Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Devilman Crybaby anime series. However, this section is clearly marked.
Death, degradation, and debauchery. These are the things at the heart of Netflix’s Devilman Crybaby. Lauded by fans as one of the greats, and in particular the platform’s ‘masterpiece’ anime, we put the show through its paces – and given the way the show hits viewers with its loud and in-your-face animation, we’re not surprised it’s so popular.
Thousands of years ago, demons ruled the earth, but one day, they were all but wiped out by a cataclysmic unknown force. The human race was able to thrive in their stead, and quickly took over the food chain. But now, the creatures have decided to exact their revenge by exploiting the most base of humans; they appear anywhere they can to kill humans and take over their bodies. Demons begin to resurge, and with them comes many horrors, the likes of which you can never imagine.
At the centre of all this chaos is Akira, who – after overcoming a demon who tried to consume him, called Amon – has created his own vigilante persona known as Devilman. The alter-ego perfectly describes the situation he’s been forcefully thrown into; with his body permanently altered and enhanced thanks to Amon’s powers, he’s both a demon and human and this dual identity plagues his thoughts daily. He struggles to deal with his new reality, even as his friend, Ryo, requests his help to defeat the rising demon population. The blonde, blue-eyed genius is determined to stop the creatures infecting the community, as well as film Akira go berserk in the name of ‘science’, but everything is not as it seems, and soon, they’re faced with more than they can bargain for.
Given how cheerful his 2017 films Lu Over the Wall and Night is Short, Walk on Girl were, this project sees us faced with a much different side of Masaaki Yuasa. As a director, he, and his fellow collaborators at Science Saru, go all out on this anime – and we mean all out. It’s ultra-violent, raunchy to the point of being pornographic, and animated in a twisted style that makes these factors seem all the more gratuitous. So, fair warning: this is not an anime for the faint-hearted. That being said, though, this is certainly an adaptation that stays close to its original source, as Go Nagai’s original was equally as packed with death and debauchery.
Unlike the anime version of the 70s, Devilman Crybaby has the manga’s intended dark ending. It sees humanity go extinct, the Earth get destroyed, and its hero lose his final battle in the worst way. Thanks to this, the show feels fresh, since its lack of limitations ensures that we are subject to the craziest, most gruesome, thrill ride possible. This has its appeal for some, but for others, it can be difficult to understand.
So, why is it so popular?
The simple answer is that Devilman Crybaby is shocking, and that’s what makes it so exciting. With so much death and destruction on screen, it feels like a production that Tarantino would direct. Humans morph into demons in strange, anatomically disturbing ways, and when they set their sights on a human, it’s guaranteed that their death will see blood painted across the wall. And on the ceiling. And on the other side of the room. The graphic sex scenes are frequently on screen, and oftentimes, they appear at a moment’s notice for no apparent reason. All of this makes the show a truly adult anime and this makes it work for a lot of people.
Does this make the anime a masterpiece? Well, the show certainly is surprising, plus it does have incredible fight scenes, and features some great animation work from Yuasa and his team of animators. But it doesn’t live up to the much-hyped label. Sure, the story is shocking and unexpected, and the characters are likeable, despite some of their more psychotic drawbacks, but it doesn’t seem like the ‘perfect’ anime; it’s only when it reaches the halfway point, and kicks the story into high gear, that we really become invested in the narrative and the plight of its characters, while the overall series leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. Netflix’s anime masterpiece? Maybe not. But we can, at least, agree that it is a great show.
Devilman Crybaby is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.