Chatty AF is back from its winter break, and what better way to kick off the new year than by chatting about the flawed-but-ambitious series that’s been emotionally wrecking the anime community? Vrai, Peter, and special guest Dawn get together to discuss Masaaki Yuasa’s DEVILMAN crybaby!
Content Warning: This series contains sexual assault, sexually explicit material, violence toward children, fanservice, and depictions of homophobic violence; the hosts will discuss these issues as they arise
Date Recorded: Saturday 20th January 2018
Hosts: Peter, Vrai
0:00:54 Devilman history
0:19:31 The first half
0:21:18 Plot confusion and original writing
0:27:05 Yuasa additions to the story
0:28:21 Miki Kuroda
0:32:08 Demons are young/old people
0:34:23 Ryo or Satan is Tyler Durden
0;43:38 Miki’s mixed race
0:45:05 The death of hope
0:53:40 Yuasa’s contribution
0:54:42 Your mileage may vary
Music: Open Those Bright Eyes by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor for the site, and you can find me on Twitter, @writervrai, where I do the things, and cohosting my other podcast, @trashpod.
PETER: I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an associate features editor at Crunchyroll and a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist.
VRAI: We also have a very special guest with us today.
VRAI: Thank you so much for being on, because you are definitely our guide into the world of Devilman. Today we are talking about the Netflix 10 episode miniseries Devilman crybaby directed by Masaaki Yuasa, who you might know as the director of Tatami Galaxy, Kaiba, or Pingpong, or his trademark art style has appeared in individual episodes of Space Dandy, Samurai Champloo, Adventure Time… Whenever you see those really flat colors and sort of paper-doll-looking characters with the really stylized contrast, that’s probably a Yuasa joint.
Dawn, you are a longtime fan of the series? How long have you been into Devilman?
DAWN: Oh, gosh. Probably since the ‘90s I want to say. That sounds about right, because I… The first thing I ever saw of Devilman was the old OVAs back in the day. The ones that Mungo released here with that classic dub that people are rediscovering now. [laughs]
VRAI: Right. That was the very first Devilman thing to make it over, right?
DAWN: Anime-wise, yes.
DAWN: Anime-wise, yes. Comic-wise, they tried to bring Devilman here a couple times, but in really weird ways that would never sell in a million years, so it never really took off or anything. No one really cared. The most it ever got was the attention of the one guy from Danzig, the heavy metal musician. He really, really, likes Go Nagai. And he really, really likes Devilman. And he tried to make that happen. And nobody cared.
DAWN: But bless him for trying. He’s a big fan. So he was like, “Everybody should like Devilman!”
VRAI: Well, there’s also that one live-action film starring the chairman from Iron Chef, which I believe is based on Devilman.
DAWN: Yes. The live-action Devilman, which is not very good.
PETER: Well I definitely want to watch it now. I don’t mind if it’s not good.
DAWN: It’s pretty bad.
VRAI: Okay, now I have to… Crying Freeman… I believe… No, maybe… Internet, if I am wrong, tell me.
DAWN: I can’t remember who’s in… There was a live-action Devilman in the early 2000s if that’s the one you’re talking about.
VRAI: Possibly. No, this is 1995, so it’s possible that I am talking about a terrible, glorious adaptation of an entirely different…
DAWN: There was a live-action Crying Freeman, but I haven’t seen that.
VRAI: It’s magical.
DAWN: Yeah, I’ve heard it’s pretty amazing, though.
VRAI: I took this on a tangent to something else entirely.
DAWN: Well, I mean, it kind of… It kind of works with Devilman, because Crying Freeman, he cries all the time after he kills somebody.
VRAI: It’s very sad.
DAWN: So, Devilman crybaby, he cries when people are sad, ’cause empathy.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s an interesting thing. I guess to give… This is, by the way, going to be a complete spoiler ‘cast because there’s really no way at all to talk about this anime if you don’t. And also it’s available in its entirety to binge. So, stop here, go, and come back.
PETER: You’re expected to binge this show. If you didn’t, you didn’t watch it right.
DAWN: Yeah. You’re supposed to just mainline it all in one day.
PETER: That’s how Americans consume media. Yeah.
VRAI: I did the first half over a couple days, and that was kind of a mistake. ‘Cause the first half is much weaker anyway. If you lose momentum in those early parts, you’re not gonna come back to this, I don’t think.
DAWN: Yeah. Yeah. It makes me wonder if they made it with that in mind. That they knew that people would watch all of this in one go.
VRAI: Well, Peter, you were looking in a little bit to the production history, yeah? Where Netflix swooped in at the last minute and became the distributor?
PETER: Yeah, well, I’d been following a couple conversations on that. My understanding is it was… I don’t want to… My understanding is… I’ll repeat that, because I don’t know any of this as a fact.
I think they were originally planning to make it a movie, a two-part movie or OVA or something like that, and they were having trouble getting the project together. It was originally not a Netflix project. But I think they were having issues. And then Netflix came in and basically got the rights that allowed them to finish it, but I don’t… They weren’t really ever part of the production, no.
DAWN: Yeah. When I was at AnimeFest last year, I actually asked—because I was just really curious—at the Yuasa panel, I asked him, “Did you just go to Netflix and be like, “I want to make a Devilman anime’? ‘Cause I was really curious. How did that happen?”
And he was like, “Oh, no. It was… I was having a conversation with the people who were basically trying to put it together.” And he was like, “Oh, you’re working on a Devilman thing?” And they were like, “Yeah, you know, actually, it would be pretty cool if you worked on it. Would you want to work on it?”
And he was like, “Wow, that would be really hard. Devilman is such a thing, you know?” And he was like, “I don’t know if I can do it, but I want to do it.” And so he was like, “Yeah. I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna do it.'”
