Ryou, a teenage professor, tells Akira, his childhood friend, that demons are going to take over the world. They go to find evidence and Akira ends up fusing with Amon, a powerful demon, becoming a Devilman (demon with the heart of a human).
Review – some spoilers:
There’s been a lot said about this series already, but just in case you missed all the other blogs that have written about it, this is a Netflix anime that is not for the faint of heart. Whether it is the gratuitous violence and gore or the sex and body horror, this is definitely not for those who are squeamish about anything. Even my fairly high tolerance for fictional violence was pushed while watching this and it didn’t help that some of the imagery (the sex and body horror elements) ended up being a little disturbing. But if that doesn’t put you off, let’s discuss whether or not this show is living up to the hype surrounding it.
While I might be in the minority, I really didn’t enjoy watching Devilman Crybaby. From the start, the visuals just didn’t sit well with me as I didn’t particularly like the style. There are some really striking scenes where they do some wonderful contrasts with colour and the like, but it just didn’t appeal visually. Then again, possibly the ugly and overly simplistic art style fit with the nature of the story but it certainly wasn’t a selling point for me.
Then the characters came along and my issue is each one is very much one thing with potentially one twist up their sleeve. From the beginning Ryou is portrayed as lacking in human emotions so by the time the reveal as to why comes along you’ve mostly figured it out anyway and it isn’t in the slightest bit surprising. In fact, it makes some of his earlier actions a lot easier to swallow because it makes sense that no sensible person would suddenly start slashing random strangers with a broken bottle in order to collect proof of demons.
Akira, on the other hand, apparently has a very warm human heart. Let every character tell you about it, over and over again. Oh, Akira’s a crybaby? He cries for others? Oh, how empathetic. Over and over again this point gets hammered and the real issue is Akira has no other personality trait other than his apparent abundance of empathy for others. Even his anger and rage later in the show is produced because of his empathy.
The side characters are all much the same, with Miko maybe being the exception. They are introduced as one thing, if they are a more important character there might be a later reveal but the show isn’t spending a great deal of time on fleshing these characters out. They are stand-ins and place-holders for the rest of society.
Because this anime very much wants to make a POINT. It is a deep metaphor, a reflection of society and the social disharmony and disconnect of youth culture… And it wants to make sure you never forget it. Not for a single instant. Like Akira’s empathy and heart, let the anime tell you again and again about characters with broken dreams, feeling disillusioned, lost, unsatisfied, and how society doesn’t value those who work hard or genuinely feel for others.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being an allegory and filled with metaphorical characters and imagery, what takes the enjoyment away from Devilman Crybaby is while it wants to have that deeper message, it also wants to shock and titillate its audience. And it does this with as much subtlety as it constructs metaphor so large chunks of early episodes are given to the sabbath, to sex, and to violence between demons played out on scenes nearly too dark at times to really catch the detail of what is going on but with a plethora of squishy and unsettling sound-effects.
The balance is lacking and by the time the show switches into full allegorical mode none of the characters or ideas have really had a chance to be developed or to sit well with the audience because so much time has been given to extended sequences of sex and violence. So the show falls back on imagery we are familiar with from other stories and myths and to replaying ‘critical’ segments over and over again to once again hammer a point home that could have been made more easily with a bit more legwork in the earlier episodes.
Miki’s appeal on social media particularly bothered me. It felt so much like the writers wanted to directly state their message and simply put the moral into Miki’s typed messages. Miki’s subsequent death for sending out messages of peace and love lacked impact as it was mostly lost in a sea of other deaths and she hadn’t been built up enough for the audience to care. Therefore, Akira’s rage when he sees the result is understandable but not something the audience can share with him. We’re kept at arm’s length and in honestly her appeal was naive at best giving me little reason to sympathise with the result.
The sudden gathering of an army of devilmen is also kind of convenient and simply allows for an overblown final battle which visually is a mess of colours, attacks, and spinning. There’s very little detail to that final fight, though one scene definitely gave me Evangelion vibes which was kind of weird.
Thematically, Devilman Crybaby is solid but for me the execution failed to engage. It was watchable, and had some dramatic moments, but without ever really getting an emotional response other than occasionally flinching at the visuals in earlier episodes. I get some people will have fun with this but it just didn’t work for me and I probably won’t do a rewatch at any point. Actually, if you just watch for the over-the-top violence and a story that pushes forward (even if it doesn’t get into much depth) this would kind of be the perfect watch, however I just found myself wanting more from it.
As always, I’d love to know what you thought of the show so please leave me a comment below.
Thanks for reading.
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