Review: Devilman Crybaby

I don’t quite remember if there were any other Netflix-exclusive anime shows that came out before this one, but this was definitely the one that was talked about a lot after its release. As is usual for me, I didn’t get around to watching it until after most of the hype died down. … So, now that it’s 1 year later, how do I feel?

An Introduction

On this lovely planet of ours that we call Earth, two species actually coexist here: humans, and demons.

Well, coexist is a relative term. Most humans don’t actually know demons exist, and most humans that do run into demons… don’t live from the encounter. Demons are powerful, giant, shapeshifting, remorseless beings that simply want one thing: to be on top.

Somewhere in big city Japan, we’re introduced to Akira Fudo, a teenage boy who can’t help but find himself crying when he sees others being hurt. His childhood best friend is Ryo, also a teenager, but Ryo’s day job is being a college professor, and let me tell you: he’s loaded. Cha-ching! On an expedition in South America, Ryo discovered the existence of these demons, and he wants Akira to help bring them to light. It’ll end up turning into a long hard-fought war, humans versus demons, but humanity will end up on top, right?

Well, we can help tip the scales by forcing Akira to fuse with one of these demons, Ryo decides – transforming Akira into something new, something different… a Devilman. Immensely strong, charismatic, but still keeping his human heart and soul, Akira the Devilman and Ryo set out on their new task: it’s time to kill the demons.

The Plot and Characters

The first episode of this show is really fascinating, and helps paint a picture of how the entire series goes. You end up being repulsed by how strange and nonsensical the first episode is, but you’re still intrigued by the bits that do make sense (especially in the latter half) and that’s what keeps you coming back.

Well, there is also the unparalleled amount of nudity and sex present in this show. That may keep you on board… I won’t judge. ūüėČ

You may come into these first few episodes of Devilman Crybaby expecting it to turn into your average monster-of-the-week superhero show, and you’d be forgiven to think so. I certainly did. While there’s a lot of fighting the demons and discovering just how pervasive they already are in the human world, the show turns immensely darker (and it’s already pretty dark in tone) around the halfway point, as the entire world discovers the existence of demons and everyone begins to panic. Akira and Ryo find themselves caught in the middle of this newly begun war of humanity versus demons, and how they react is what will change the tides. At the very end, this show turns itself all the way up to 11.

There is a large, gruesome story being told here, and it’s ramped up surprisingly well.

What surprised me even more, was along with this story going on, they were able to pull off the impression that this is a worldwide panic going on, all while keeping the bulk of the focus on Akira and Ryo. And this is just 10 episodes too. I’ve seen other shows try to portray a global epidemic or panic, but really fail at showing the “global” part of this beyond some spoken dialogue or a few generic shots (such as Aldnoah.Zero, although that’s far from the worst offender). In this anime, through the dedicated scenes of random unnamed people out there that our main cast comes across, you can see how the rest of the world is reacting too – it’s a show-don’t-tell setup that performs well enough for us to get the idea.

When you get right down to it, this show is excellently written, and a big part of that is its expertly crafted scenes. Every character you see on screen, you know what they’re here for and what they’re trying to do. You can really sense the impact of each scene, whether on the characters themselves, or on the world around them. There’s yelling, there’s panic, there’s heavy silence, and there’s true compassion shown on screen here; all these emotional notes are hit just right to allow us to see straight into the minds of these characters. Of course, not every single scene is a winner, but most of them are, and they’re able to . Devilman Crybaby has twists that don’t¬†feel¬†like plot twists, because its clever writing keeps you engaged and lets progression in the plot just come off as completely natural.

And indeed, every character here that’s given a name, they have a role and purpose in this story, even if it’s just a small one; without them, events would’ve played out differently. Even the random rapping teenagers from the first episode, most of them end up having a significant role to play, and – bonus – through the raps they make throughout the series, they do an excellent job at providing worldbuilding and painting the mood.