And then he said Netflix came in later and was like, “Yeah, we wanna help you make this thing. Here’s a bunch of money. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
PETER: Okay. Yeah. I’m reading this right now. It looks like it was Aniplex and Dynamic Planning were the ones that put the project together. It was going to be a film or an anime. And then they offered it to Netflix to distribute. So I don’t even know if it was discovered by Netflix. I think Aniplex went to them and Netflix thought it was attractive enough to buy global rights to it.
VRAI: Well, I mean, it has some of the same general appeal that they sold Castlevania on, except Castlevania was a lot more campy. So, I can see how they thought this would sell.
PETER: Oh yeah. Netflix definitely leans into gothic and/or fantasy. ‘Cause they also have Seven Deadly Sins, Violet Evergarden, Fate—all the Fates they can get their hands on. So, there’s definitely a Netflix type. Usually high-production fantasy or gothic-horror-type.
DAWN: Previously they had also already had the rights for distribution for outside of Japan, I think. I’m not sure if it was inside Japan as well. But for the Cyborg 009 and Versus Devilman special that came out not too long ago.
DAWN: And then Netflix also had a bunch of Yuasa stuff previously, like Mind Game and Genius Party and all that stuff.
PETER: Did they? I know GKIDS owns those now. I don’t know if they purchased those from Netflix. Or maybe the license ran out.
DAWN: Yeah. I believe the license ran out, ’cause they were on there for a few years, and then they recently in the past two years went away.
PETER: Geez, I never knew. I would have watched those on Netflix for sure.
VRAI: Yeah, I was about to say that I thought that this had been the first Devilman animated property in a while since Devilman Lady in the early 2000s, but there have been specials since then, huh?
DAWN: Yeah. The Cyborg 009 and Versus Devilman thing I think was supposed to be for the Cyborg 009 anniversary or something like that. And it was okay. It was more just a weird sort of, “Hey, we have these two properties. Let’s put them together and make a weird thing and we’ll get Jam Project to sing a song for it. It’ll be cool!” And it was interesting. I wouldn’t say, “Oh, if you liked Crybaby, go out and watch that right now,” because tonally they’re way different.
VRAI: It’s interesting to me, because Devilman strikes me… I’ve been calling Crybaby “The Woman Called Fujiko Mine of the Devilman Franchise,” as it stuck to me, because there is this big cultural property that was getting more and more… I don’t want to say “creatively lazy.” I can say that for the Lupin franchise. I’ve watched a lot of Lupin. But I can’t speak to Devilman, that it had this auteur director come in and direct this very special, limited-run that did a lot of artistically daring things. So, I guess…
DAWN: I’d say that’s a fair comparison, because Devilman had been kind of not really doing a whole lot and not really going anywhere and this is the 50th anniversary of the manga, I believe.
So you see a lot of the Go Nagai 50th Anniversary logo going around, so they wanted to do something special, and that’s why you’re seeing… There’s gonna be a new Cutie Honey next season and all this other stuff.
PETER: Yeah, it looks like he recently did Devilman G three years ago. So he recently did another manga for the franchise, yeah.
DAWN: Yeah, and I think it was… Was it Devilman Grimoire? That manga came out for the 40th anniversary. About ten years ago. So, you know, there’s stuff that’s been coming out, but it’s not been selling like hotcakes or anything like that.
VRAI: This is something I want to discuss, because the Devilman continuity is truly labyrinthine.
DAWN: Oh, it’s ridiculous.
VRAI: So, there’s the original Devilman manga, then there’s Devilman Lady, which is the official sequel that got cancelled, then there’s Violence Jack which is a sequel to Devilman Lady maybe, and then there’s some reboots and remakes and spinoffs in there. I got very confused.
DAWN: There’s Shin Devilman. There’s Demon Lord Dante, which is proto-Devilman. Devilman before Devilman. There’s all these offshoots and things that are kind of not really sequels or prequels or anything, but they’re still kind of connected. And other characters from his other works show up. So, if you somehow decide you’re gonna watch Violence Jack or read Violence Jack, Cutie Honey is in there for no reason, really.
VRAI: She’s Selene, right?
DAWN: She’s just there.
DAWN: And it’s like, “What? What’s going on?” So, sometimes I like to think… That’s why recently I think I said something on Twitter about comparing him to Tezuka, because Tezuka kind of does the same thing with some of his properties and…
PETER: The star system?
DAWN: Yeah. So, it’s not quite the same, but his characters pop up over and over again doing sometimes the same thing. Sometimes slightly different but still the same, sort of. And it’s like, “What? Ugh.” So it’s just a mess. It’s just…
VRAI: I did not know who to blame Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle on, and now I do.
DAWN: Yes! CLAMP is a huge fan of Go Nagai, which is funny because, just recently… Up until now, up until Devilman, not a lot of people in the West were really… They didn’t really know Go Nagai’s work other than “Oh, he made Devilman. Oh, he made Cutie Honey.” But that didn’t mean a lot to them because they’d never seen Devilman or they’d never seen Cutie Honey.
So now that everyone has seen Crybaby, which is basically an adaptation of the original manga, now they’re like, “Oh, so he made a lot of weird stuff, huh?” And it’s like, “Yeah.” So when you say, “Oh yeah, CLAMP was definitely a fan of Go Nagai’s,” it’s like, “Oh, that makes sense because it’s totally messed up.”
VRAI: Their doujins where they give Ryo and Akira tiny children because of reasons are very cute.
DAWN: Yeah, yeah. They have an egg baby.
PETER: Do you think Steven King might be a Go Nagai fan?
VRAI: I would buy it. I definitely had a King period in high school and I don’t recall him mentioning it. But I would buy it.
PETER: I’m just saying. You’ve got The Dark Tower, which is kind of a similar mess of everything he’s ever written crammed into a single chronology.
