[Review] DEVILMAN crybaby – Episode 1

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.

A young boy leans forward, crying, next to a cardboard box. We can see a pair of legs wearing shorts behind him, and an umbrella just above his head, implying that the other figure is holding it. Rain streaks the background.

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.

A teenage girl in a school uniform lays on her back on a dock, staring up at the sky, her hands splayed on either side of her head. A messenger bag sits beside her. It appears to be sunset.

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.

A woman in a thong does the splits in front of a pair of teen boys at a night club. One boy in a white coat is lounging, looking bored; the other is staring at the woman with fascinated horror.

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.

A smiling teenage girl in an athletic-style bikini holds a relay baton in her hand and smiles at a figure whose back is to the camera. Next to her a teen boy in a school uniform presses his arm to his face as if wiping away tears.

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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  • GreyLurker

    I don’t know much about the series beyond having seen one of the OVAs, years ago (back when Blockbuster and VHS were still a thing) so the origin story plays out pretty much as I remember it.

    One of the things I noticed was when the whole party went to hell, Ryo seemed to specifically call on the Demon Amon to possess Akira. It seems to me as though his plan going in was to have Akira possessed, which makes me wonder a lot more about his motives.

    but damn, it is full on Cronenberg once it gets going.

    • GreyLurker

      ….finished it……..all I can really say is …What the F’in Hell was that?!
      I’m not even sure how to process that ending

      that is one messed up series

      • Peacesqu4d

        I might binge the last 4 episodes tonight

  • Belaam

    I couldn’t really deal with the flat art at the beginning and didn’t even make it to the orgy. I tend to be overly sensitive to art styles turning me off shows I might otherwise like.

    Not sure if this review makes me want to give it another go or not. I’ll probably check it out again after the first few weeks of the winter season are over and I’m not trying to watch the first couple episodes of everything.

  • raymondoperson

    ===SPOILERS also rape===
    ======================
    I warned you
    ======================

    The show has a gay scene later on so there is at least 1 short instance of male focused sex, but the gay guy ends up being pretty negatively portrayed – not for his orientation but for being a traitor and a coward. There’s a positive maybe-lesbian with tits thrice the size of her head that flop about when she runs. The protagonist rapes one of his opponents in a scene treated as demonic but also in a “power fantasy” sort of way, which was going to be in the original manga but got censored by editors.

    • Red Claire

      ===WARNING, SPOILERS MENTIONED ABOVE===
      I believe the lesbian / bisexual girl was portrayed mostly positively by the end. I wasn’t sure about how they were treating her at first, but things improved later.
      Concerning the gay guy…I would underline that the show does not question said person’s sexual orientation. If anything, I think his portrayal was initially sympathetic enough about his sexuality. It’s something else, his eventual opinions about the overall conflict and the developing situation, that leads him down a negative path. There is an element of cowardice and egoism there, but I think that betrayal makes him more like the rest of humanity on balance, even if it was the wrong thing to do.
      The demonic rape sequence is brief yet far more problematic, to be sure. I could only argue it was at least partially compensated by the fact it ended with him essentially losing, which is the opposite of a power fantasy, and realizing that his enemy / victim and her ally were not just demons or objects. It is still kind of questionable that they included it though.

      • GreyLurker

        ====Further Spoilers======

        I think the importance of Miko and Kazu(?) was to help illustrate the traits that allow someone to become a Devilman over being completely possessed by the Demon. To one extent or another it was their feelings for someone else. Kazu clearly loved his boyfriend and that kept him from fully turning. Miko had some very strong if conflicting feelings for Miki and that kept her from fully turning. and of course AKira’s empathy for everyone is what grounded him.

  • ImaniToo

    I should have waited for your review. Haaaaa. I dived in, buoyed by AniTwitter’s enthusiasm.

    The first things to make me grit my teeth were the “bouncy boobs” and the gross camera angle from between Mika’s legs.They were small moments so I let it pass. I started to grind my teeth when this blonde character recounted his journey to the deep Brazilian jungle for research on these indigenous people who turn out to be parasitic devils (surprise!) that latch on to “superior beings”. Uh huh. Then they left the darkness to wreak havoc elsewhere. Is that so? Is that how it went? *grind* Then we got to the GOT sex rave club, where the woman are drawn to meet every conventional ideal and the men have guts hanging over their crotch.

    *covers face*

    The animation is quite flashy and cool, sometimes. The way the monsters are depicted remind me a lot of the first Vampire Hunter D flick, one of my formative anime touchstones. Will nostalgia be enough to carry me through? I will probably watch the next episode, regret it, then whine about how I ignored all your warnings.

  • Red Claire

    We do get to see a few scenes of monstrous male sexuality in addition to male bodies being objectified throughout the anime, including some very brief shots during the club sequence that can be easily missed, but they are in the minority. There is no denying that Yuasa himself must have felt, for whatever reason, that this adaptation had to be both more explicit about its use of sexuality in general and also more openly reliant on the male gaze.
    Neither of these things were present in the original manga, at least not to this degree. That said, I don’t think Yuasa wanted to simply titillate the audience as his main approach but rather to combine absurd surrealism with eroticism and horror. How successful that combination definitely was varies from episode to episode or scene to scene.
    I think there’s a fair amount more left to write and discuss about sexual topics and issues of representation in further episodes, both good and bad, so I’ll look forward to reading or hearing about it here.

  • Timothy Li

    So the show does Grandpa Nagai proud? Warts flat animation and all?

  • Blusocket

    This premiere was so wild. I had a really good time with the whole show, despite its…everything. The one quibble I have with this review is while I also enjoyed seeing same-gender couples at the orgy party it’s not unusual or particularly feminist-minded for same-gender sex/sexuality to be linked to excess and debauchery. I have a bunch of other thoughts on this show, but they all extend beyond the premiere and get into spoiler territory, so I’ll hold back for now. Thanks as always for your great work!

    • Peacesqu4d

      I was hooked by pilots end

  • Peacesqu4d

    This series hooked me, and what a good review! I binged the first 6 episodes on Sunday. I’m hooked. The style and artistic integrity has me hooked even if the plot is paper thin at best. There’s a lot of things that don’t add up lol