SPOILER WARNING: DON’T READ IF YOU DID NOT SEE THE SHOW YET
I’m not summarizing anything in the show. So you would likely not understand this if you haven’t watched the show anyway.
With its over the top and uncensored violence and sexual content, Netflix’s Devilman: Crybaby is not a show for everyone. Even of the more graphic of anime, Devilman: Crybaby paints itself differently: most modern anime are characterized by crisp, pristine lines and beautiful or moe characters; Devilman: Crybaby on the other hand has a “dirty” kind of art style. The show holds no reservations about disgusting the viewer with the physical manifestations and metamorphoses of humans and devils. It’s one thing to have scenes of sex, masturbation, murder, rape and torture. It’s another thing to see that animated, where the cinematography and art can take unexpected turns to shock the reader or build up a greater emotional response through flashbacks interwoven with the present (among many other artistic choices). But for those whom the show does suit, it scratches that itch only anime can.
The violence and graphic content worked. You aren’t meant to love humanity and the show makes it very hard to. Instead, it sets up its small cast of grounded main characters for 100% of the audience’s emotional investment. Miki Makimura and her side plot line/back story centering around track and field adds a realism to the show that makes her story and death gut wrenching. Miki is perhaps the show’s only genuinely “good” person–her faith in Akira and humanity remains constant even when her family is killed and when social media turns on her when she posts about her support for Akira. Miki’s death validates the significance of her character in one of the most well executed cascades of tragedy I’ve seen in anime.
But back to the beginning. The very first scene reveals nothing about the plot technicalities, the deaths to come, the grotesque, rugged art style that will soon be in nearly every frame, but rather focuses on the two main characters’, Akira and Ryo’s, relationship in an eery flashback with heavy foreshadowing. It served as a reminder that the gore and debauchery to come wasn’t directionless, superficial entertainment value–that there was a bottom line that we were trying to get to. The first scene sets up the anime as a tragedy–and so, while slightly taken aback by the following scenes, I wanted to know the meaning behind the atmospheric, mysterious opening narration. So I kept watching.
Something about lonely characters and cynical anime is incredibly appealing. Devilman: Crybaby, beyond being just “cynical”, is the anime guide to nihilism and absurdism. The show ends with all of humanity and earth being destroyed and sociopathic Ryo finally learning about what it means to love after killing the only friend he has ever loved. In any other show, I would have probably scoffed and written this off as melodramatic rubbish. But the first episode set us up for this plunge into despair and humanity did the rest to drive earth to its destruction. The anime dangles a few hopeful moments in front of the viewer as bait (maybe humanity can be saved) but these ideas are quickly extinguished by the horrific acts that outweigh the good tenfold. The demons may be the most grotesque and visually repulsive, but the humans in this show provoke the most intense revulsion (especially by episode 9). The theme of humans being monsters is common in certain types of anime, but in most shows, humanity is redeemed by the overwhelming force of good, often from a single character. Humanity is neither redeemed by Akira nor Miki in Devilman: Crybaby.
I always like a good tragedy. Devilman: Crybaby fulfilled that desire perfectly (so much so that I overlooked nearly all of its faults in writing this). The anime wasn’t afraid of making the audience hate its main characters, and it wasn’t afraid of making the despicable characters empathetic. The show wasn’t afraid of killing off Miki Makimura in the most gruesome of ways. Everything that happened afterward–Akira’s death, humanity’s demise, the apocalypse–was just a trickle down effect. We get and remain attached to what we know. The small details such as Miki’s participation in track and field, her dinner interactions with her family, and the scenes of her using social media on her smartphone only made her more tangible. And then she got her head impaled on a stick. *Tips hat*.
Let’s remember, both God and Satan—the omnipotent beings whose very purpose in many religions is to help humans make sense of the world—exist in Devilman: Crybaby. And still, the events unfolded as apocalyptically as they did, dangling hope only to sink everything into deeper despair. Absurdism, nihilism, or perhaps fate? Regardless, what a show.