VRAI: Yeah, that actually… To bring it back around to Crybaby in specific, this is… So, Go Nagai’s franchise of work seems to… A lot of them seem to work together because time loop or rebirth. And this is a series that overtly… The entire series kind of hinges on that fact, or at least the ending in a lot of ways. So, I wanted to talk about that a little bit.
PETER: So, you’re basically saying all these things could exist because it seems like Devilman has this cyclical history where, very likely, humans continue to get wiped out by Ryo/Satan.
VRAI: Well, specifically in Violence Jack, Ryo is a reincarnation who is specifically existing the way he does because he wants to be punished because of what he did to Akira. If I’ve read correctly.
DAWN: Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, I haven’t actually read Violence Jack.
VRAI: I did a little research and then said, “I will never read this.”
DAWN: Yeah… Yeah. Yeah.
VRAI: Do I look like I need heterosexual Ryo Asuka in my life? No. No, I do not, thank you.
DAWN: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Don’t make the mistake I did and watch some of that anime when you’re young. Don’t do it.
VRAI: Oh, I’m sorry. But, yeah. To me… Because time loops are in vogue. Speaking of people inspired by Go Nagai, Evangelion’s theory of a thousand multiverses and also Rebuild as a time loop thing, it’s very much… To me, it seems super… It’s why I find the ending of Crybaby to be a hopeful one rather than a bleak tragedy like the original manga ends on.
DAWN: Yeah. Mm-hm. The original manga is very depressing. And… At first glance, the end of Crybaby can seem pretty depressing as well, because, I mean, obviously… But it also… Yuasa kind of frames it as “this isn’t the first time this happened.”
If you pay attention to the visual clues they’re leaving in this, they’re like, “This could happen again, because it already happened again.” And so it’s one of those things, like you said, Evangelion: “Oh, they’re just cursed to keep replaying their roles over and over again because Satan can’t get his shit together and figure out what love is.”
VRAI: Well, that’s what struck me as interesting about Crybaby specifically. I don’t know if you saw that real good tweet thread that was looking at the visual language, specifically the moons, in the various apocalypse sequences.
DAWN: Yes! That was really great.
VRAI: Yeah, well, they were talking about the moon as representative of Satan circling Akira and never being able to get closer to him and this body that reflects but cannot produce their own light.
And, you know, I think that thread came out reading it as an endlessly repeatable tragedy, but I kind of read it a lot more hopefully than that, because now there are two moons. Now the moon is not alone because he has grasped love and, you know, it’s like The Dark Tower where you start a new timeline and something is notably different, and so there’s the implicit hope that things will go differently this time rather than being endlessly recursive.
DAWN: It also makes you think… If you’re viewing Crybaby as the second go-around, that’s why it makes sense why things aren’t exactly how they went down in the manga and why things are slightly different. Everything’s the same but just slightly different, so you’re like, “Oh, okay. If I look at it this way, it makes perfect sense.”
VRAI: The mere decision to end it on the Earth being destroyed and coming back again rather than… I think I looked up and the last page of the manga is just Ryo looking up and the angels are there and that’s the last panel.
DAWN: Yeah. Like, “Oh, geez. We’re fucked, aren’t we?”
VRAI: That’s some bleak shit.
DAWN: That’s one of the reasons why I feel like Crybaby… I want to go back and rewatch it a second time because I feel like… Because of the way it ended, you would get more out of it with a second viewing, I think. Just to sort of pick up more on those things you might have missed. Also because it just goes at breakneck speed, so…
VRAI: Yeah, it’s… Boy, that first half is rough. The first half is rough. I have a lot of respect for what the… I feel like once it gets into the second half at the track meet, it really has a firm idea of what it wants to do and a thrust in a character—although, Ryo’s arc has some bad pacing. But that first act is a lot of… It’s the “monster of the week” kind of things. Especially Miki is so very objectified and sexualized in a super gross and non-necessary way. It’s uncomfortable.
DAWN: Yeah. There’s a lot of things that are uncomfortable about Devilman in general, and in this one too.
VRAI: It’s not that I’m… I didn’t mind the orgy scene in the premiere or anything. I’m fine with the fact that this is clearly a very overt story about adolescence and sex and violence and the driving forces of humanity or human id. But there’s just something very, very weird in the photography arc being a lot of us getting to see Miki naked while he rescues her and she’s unconscious, but then her arc in the second half of this series is about how she’s this very pure and sexless figure. It’s this weird, uncomfortable duality.
PETER: She’s like a savior, basically.
VRAI: Yeah, and it’s coded as her being this very pure, Madonna kind of character.
PETER: Yeah, in retrospect, I was thinking about a lot of different plot points that just kind of… And I don’t know if this is necessarily because it was rushed, but I just almost… They felt confused or contradictory, like the whole Taro-turning-into-a-demon thing. I am not quite sure how he got possessed, ’cause that kind of defies the logic that they set up for how people got possessed in the first place.
VRAI: That one kind of made sense to me, because they have those… I found them mildly irritating in an “Aw, the precocious kid is watching porn” kind of way, but at least it makes sense that because he is absorbing this societal violence, he becomes a mindlessly consuming demon, which then becomes a slightly mixed metaphor because… Okay, Devilman are a metaphor for marginalized and oppressed people, but…
DAWN: Yeah, it’s… It’s kind of frustrating at times, because a lot of the premises in Devilman, even the original version of it, feel kind of paper-thin. They’re just barely holding on together. And I think part of it is when Go Nagai originally made this manga—since Crybaby is basically an adaptation of the manga—he was writing it week-to-week. He didn’t really know where it was going or how he was going to end it up until maybe halfway through.
When he first started the manga, it was a collaboration between Toei who did the original anime… They were like, “Okay, we want to use a bunch of your original ideas to make this show.” And he was like, “Okay, here’s my ideas.” A general idea of what the characters are like and their stories. And they were like, “Okay, we’re gonna make this anime.” And then they made the anime. He made the manga.
