Binge or Purge?: Devilman Crybaby
Netflix’s latest anime offering is an update of a classic 1970’s anime/manga. Unfortunately the story of Devilman got less mature as it aged.
I really like anime. But I like it a lot less now than I did 7 years ago.
The first reason is how cookie-cutter and me-too a lot of series are. Oh, you’re a story about a normal guy who was transported to a fantasy setting that behaves like an MMORPG? Get in line behind the seventeen other versions that will be airing this spring.
The second one is the “cycle of smut” that anime seems to go through. Every 15 or so years anime goes through a really creepy phase of unabashed perversion. The last time this train went through town, I was a dumb, horny teenager. I fondly look back at series that are quite frankly problematic at best. This go around, the barely disguised hentai is really off-putting. Anime has a real problem with fetishizing rape and sexualizing very young women (lolis), and they really need to get their shit together in regards to their tacit endorsement of mysoginy.
This second trend brings me to Devilman Crybaby, the latest anime series presented by Netflix. As you can probably guess from my preamble, I’m not a fan.
Devilman: Crybaby (2018)
Akira is a timid, milquetoast high school student. He’s unremarkable, constantly overshadowed by his friends Miki Makimura and Ryo Asuka. His only defining trait is an overabundance of empathy. He can detect sadness in others, and it instinctively causes him to cry, hence his nickname: crybaby.
One day Ryo returns from overseas out of the blue, requesting Akira’s help on an urgent matter. Unable to say no to his childhood best friend, Akira accompanies Ryo. He learns that Ryo has been part of a team researching Demons; that they exist, imprisoned in a glacier after the last ice age. Ryo wants to recruit Akira to bond with a Demon, as his pure heart and extreme empathy are the only things that might keep a demon’s urges in line. He will need the strength of a Demon, because the ice prison is melting, and the Demons are keen to retake their position as the dominant species on earth.
Episode 1: I Need You.
We are introduced to Akira and his friends Miki, Miko, and Ryo. Ryo takes Akira to an underground rave, where the lowered inhibitions yield an environment conducive for Demon possession.
This new series is an update of the 1972 original anime “Devilman”. It uses almost all of the major plot points of the original, slightly reworked to reflect themes in modern Japanese society.
This update has its ups, as well as some very disturbing downs. On the bright side, the animation quality does a nice job of taking Go Nagai’s unique artstyle and adding fluidity and a modern Anime sensibility. Devilman Crybaby looks like a modern homage to 60’s and 70’s psychedelic animation as well as to the “Star Blazers” style that was popular in 1970’s Japan.
On a darker note, Devilman Crybaby replaces Akira’s casual disregard for women with a pervasive ethos of women as nothing more than sexual objects. Miki is there solely for the male gaze, and sexual violence against women is rife. The club scene takes what was originally a dismissive polemic on hippy counterculture and turns it into an orgy of sex and violence. Not a great start.
Episode 4: Come, Akira
Akira goes to meet his mother; Miko wrestles with life in Miki’s shadow.
If I had to say that I liked any episode of Devilman Crybaby, it was this one. The one consistently good thing in the series are the local delinquents, who rap in each episode about their dissillusionments. Here, one of them uses rap to comfort Miko while also getting his own insecurities off his chest. It felt authentic and human in a series that is decidedly inhuman.
The updating of an original confrontation with a demon that captures it’s victims in a state of living death to include Akira’s mother (it was originally a young family friend as the victim) did a nice job of giving Akira some character development and depth.
Episode 5: Beautiful Silene
Silene confronts Akira, finally stepping out of the shadows to try and appeal to Amon, the Demon Akira is bound to.
This episode can go straight to hell. It updates Silene from a rival Demon general into a sex-crazed nymphomaniac. Silene tries to appeal to Akira’s demonic side through sex, and Akira wins the battle… by raping her. This series is officially dead to me.
“Rape, Murder, Arson, and Rape.”
Devilman Crybaby is puerile garbage. The original wasn’t great, but Crybaby takes every iconic scene from the orginal and adds senseless sex and violence. And while I have a giant bone to pick with Anime, premium streaming services are equally to blame for enabling this dreck.
Netflix and Amazon seem to have looked at HBO’s sucess with series like Rome and Game of Thrones and come to the conclusion that HBO became the gold standard due to how edgy it was. I’ve seen a lot of series coming down the pike that are just mindless titilation, from the needless nudity in the otherwise Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to the edge-fest that was Castlevania.
Game of Thrones went too far with rape fantasy, and it got smacked hard critically. Since then, HBO has been much better at presenting adult themes like actual adults. It’s a lesson that other premium providers need to learn, and fast. Until they do, send them a message by giving garbage like Devilman Crybaby a wide berth.
In case I hadn’t made it clear, Devilman Crybaby is a definite Purge.