Miki Makimura is Akira’s long-time crush and other best friend (as well as a well-sought-after track athlete), and he actually lives with her and her family. Miki helps Akira not forget his humanity, and also helps Akira paint his moral compass as well. Miko Kuroda, while still friendly with Miki and Akira, really has a growing resentment for Miki and her track-star fame – she’s cast in the shadows while Miki soaks up all the attention. She gets some important characterization and plays a major helping role in the latter half of the series. And indeed, track and field is the sport majorly present here, although its inclusion seems odd and borderline unnecessary, beyond using the relay run as a metaphor towards the end of the series.

One major flaw with this show’s plot, however, is just how globally-famous a lot of these characters are. Ryo, along with being a super-rich college professor at the age of 16, garners a global audience through his weekly TV talk show. Miki and another world-famous track star Koda both have large followings on social media, capturing the attention of tabloid magazines and sports TV networks. It just feels unrealistic, all these characters with global attention and fame, as global fame isn’t nearly as fantastic and easy as this show makes it out to be. And unfortunately, this show relies upon this one flaw, as without them having this fame and adoring audience, this story wouldn’t be able to happen at all.

Overall, though, this show’s plot is very nicely tied in and cohesive. There may be small time jumps from episode to episode, but you can figure out what’s changed between then; the show feels like it doesn’t need to bog you down with the play-by-play, and honestly, it really doesn’t have to. This show doesn’t take its audience to be mindless or stupid, and because of that, it’s able to get through a lot in these 10 episodes.

However, getting through as much content as it does also means the show’s pacing does take a hit. It isn’t as wildly inconsistent as (insert train wreck show here) and it isn’t too fast as to leave scenes feeling unsatisfyingly short‚Ķ but it’s not consistently great either. The important bits, the show will take its time on to let the full emotional impact soak in, but sometimes it goes a bit too slow. There’s a scene in episode 9 that is really important, but really kills the pacing for that episode, a sad fact given that it’s the second-to-last one. As well, the pacing in episode 1 also really isn’t great, and I suspect that may have dissuaded people from continuing this otherwise awesome show‚Ķ at the same time, though, I feel I’m a bit more of a stickler for pacing than others may be though.

At the end of the day, though, Devilman Crybaby is a fantastic and unique experience, which was very obviously carefully crafted from beginning to end. It feels hard to believe this show which begins with a track and field practice in some high school in Japan moves on to an earth-shattering storyline and ending – an ending that is quite unique and definitively wraps up the show in the only possible way it can.

The Atmosphere

The visuals and character designs in¬†Devilman¬†Crybaby remind me of something out of a Mamoru Hosoda film, and I think this similarity comes down to one reason: a lack of gradient shading. Most other anime shows will use gradients to portray shadows and the roundness of people’s faces or body parts. Instead, here, there’s either no shading or highlighting at all, or even when there is shading, it’s a simple two-tone thing: one color for shadow, another color for not in shadow. Instead, a lot of the characters here just appear‚Ķ flat. It’s not necessarily a good thing or bad thing; at the end of the day, it’s just something I’ve noticed.

Overall, the show’s art style and visuals seem to err more on the simplistic side. The flatter characters, the relatively featureless backgrounds, even the designs of the characters themselves. The demons we encounter throughout the series are probably the most complex designs on display here; each human character does look distinct however, such as with Akira’s cleft chin or the different hair styles and colors on display. The male characters here have quite varied hair styles, honestly. I also like the visual distinction between the¬†Devilman¬†(I.e. Akira) and regular humans – the eyeliner and darker skin tone; it’s a helpful visual distinction that the show uses to a decent effect.