PETER: Oh, was this simultaneous?
DAWN: The manga started just before the anime did, so the anime is kind of similar but goes a completely different direction.
PETER: So it’s like the opposite of Revolutionary Girl Utena.
DAWN: Yeah, where the anime is really safe and…
VRAI: Super kid-friendly, yeah?
DAWN: Yeah. And more family-friendly, ’cause it played at 8 o’clock at night or something. It was an 8 PM timeslot. And it was almost a tokusatsu hero sort of thing, where you had a monster every week and Devilman had to fight him and he had super special powers. He had Devilman Punch and Devilman Kick and Devilman Beam and all that stuff; whereas in the manga, he was like, “Yeah, it’s gonna be this weird horror story where, I dunno, for a couple chapters he’s gonna fight demons, and then I’m gonna just take it in a completely different direction.”
So I feel like when Yuasa was like, “Yeah, I wanna do a pretty faithful adaptation of the manga,” that kind of lends to the pacing problem, ’cause the pacing in the manga is really all over the place.
VRAI: Yeah, that’s… I mean, I get… It’s one of those things where… Well, this is definitely one of the better cases of “A fan of something made an adaptation of it,” but also I’m not sure that “the original source had really poor problems figuring out what story it wanted to tell early on” is a thing you desperately need to carry over to an adaptation 50 years later.
DAWN: Yeah. And I think that was part of the problem, was he was like, “Well, I want to make it a faithful adaptation because I like it,” because he said he was a huge fan. He really enjoys Devilman. But that poses a problem. How do you do a faithful adaptation?
And I think he tried and succeeded mostly pretty well, but it still does have the pacing problems, and sometimes you can’t keep the rules of the Devilman and the demons and stuff straight because I don’t think even Go Nagai really knew what he was doing.
PETER: Or just thematic dissonance. Like Miki’s speech scene where everybody hugs Devilman and then they get in their cars, drive to her house, and burn her at the stake. It just felt weird.
VRAI: I mean that’s… It’s not subtle at all, but also it’s like, “You’re doing a hilariously obvious duality-of-man thing. Okay, anime. Fine.”
DAWN: Yeah. Yeah, pretty much. I guess… It’s a little different for me, maybe, because I’m like, “Oh, I already know what’s coming,” when I was watching it. So maybe that was a bit of a hindrance for me, because I was like, “Oh, this is gonna be the part where they all go kill Miki.” You know, I knew what was coming. But a lot of people had no clue. Although I did hear from some people where they were like, “Oh yeah, I knew Miki was gonna die in episode 2.”
PETER: Well, I mean, that is how that trope always, always, always works. It’s one of my least-favorite tropes, is the guy’s got something going on and he tries to protect the girl he knows by keeping her in ignorance, which inevitably makes her more in danger because she’s not forewarned when trouble eventually comes around to her, and, lo and behold, she gets decapitated.
DAWN: Pretty much.
VRAI: It is interesting to me to talk about how Yuasa wanted this to be a faithful adaptation, because I think the addition of Miki Kurota is one of the best parts of Crybaby.
DAWN: Yeah, I feel like the things that he did add to it really sort of lend themselves well to what he felt were the really strong parts of Devilman, which are obviously “War is bad” and, you know, the whole “duality of man” thing like you were talking about earlier, and all this other stuff that you can really sort of dig into thematically when you’re picking apart the things in original Devilman.
And so I really appreciate that. I was like, “Okay, he kinda knew what was going on and he felt like he had some more to add to this and some more to say.” And sort of update it with some more timely aspects. Which I appreciated.
VRAI: Yeah, ’cause Miki is just a great character. I guess I should call her “Miko.” I feel bad because she’s so mad about it. This fictional character is so mad about being called “Miko,” but, for ease, we will just call her “Miko.”
But it feels so necessary because I think Yuasa was aware that maybe if we make the only not-straight character literally Satan in our story about marginalized people, maybe that’s a bad thing that we shouldn’t do.
PETER: Well, there was the other track runner too, who ends up joining the villains as well.
VRAI: Kouta. Oh my God, Kouta would be unbearable if Miko did not exist. I find him tolerable as a sort of tragic, pathetic figure because there is also Miko being this very heroic figure and Ryo doing his thing. In combination with the hopeful ending.
But, God, Miko is good. Except I don’t know why we needed the weird rape/masturbation scene, because early Crybaby has issues that could have been streamlined.
PETER: Yeah, that was… That felt weird. They had that scene earlier, and then she admits her love for Miki near the end.
DAWN: I kind of wondered about that too, ’cause I was like, “I feel like there must be something behind that, but I can’t really grasp what he was going for with it.” Especially the whole donkey noise thing.
PETER: Oh, yeah, yeah. That was weird. I don’t know why they were making that comparison.
VRAI: It’s the lust, guys!
PETER: Yeah, yeah, it was weird. She kept getting called out for making donkey noises.
DAWN: I was just like, “Okay, there has to be some sort of reasoning behind this,” but I have been lost. I cannot think of anything.
VRAI: It’s so weird that in this exploitation, gore show, I am fine with all the sex and the gore—except you could do without 99% of the nonconsensual shit, and it would be fine. It would be fine.
DAWN: I also feel like if they had just left that part out and just had the part near the end with “Oh, I really loved you,” I feel like it would have been stronger without the whole weird donkey noise.
PETER: That part… I can’t figure out what they were trying to accomplish with it later. ‘Cause they… She met that one guy and he did the rap, and then I actually don’t know what happened to him, because it sort of implied that he died at the club, but then, was that him yelling at the police that his old friend had a gun?
VRAI: No, I think he died offscreen, because they… You get a close up of his severed fingers and you can see his tattoo on them.
