on DEVILMAN Crybaby towards the end of the very first episode where Masaaki Yuasa finally steps forward and unleashes his signature weirdness that I was wanting to see. Not since Gantz, an anime that I was able to watch the premiere of at an anime convention and stayed glued to the seat due to how messed up it was, have I been able to not stop watching something as if it’s a crazy car crash.

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At one point our titular hero, just minus his devil powers, finds himself being forced to go to a full-on rave / orgy full of drug-addled women of various states of undress waving all sorts of body parts around. Suddenly Akira’s friend Ryo starts attacking strangers (which should be a hell of a red flag) to add the smell of blood to all of the other debauchery and summon demons to the club. Suddenly, people are ripped into pieces or transformed into other demons themselves, including our boy Akira.

I’m not being facetious when I say – this is perhaps the most violent, gory, and raunchy anime Netflix has and perhaps we can extend that to the rest of the anime world in the last five years outside of actual pornography. But the weird thing is, it never feels wholly gratuitous; it somehow stays artistic rather than going down the road of juvenile T&A shows like Prison School or Queen’s Blade. Its use of grandiose sexual and violent imagery are a tool used to peer into the overindulgent, sometimes disgusting nature of being human. Because, in the world of DEVILMAN Crybaby becoming a demon is basically taking your most base animalistic tendencies and amplifying it to the point of absurdity.

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In most versions of Devilman, a relatively minor villain named Jinmen encapsulates this very well. He has fully fallen into being a demon and shows no human side whatsoever. Even other long-time antagonists such as Sirene show some sort of humanity poking though as small as the sliver is. Jinmen is arguably one of the most depraved, repulsive and perverse villains in all of Devilman.

He is a complete sadist, who revels in the suffering of human beings and enjoys tormenting them psychologically, as evidenced by his macabre habit of keeping their still-living faces on the back of his shell after eating them. Jinmen would compare the faces growing off of his back to the tattoos which human beings paint on their bodies and happily flaunts them in front of his adversaries. This was part of Jinmen’s scare tactic; by having his enemy cower in fear at the sight of his kills, or in the case of Akira Fudo cause reluctance in fighting Jinmen out of concern towards the several humans attached to the demon turtles body.

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As you can see from the pictures on here and my descriptions, the art style in this show is extremely trippy – not at all the “norm” for modern anime in 2018. Everything is exaggerated in just about every manner causing an almost unsettling juxtaposition between scenes of light-hearted banter, sex, and grim violence. A lot of the art reminds me a lot of French comics books, the sort of stuff that would eventually end up in Heavy Metal magazine in both their loose grasp of human anatomy and their use of trippy colors and shapes.

This is a hallmark of Masaaki Yuasa’s many works of art and shows up in most of his films. I have come to expect this from him, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Earlier on, I stated that DEVILMAN Crybaby was a surprise hit for me. I honestly assumed this show would go seemingly unnoticed outside of anime fans such as myself (pretentious snob guys LOL) and might a few honorable mention lists at the end of the year. Instead it has become a force of nature in social media and just about every major anime podcast, magazine, and website. We all know that Netflix rarely releases data on how much their shows get watched, but judging solely by the amount of buzz it generated, I’m almost certain it is considered a big success. I have also seen reviews that mention random facts like the soundtrack completely selling out in Japan which is unheard of for anime OSTs. I’ve even seen this get mentioned on lists of things to watch on Netflix that basically say “you need to watch this even if you don’t like anime” implying that it has crossed into the mainstream film community.

Yeah, the show can be seen as over-hyped and I bet there are tons of “I hate stuff because it’s popular” guys out there whining about how they don’t understand the love for the show, but screw them honestly. DEVILMAN Crybaby has the markings of a modern classic like FLCL and Cowboy Bebop by getting non-fans watching anime – and that’s never a bad thing gatekeepers be damned.

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