What’s it about? In a world where demons merge with other beings to ensure their own existence, sensitive “crybaby” Akira is pulled by his mysterious friend Ryo into uncovering the powers and potential of human-demon hybrids.
Devilman Crybaby is not for everyone. It’s got a list of content warnings as long as my arm, to begin with, which in this premiere includes: animal death, blood, gore and dismemberment, body horror, drug use, so much nudity, and onscreen sex. It is determined to exercise its TV-MA rating and clearly enjoying the freedom of airing on Netflix.
As with GARO last season, this is another historic franchise that I’m coming into cold, a fact that Crybaby seems to expect—the plot is a softball pitch for newcomers, taking the time to introduce the world mechanics and the basic relationship between the two main characters. Here, for your benefit, are those basics: they’ve been friends since childhood; Akira is sensitive to the pain of others while Ryo at least pretends to be disinterested in living creatures; they are very cuddly and close, but will probably not do a smooch (CLAMP ships it, though). Drama ensues, usually involving dismemberment.
These are longstanding legacy characters, so it says something that Crybaby manages to make them feel modern. While many franchises brought out of retirement struggle to contend with having characters made to appeal to a different era of popular conventions, Crybaby’s leads are both obviously archetypal and also smoothly translated into an at least mostly modern setting.
The visuals are a much larger departure, emphasizing flat coloring and thin lines that look less like classic Devilman and more like… well, I’m not personally familiar with Director Yuasa Masaaki (The Tatami Galaxy, Ping Pong), but fellow AniFem staffer Dee assures me what it looks “more like” is a Yuasa production, complete with his trademark contorted figures, skewed angles, and striking color schemes. This winds up being extremely off-putting in early scenes where the show is still aping school/slice-of-life conventions, as the bright colors combined with the flat shading make green fields or white walls almost painful to look at.
It’s in the second half that the reasoning behind the show’s aesthetic becomes clear, as the action shifts to a neon-lit orgy-slash-rave and starts using the stretchy designs (imagine Welcome to the Ballroom but on purpose) to reflect the copious amounts of mind-altering substances. The club scene is where you’ll find out whether or not this is a series for you.
On the one hand, there’s the nice background touch of having couples of all variations existing casually and happily at the orgy, which is a small but thoughtful touch in an unexpected place. But make no mistake, this show isn’t really out to exploit anything but female sexuality: a full array of camel toes, pubic bones, g-strings, and plain ol’ butts are shoved at the camera across a spectrum of uncanny angles, and breasts flop across the screen with the contentment only freedom from light bars can provide.
It’s excess to the nth degree, all of which I found far less uncomfortable than the fact that Akira’s classmates also have bouncy boobs and walk around in short shorts with way overdetailed art between the navel and thigh. The thought of those characters becoming unwitting participants in the show’s tits ‘n’ gore spectacle was a far more unpleasant prospect than the consenting literal orgy of adults enjoying sex and drugs.
Of course, then there’s the monstrous female sexuality. It’s not exactly a subtle neurosis playing out when all of the women in the orgy suddenly become horrible violent monsters who begin devouring the helpless, terrified men in their path. It’s easy to become distracted by the outlandish designs of the demons (so many toothy eye-ginas), but it’s a mentality that pretty well confirms where the series’ head is at vis a vis its female characters. “Here, stare at these attractive women; and don’t forget that they are literal titty monsters waiting to snap and devour you at any moment.”
Once the demons are out, the visual aesthetic makes a stand-out case for itself. The thin lines on the character designs make color washes and solid color backgrounds pop, and simple silhouettes are used to create violent and stellar-looking tableaus. When it’s reveling in sex and violent exploitation, Crybaby is right in its element (most of the time, anyway; sometimes the flat art just looks flat rather than composed, and you’re left watching paper dolls kick at each other against a significantly more detailed background).
If there’s one thing to be said for this premiere, it’s that it puts its cards on the table. This is a pulpy exploitation series, plain and simple: that means exploiting women’s bodies, exploiting the shock of death and violence, and exploiting anything else it can get its hands on for a lurid rise. If you’re cool with that, then Devilman Crybaby is really good at it so far. I’ll definitely be bingeing the rest—they had me at “body horror.”
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