PETER: Yeah, but that’s after the scene. I mean, it looks like him, but for some reason he wasn’t with Miko, but he was in the same store? That was him, right? I just know to call him “Butterfly Guy,” ’cause I don’t remember his real name, which is kind of funny because that was the big deal: that nobody could remember who he was. But I guess he dies sometime after shit starts getting dystopic, ’cause you see his severed fingers later on when I guess Miko is just kind of wandering around from house to house during her disappearance.
It’s really… That’s one of the things that, in retrospect, I’m just like, “What was going on there?” It felt like that scene… That’s what got the gangsters on Miki’s side, but just kind of the narrative engineering around it created more holes than it helped to fill.
VRAI: Right. Yeah. I’ve seen bits here and there of discussion around how Crybaby versus the original Devilman handled this concept about “demons as fear of the next generation,” and I can’t really speak so much to the manga, but it feels like Yuasa’s version is definitely trying to grapple with that by having these gangster characters, who are voice-acted by actual rappers in the Japanese rap scene, [and] very prominently including queer characters as the Devilmen, who are able to grapple with these demons and use them to become stronger.
I’m not… It’s a little bit of a shaky metaphor in places, but it feels like it’s something he thought was important and really wanted to grapple with. Because it’s so primarily the military and adults who start the panics.
PETER: Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, you find out that the adults are the demons and they’re telling everyone that you need to not trust these people who don’t conform to society. And the cameras turn off and all of them turn into monsters. So, yeah, I think he was kind of…
DAWN: Yeah, not very subtle.
PETER: It was… What do you call that? A heel-turn on that idea, very intentionally, so I can dig that. I mean, one of the things I thought was very powerful about the apocalypse in Evangelion—’cause we have to make that comparison a couple times, probably—is that it was sort of the result of these very paternalistic figures in SEELE and Gendo fighting over the ability to write the new era of the world.
And of course that ended up making Shinji suffer and leading him down this path that eventually ended in this awful apocalypse because he couldn’t handle that sort of situation on his own. And he hadn’t really received guidance. He’d just been manipulated. And of course they wanted to take the reigns themselves, so I feel like in that way it was very similar, where everybody’s trying to guide the future and make it in their own image, and then we ended up with a blasted hellscape and a red ocean.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s a little unfortunate that there’s kind of this disconnect in how Ryo’s plot arc is paced. Because once he starts… The point from which he goes to following—from being Tomoyo and following Akira around with a camera to actively pushing for the end of the world when he still doesn’t know that he’s Satan is a little bumpy. It’s a little bumpy. It’s like he’s two different characters.
PETER: Yeah, yeah. It felt like… I could feel the Tyler Durden about to appear, but the thing with Fight Club was everything Tyler Durden did was this subconscious desire, so the main character is just things that moralistically he wouldn’t want to do. It was just kind of the toxic masculinity within him, right? That was the whole message of Fight Club.
But in Ryo’s case, it’s literally like there’s another brain inside him that was doing things while he was asleep that was not… I don’t know where Ryo starts and Satan begins. I feel like I know where Tyler Durden starts and—I don’t even remember the other character’s name in Fight Club.
VRAI: He doesn’t have a name.
DAWN: Yeah, they just call him “Jack.”
PETER: They named him in the movie, right?
VRAI: Well, no. He has this running thing about how he’s Jack because of a news article that he read. But he’s just called “the narrator,” generally, anyway.
PETER: Well, you know what I mean. There’s sort of distinctions and then it’s just: Did Ryo ever exist? I don’t know. I get the feeling that all of that would have happened even without… Because he said demons were starting to appear before he got there anyway. Would the result of that have been any different whether or not Satan existed?
VRAI: Well, in other versions, it’s Ryo the person died and Satan took over his body, right?
PETER: Ah, I would get that. If Satan is using him as a vessel and then kills him when he doesn’t need him anymore. But I guess he still feels the love of his flesh body…
VRAI: We can’t go down that way. Don’t make me the weird ‘90s Griffith stan.
DAWN: [laughs] I was just thinking earlier today, are we gonna start saying “Ryo did nothing wrong”?
VRAI: It’s already happened.
DAWN: [laughs] Oh.
VRAI: Ryo did a lot of things wrong, and I like the gay Satan.
DAWN: Fandom is circular. I mean, Crybaby kind of proves it with the End of Evangelion ending.
PETER: I dunno. I know you said the ending was kind of hopeful, but I really felt like the story’s just about the death of hope, even with Yuasa’s changes. It seemed like he was snuffing out every hope there could have possibly been. And Satan’s whole deal was he was trying to fight God because God was this callous, uncaring being in the sky, and then God ended up not helping mankind and just gassing the planet after the fact anyway.
VRAI: That was interesting to me, actually, because, as I gather, in the anime Ryo talks about… he came to Earth and he discovered demons and he liked that they were so simple and straightforward in their emotions.
But in the manga, he talks about being mad—if I have done my research correctly—being upset that these were creatures that were made by God but were rejected. And I don’t know why that was changed, because it seems like the former version would fit in really well with what Crybaby was doing.
DAWN: Yeah, that was… The way the first half portrays Ryo was really different than the original story. In the original story, he basically goes to Akira and explains exactly what he wants to do to him because he’s like, “After all of this research, this is what’s going on. This is what demons are. This is what’s happening. But if we told people, they would panic. It would be anarchy. It would be awful. So I want to turn you”—he kind of goes: “It could be either one of us, but I think you would work well because you have such a pure heart and you’re a good person and you have a good, strong sense of justice.”
He really drives that home, like, “You have a very strong sense of justice. And if we could combine with a demon, maybe we could fight back.” And Akira is like, “Okay. I’m scared but I trust you, Ryo, ’cause you’re my friend.”
So, he lays all the cards out on the table for him, and explains everything before they go to this party. But, in Crybaby, it’s just like, “Hey, what up, Akira? We’re going to this party.” And so he doesn’t really explain “I’m taking you to this party because I want you to turn into a half-demon thing to help save the world.”
