DEVILMAN Crybaby – Anime Review
Synopsis: With demons reawakened and humanity in turmoil, a sensitive demon-boy is led into a brutal, degenerate war against evil by his mysterious friend, Ryo. (Official Netflix Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
DEVILMAN Crybaby is based upon the famous Go Nagai Manga, Devilman, a 1970s manga that bucked trends of the time and pushed boundaries with its graphic sexual content and violence. It follows the story of Akira, a young man who becomes possessed by Amon, a demon, and turns him into the powerful Devilman, giving him the strength to fight the demons lurking throughout society. Crybaby adapts this work rather faithfully, at least when it comes to the major story beats that the five volume manga follows, while modernizing certain elements in order to keep the series from feeling dated. Director Masaaki Yuasa, known for his unique style in works like Ping Pong, and Tatami Galaxy (among others) brings his special brand of visual style to the Devilman world.
Crybaby is bound to be divisive, not just for its art style, but due to so many other elements peppered throughout these ten, fast moving episodes. Starting at the top, the art style, as mentioned, isn’t going to be for everyone. Yuasa makes use of minimalist, low-detail art that can produce captivating, yet seemingly simplistic imagery. At times this style is a major boon to the production, producing visuals that scream of the original manga, or provide an unnerving depiction of the demonic battles between Devilman and the monsters lurking through society. But at other times Yuasa’s style backfires, turning scenes that should feel tense, into vaguely comical as the characters hardly look intimidating, let alone appealing. Certain sequences come to mind as characters are left without faces in longer shots, making aspects of the production feel cheap, even if it is a stylistic choice rather than budget or schedule driven.
Creature design is where Yuasa’s style becomes a major boon to the production, helping to craft horrific, odd, unnerving demonic designs that sell Devilman’s darker and uneasy atmosphere. Overall however, Yuasa’s art style is going to be something you either take to, or dislike the whole way through. Personally I found myself more often than not lamenting its usage, feeling that certain sequences were just too lacking in detail to become truly impactful. While the artwork allows for greater fluidity of the animation, and that is one thing you can’t take away from Crybaby, it’s always fluid and never jerky, that lack of detail was something that always stuck with me. That said, I fully admit that the minimalist design works wonders during the series final episode, used perfectly to depict the final battle between Devilman himself and the ultimate villain.
But Devilman Crybaby is so much more than its art. It’s riddled with production design choices, sometimes questionable, used to further sell Devilman’s brooding, uncomfortable atmosphere. Perhaps most prevalent, until episode 7, is Crybaby’s penchant for frequent nudity, drugs and sexual imagery. Unlike fan service in most anime productions, Crybaby attempts to craft a certain thematic atmosphere with its perverse and seedy imagery. Nudity and sex are used to sell the conflict within Akira, and the burgeoning demonic powers working to swallow society. At times the show convinces me that what might normally be considered distasteful, is all part of Crybaby’s thematic design. Other times these sequences go on for too long, or produce such comical visuals/ideas that it damages the overall message. I’m especially more negative on its usage, particularly with how strong episodes 8-10 are, which contain almost none of the ‘thematic’ imagery used prior and also happen to feel like the strongest parts of the production.
It’s this lack of restraint that hinders some of Crybaby’s best work. For example when it comes to sound design, there’s a moment where a female character is masturbating while suffering from an inferiority complex. To get this message across her moans are rendered as a donkey’s bray, something that’s far more likely to pull you out of the scene than actually convey the message it’s trying to convey. Despite this, Devilman boasts an incredible soundtrack that more than makes up for the more artsy missteps from time to time.
But what truly matters is what’s beneath the surface. Assuming Yuasa’s signature art style isn’t too out of the norm for you, what lays beneath is generally quite strong. While the series breakneck, non stop speed can make it a little difficult to get a read on the characters: particularly Ryo, Akira’s best friend and who introduces him to this underground battle between demons and man, as he never really gets the attention and scrutiny he deserves, not until he becomes a stronger focus later on.
That said, the character work for side characters Miki and Miko, two female track runners who share a pseudo love/hate relationship, is nailed perfectly. These two girls form the emotional backbone of the series, and when Ryo and Akira’s character work doesn’t always land, these two girls pick up the slack and keep you invested, particularly through episodes 1-6 which are, by far, the weakest part of the series. It’s this backbone through Miki and Miko that forms the series’ greatest emotionally impactful triumph in Episode 9, and without them Devilman would surely be a far lesser work.
Ryo and Akira have an interesting dynamic, one the series underplays and barely explores. In order to keep certain late series twists off the table until the final episodes, the conflict between the two is severely underplayed, often to the detriment of Akira’s character. Sometimes it doesn’t make a lot of sense why Akira forgives or overlooks things Ryo does, particularly when they threaten people Akira cares about. This makes it difficult to connect with Akira, who often feels a tad too soft, even for a boy as overwhelmingly empathetic as he is, which is something we don’t really ever go into: Akira’s ability to strongly empathize with anyone, to the point where he bursts into tears even if they aren’t overtly crying themselves. Thankfully the fast pacing largely reduces these issues, making them more lingering annoyances when thinking pack on the overall plot.
While the fast pace helps to obfuscate some issues it actively causes others. The series isn’t ever truly amazing during its first six episodes, often keeping your attention through sheer shock value at the explicit nature of its thematic visuals. Emotional moments tend to ring more hollow than true, as we aren’t given the breathing room to really grow attached to certain elements or characters. At the same time, because things move quickly, even when the emotional punch doesn’t land, or perhaps fails to be as effective as it could be, we’re rushing along to something else. As a weekly series Devilman might’ve felt more hollow, and greatly benefits from Netflix’s binge-watch model.
Ultimately however, Crybaby comes into its own during Episode 7, and deserves significant praise for its final three episodes, which stand far and above the rest of the series. These three episodes are well worth sitting through the previous seven, filled with tons of emotional pay off, incredible visual design and imagery, with a climatic conclusion that capitalizes on Crybaby’s grim tone, providing a perfectly thematic conclusion to the series as a whole. That said, Devilman Crybaby’s ending isn’t for anyone looking for a pick me up. Without spoiling too much the end is bleak, probably far bleaker than you might initially assume. It bucks trends of providing an overly sappy and happy conclusion, likely to leave some viewers emotionally upset and unhappy with the way Crybaby chooses to bring itself to a close.
Devilman Crybaby isn’t perfect but remains an excellent mini-series. It captures its tone well, and never backs down in order to become a people pleasing title. It’s art is divisive but on a whole, generally works to bring this beloved 1970s manga to life. It’s hardly an anime for everyone though, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who isn’t prepared for what is; undoubtedly, one of the medium’s bleakest and most emotionally upsetting offerings. But if you’re looking for quality, artistic integrity, and an overall unique and engaging experience, Devilman Crybaby is, in that regard, a perfect watch.
DEVILMAN Crybaby is available for streaming via Netflix.