PETER: I assume the revelation is different where Ryo purposefully reveals to humanity that demons exist? In the manga, is it such a grand…?
DAWN: It’s similar. I believe he does it on TV. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked through the manga. It’s very similar. It’s just not as… I want to say he didn’t seem as cold and calculating as he did in Crybaby, where he was just like, “Yeah, he’s doctored footage of my friend.”
VRAI: “I’m doing this for you, honey!”
DAWN: Yeah. So, it almost feels like, at times, Crybaby‘s Ryo doesn’t seem as caring. But that might be part of Yuasa’s whole: “He doesn’t understand his feelings yet. He doesn’t understand it, so he’s trying to pull against it at times.”
PETER: We literally don’t know what Ryo’s mental state is during this, ’cause we don’t know when it’s him acting or when Satan’s acting or if Ryo ever existed.
DAWN: Right. It’s… It’s interesting.
VRAI: It feels like an important thing to have… I know he seems to have been trying to do this thing where Akira is the protagonist but it’s Ryo’s story. But that would be a really, really important distinction to make. I can see what he’s trying to do, because early Ryo has statements about how: “I would do anything for you. You’re the only person I care about.” God bless him. This fucking boy.
PETER: I’ll shoot this girl in the head to make sure your identity never gets out.
DAWN: I’m gonna blow up this old lady. [laughs]
VRAI: And then also saying with perfect seriousness, “No, I don’t think that demons can love.” I can kind of see him trying to set up this moment at the end, but I feel like it was still a little clumsy in places where it really needed to be clear.
PETER: Yeah. It is a very good way of… The whole story is about Tyler Durden’s friend or somebody in this gang or something, just you’re not sure who was who or when.
VRAI: Yeah, and I kind of like that sort of second-person focus in stories, but they have to be really carefully crafted.
PETER: Yeah. I mean, there have been other turns like that where a character realizes they’ve been doing things that they don’t know about, where I feel like there’s a better perception of whether they changed or what. With Ryo, I just… By the end of it I didn’t know how to describe it. I wasn’t sure he was a character.
VRAI: I mean, it’s not like Akira is completely uninteresting. He’s certainly a very… I appreciate, especially considering that this is a 50-year-old manga from the ‘70s, what it is at least trying to do with the idea that masculinity… That empathy and crying and showing emotions are very important parts of those—of growing up and being male and whatnot.
PETER: Yeah. I mean, honestly, the most powerful scene in the entire series for me was Taro’s dad when he came upon Taro and his wife, ’cause he…
DAWN: Oh, that was so hard to watch.
PETER: Yeah. I think he was in this place where he felt like it was his responsibility to kill them both, but he just couldn’t make himself commit that act of violence.
DAWN: Yeah. I even knew it was coming and it was super hard to watch that.
PETER: Yeah, they drew that out. And I think that was a good idea. That scene was super… That was my favorite scene, I think.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s… Well, he’s a new addition as well, and so is Miki being mixed-race, right?
DAWN: Well, I think his parents are in the manga, but I don’t think they are mixed-race in the manga. I’m pretty sure they’re just both normal Japanese parents. But the way it plays out is not nearly as emotionally impactful as it is in the anime.
VRAI: Right. And I’ve heard a lot of talk of being hafu is also a really rough experience if you’re living in Japan, so that also… I mean, I’m sure it’s partly also so they can have really hamfisted conversations about Christianity. This fucking story. Bless its heart. But also it’s a way of making Miki part of this group of outsiders. It’s nice.
And this goes nowhere in particular, but I really, really love the scene where the two Mikis have this really joyful moment of connection right before they fucking die. But also all my tears.
DAWN: Oh, the baton… Oh, God.
PETER: Yeah, I loved that analogy up until it hit and it was just like…
DAWN: Oh, that broke my heart. It was so sad. So well done though. It was a great way to tie all of them together.
PETER: It was. Although, I don’t know, I think when Miki died, that’s when the show lost me, personally. I felt like that’s when they basically just said… ‘Cause there was another narrative leading up into this. It was kind of like what you were saying earlier.
Akira was a decent character and they had this Teen Wolf thing going on with him, where he was having these sexual urges that he was afraid of, and these violent urges. And they started getting into that, where he’s wondering whether he can keep up being a human as well, and that’s why he feels this need to redeem other people like him, so that he can prove that either people can stay people or there’s some ways that demons and humans can coexist. Which I feel is very important for keeping this idea of hope moving forward, with the next cycle or whatever.
Because regardless of what Satan thinks, demons will still exist, and apparently they’re un-killable, and they are violently inclined to possess humans. So there’s literally no way that the demons will ever, ever, ever go away. So, having this idea that they can kind of coexist and having Akira prove that—before Satan’s influence ends up fucking everything up—I think that might be indication that, maybe the next time around, the humans and demons can find some way to… Demons can be defanged and they can live alongside one another. Or, I don’t know, just some way of solving this demon problem.
And I felt like since that was pushed under the table with that evolving Ryo and Satan situation, it led to this apocalyptic scenario where the only one left was Miki and Akira, who were these representations of altruism and basic human goodness. And then Miki gets this really dragged out scene of somebody cutting her fucking spine out of her back, and Ryo gets beaten to death.
So, yeah. That’s… When we’re talking about hope for the future, that thread at the end: it’s a bare thread to me. Because of the way they handled that middle plot as well.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s… I’m still down with it to an extent, because so much of the Devilman character arcs become this forcibly metaphorized thing of: “The demons are your demons. They are your metaphorical demons and if you can overcome them, you can become this very powerful, much stronger thing. Because, yes, there will always be oppression in the universe. There will always be God coming to kick your fucking teeth down your throat. But as long as you can learn and change, you can grow stronger and overcome that.”
Which is, to me, why that ending with Satan realizing what love is and then the rebirth of the universe works. But I will agree that there is this severe disconnect between Miki’s death and the final battle, where Akira has this moment of, “Truly human beings are the monsters!… Well, I guess let’s go kill all the demons now.”
PETER: Yeah. I think at the end he was just pissed off at Ryo and wanted to beat him up or some shit like that. I felt like Miki’s death represented that humanity didn’t deserve to continue existing. When they killed her, that was… It was basically the unforgivable act of humanity that proved that we deserved whatever came next. And I think that we did, at least in Devilman.
Satan was there to manipulate that, ultimately. I don’t know. It seemed like all the horrible acts at that point… Which is why that scene where everybody’s hugging Devilman felt so out of place. It felt like it was… I liked it. I was like, “Is this gonna be a turning point? It’s a little awkward, but okay, I get it.”
But it was just a hiccup on this death spiral that had been happening for the past three episodes. And it seemed so out of place. Like everybody took a break from slowly murdering each other and doing drugs and ending up—the end of freaking Akira—just to hug Devilman for five seconds, and then they went right back to business. It was so weird.
VRAI: I mean, I think it’s at least meant to be another: “This time around is fucked, but look, here’s an example of how people can come around, so we’re all not completely fucked forever.”
DAWN: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I feel like Yuasa and the whole crew including something like that… They wanted to try to push forward that whole “war is bad” narrative, and we got to learn that, yeah, humans fucking suck. They’re terrible. But not everybody is terrible. In small, contained groups, we’re not so bad. But in the larger scope of things, yeah, sometimes it’s really hard to get along.
PETER: Yeah, but even then, half the people in Team Miki ended up betraying them as well, right? That was another narrative thread I didn’t get. The short one saw Miko’s glasses, and I didn’t know what the significance of that was. I feel like that’s the reason he turned on them, but I don’t know what it was about her yellow sunglasses that… Maybe he’d seen them before or something. Oh, maybe it was—were those originally worn by Butterfly Guy?
PETER: Oh, okay, that’s it. He probably figured she killed him or something, maybe.
DAWN: Yeah. He was like, “Oh, you’re a demon ’cause you killed what’s-his-name, so I’m gonna get you before you get me.”
VRAI: It’s very not-subtle, but…
DAWN: Yeah, it’s the whole “creeping doubt” narrative, that: “Oh, I’m gonna get you before you get me, because that’s how the apocalypse rolls now.”
I did, though… During that whole scene, I just kept going, “Aw.” I would hug him. He looks… His legs look very furry. [laughs] He looks like he would be nice to hug.
VRAI: I mean, yeah. You’re not wrong. I would.
PETER: I liked the scene. I just don’t know where it connected with anything else in the story. In isolation: great scene.
DAWN: It’s a little hamfisted.
VRAI: Just a little bit. I can see “we wanted to contrast this with the violence as hamfistedly as possible,” but also there was no other place you could put this in here?
PETER: Yeah, I agree with you that Yuasa was trying to make a more optimistic outlook. I just… It felt like there were two or three changes that he made that didn’t really… That felt awkward, I guess.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s… I think Crybaby keeps brushing up against the fact that it wants to make a hopeful version of a very bleak story. And it both wants to inject that but also it eventually is cowed by needing to follow the narrative beats. Everybody has to fucking die.
DAWN: Yeah. Which is interesting, because I’ve read things like… I believe a long time ago somebody had posted this big thing that Go Nagai wrote for the bilingual version of the Devilman manga, where he ended what he said with: he had hope for the future. And I think that was something that Yuasa took literally. “Maybe this is something I should run with: hope for the future.”
But it’s kind of hard to… Like you said, it’s hard to fit that into that sort of story, because it doesn’t seem very helpful at times. And sometimes you wonder, “Is that really something that fits in with this story?” But it’s interesting to see how he tried to make more of an effort to put that in there than Go Nagai ever did.
VRAI: Yeah. It’s definitely, I think, a “your mileage may vary” kind of case. I am… It’s an uneven project on the whole, but I am super glad for his additions, because there are certain things that would be unbearable in The Year of Our Lord, 2018, like the sad death of Akira’s hetero love interest at the hands of the machinations of literal gay Satan as they go off to their tragic battle where everybody dies and then he cries about it.
DAWN: Yeah, I didn’t really know what to expect when he said, “Oh, it’s gonna be true to the manga. It’s gonna have the manga ending.”
All ten of the Devilman fans on Twitter at the time were like, “What? How is he gonna pull that off?”
VRAI: How’s that going having this influx of new people?
DAWN: Yeah, yeah.
PETER: I will say, I personally don’t really… “The death of hope”-type stories aren’t really my speed. So if you’re cool with that, I think it’s a much more enjoyable experience. It’s basically “how much tragedy you can take in your fiction” that colors your perception of the story as a whole as you watch it.
VRAI: Yeah, I think that’s fair.
DAWN: Yeah, it’s… it’s definitely one of those stories that can be read in different ways. And, like Vrai was saying, your mileage may vary for sure. There’s a lot of people I knew who were like, “Oh, I’m gonna try that Crybaby thing,” and they couldn’t even get past one episode. And I can totally understand that, because Devilman is one of those things where it’s like… It’s usually either “I am very into this” or “I am very not into this,” so I totally understand when people are like, “I tried and I just could not do it.”
VRAI: It’s definitely one of those cases where I think the extremity of the content—of the sex, if not the violence—really tones down at the halfway mark, but there’s also enough important stuff at the start of those really messy, really extreme, very trying, shocking episodes that I’m not sure you can just say, “Eh, watch the premiere and then skip to X point.” So it’s a tough recommend.
DAWN: Yeah, it really is. Especially if your threshold is much smaller for those people like that. I mean, I’m a horror fan and I’ve watched so many over the years, so my threshold is a lot higher than a lot of people, and I guess it helped that I already know the story of Devilman, so I knew what to expect. There were a lot of people who did not know what to expect and just went in totally blind, and bless you all for trying something new. I’m sorry if it horrified you and scarred you deeply.
VRAI: It was definitely a case where once I got into the groove, I was pretty into it, but during… mostly during the “photographer creeps on teen girls” arc, I was like, “Oh, I saw this handled way better in Paranoia Agent, without the feeling that I’m supposed to be jerking it to these teenage girls. Cool.”
PETER: That felt pretty unnecessary. Him, period. That entire character. It might have been a lead-in to “humans suck,” but yeah.
DAWN: I really enjoy Yuasa’s work, and he does a lot of really interesting things with properties like this. And so when you give him a lot of creative freedom, I feel like he really plays around with a lot of things, and sometimes that works really, really well, but other times, he doesn’t connect all the threads together as well as he could. And it’s like, “Eh, you tried, and it was at least interesting.” So I can forgive that.
But there are a lot of people out there that don’t particularly like his style visually or thematically, which I also understand. But I feel like it really lends itself to Devilman, because Devilman itself is a really weird property, and he has a lot of weird visual stylings and visual tics. So, for me, it worked. But there are definitely times where I was like, “Eh, the story kind of meanders and does weird stuff that could’ve been better.”
VRAI: Right. Yeah. You’re right. Yuasa is a great person to give it to in terms of: “This is definitely going to be something new and interesting and exciting and thoughtful.” The only other director I could think who would be up to it thematically is the sadly late Satoshi Kon, and his art style would be terrible for Devilman.
DAWN: Yeah. It would have been really interesting to see him direct a Devilman thing. Maybe not necessarily do character designs for it.
PETER: I think it’d be good. He does that very well, where it becomes hyper-real until it’s grotesque kind of art in some of his movies. I’d be interested… I mean, obviously…
DAWN: It would be kind of interesting. Considering that old OVA, there were a lot of animators that worked on that old Devilman OVA that were Studio Ghibli animators.
VRAI: Yeah, I definitely got to get ahold of that at some point.
DAWN: Yeah, so there’s a lot of scenes where Miki looks almost like she could be in a Studio Ghibli movie.
VRAI: Oh no, that’s unsettling.
VRAI: Oh no, that’s terrible and bad. I don’t want this.
DAWN: Yeah. It’s kind of weird. It’s kind of weird. I mean, it’s not completely Ghibli-ized, but once you know that, you can kind of see it a little bit. But those OVAs are incredibly beautifully animated. They’re very, very detailed. Very, very gorgeous. I keep poking at Discotek like, “Hey, those OVAs would look really good on blu-ray, you know?”
VRAI: They’re single-handedly rescuing every single old anime property, so give it time.
DAWN: I know. It’s hard work for them.
VRAI: I don’t know if they’ll bother, but a Devilman crybaby set might be nice, actually.
DAWN:I hope that Netflix puts out a blu-ray of Crybaby. And it would be great if they had some director commentary on there. I’d buy that in a second.
VRAI: Oh, yes.
PETER: I don’t know if they’d do physical media, although I do think they sometimes sell the IPs to other companies to do physical for them.
DAWN: Yeah, ’cause I know Sentai released Knights of Sidonia. Some of their other Netflix original stuff… I know Orange is the New Black got a DVD release. But I can’t remember if they sold that to somebody else to release or if they did it.
PETER: Yeah, it was Sentai Filmworks. I happen to have the Knights of Sidonia box over here. So, yeah. I guess they sold it to them.
DAWN: So I’m like, “Somebody, please!” [laughs]
VRAI: Please. I guess… Do either of you have any wrap-up final thoughts on Crybaby, or Devilman generally?
DAWN: I just really think it’s interesting how we went from… nobody in the Western world gave a shit about Devilman to “everybody loves Devilman” almost overnight, and I kind of think it’s great. I really encourage, if you did like Crybaby, to—when the original manga gets released here in English, to check it out, because I feel like Go Nagai is one of those mangaka that really influenced a whole bunch of people. A whole generation of manga artists, and we don’t really know a whole lot about him here in the English-speaking world.
And I feel like just now people are starting to be like, “Oh, yeah. We’re connecting the dots.” Kind of like what I was saying earlier. And so if you did enjoy that, definitely check that out and see where some of your favorite manga artists got inspiration for stuff like Berserk or Evangelion or a million other things. It’s kind of like an interesting history lesson, but you’re learning it backwards.
PETER: I’d say similar; although just from what I’ve seen so far, I think Go Nagai’s story is much messier than what Yuasa put together. I think Yuasa’s might be messy because it was trying to straighten out a lot of things and kind of make a throughline for the story as well.
PETER: I’d say it’s definitely worth watching. It’s quite the visual spectacle and it does have some very good moments, just as long as you’re okay to watch violence, sex demons, and you’re okay with the highest level of tragedy that anime can achieve.
VRAI: The body horror is so good, though. God, it’s so good.
DAWN: It really is. It really is. Yuasa, at AnimeFest, when asked about Devilman, he said it was a lot of hard work and he’s really proud of it and he thinks it’s really beautiful and he hopes everybody enjoyed it.
VRAI: Aw. That’s adorable. All right. I’d say that about wraps it up. Thank you so much for joining us, by the way. It would be really great to have you back sometime.
DAWN: Oh, well, thank you. I was honestly really nervous.
VRAI: Oh, nah, nah. You’re doing great. Listeners, tell her she was great. She was great.
DAWN: [laughs] Thank you. Thank you.
VRAI: We’ll have to do this again sometime. I like talking about older series.
DAWN: Yes. Talking about older things is kind of my brand name, I guess.
VRAI: It’s a good brand. It’s a good brand as we become old and crotchety in the animu sphere.
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