The show’s animation tends to be pretty good, overall. There’s some surprisingly fluid areas, especially with character expressiveness in the lighter scenes; when they want a scene to flow smoothly, they’re capable of it. Unfortunately, the animators seemed to not have the ability to get around to applying this fluidity evenly across the series; you can notice some poorly choreographed action bits or less-than-stellar camera work. There’s also some scenes and moments with just still frames and shots. While some of it can be dismissed as a stylistic choice, it doesn’t shake off the feeling that this anime felt rushed in certain areas, especially towards the end. I could be wrong, but if it was released as the full 10-episode batch on Netflix even in Japan, then I don’t see why there would’ve been an issue with simply delaying the release a few weeks to clean it up a bit.

One positive – or at least interesting – thing that came out of Netflix being the platform of choice is the high amount of sexual content and nudity present in this show.

Even in the first episode, Akira and Ryo enter into a “Sabbath” party, with a large amount of naked people dancing and openly having sex. While obviously¬†Devilman¬†Crybaby doesn’t focus on these scenes long enough to really be considered a hentai, it definitely does toe the line a decent amount throughout these 10 episodes. This is all stuff you wouldn’t be able to get away with on actual TV, at least not without a large amount of the censoring white clouds of steam.

Amusingly, the English dub seems to shy away from the more sexual dialogue in the few places it comes up. Netflix allows you to display the subtitles while still watching the dub (something I really enjoy because I can compare the dub script to the more-direct translation), so when actual sex is displayed in the episode, the dub goes for more tame words than the subtitles seem to suggest. The dub, by the way, is surprisingly pretty good, with one exception: the young child versions of Akira and Ryo. Griffin Burns and Kyle McCarley do a great job as teenage Akira and Ryo, respectively. Also props to Johnny Young Bosh and Keith Silverstein for their portrayal of two of the rapping teenagers. I haven’t really tried out the Japanese voices much, but I have absolutely no troubles with recommending the English dub.

Devilman¬†Crybaby’s soundtrack is, in lack of better terms,¬†jammin’. While some of the music pieces go towards more your standard loud-male-choir-and-orchestra sound, most of the background songs rely a lot more on synthesizers and a groovy drum beat ‚Äď something that wouldn’t be too out of place in the 80s or 90s. There is an¬†everpresent¬†undercurrent of something deeper or darker throughout all the songs, though, which is fitting. Admittedly, however, the soundtrack tends to fade a bit into the background with the various sound effects and people talking over it.

The opening theme is “Man Human”, by Denki Groove. It’s a strange song, the lyrics consisting of only the words “man” and “human”. The vocals are distorted and it also goes for that dark synth-heavy sound the rest of the soundtrack uses. It did not fail getting stuck in my head. The opening animation is a fluidly-moving series of black-and-white silhouettes, displaying Akira, Ryo, Miki, and some of the various demons they encounter throughout the series. I thought of it as little more than fancy Rorschach test blots at first, until I recognized the subtle shapes about halfway in.

The ending music is usually just one of the soundtrack pieces extended into the ending credits, with one stand-out exception later in the show: the theme “Konya Dake” by¬†Takku¬†to¬†Tabibito¬†is a slower guitar-backed ballad, with some synth-y sounds coming in a bit later on. It’s meh on its own, but given its contrast and placement in regards to the rest of¬†Devilman¬†Crybaby’s music, it stands out a lot more.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Devilman¬†Crybaby is a fascinating series in a lot of ways, if not because of its exclusive airing on Netflix alone. It focuses in on the conflict between humanity and demons, with Ryo and Akira right in the center, and it goes through a lot in just 10 episodes. It’s backed by a rocking soundtrack, excellent writing, and a surprisingly good English dub.

This show is an easy recommendation for those who enjoy drama shows with a darker tone, and there’s probably enough action scenes in it to appease action fans… if you are on the fence, though, give the first few episodes a shot and see how you feel ‚Äď assuming you have a Netflix account.¬†As long as the explicit parts aren’t too much for you, I think it’ll be an engaging time for you.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ great writing, surprisingly good English dub, fun soundtrack
— visuals feel rushed at certain points, pacing takes a hit, characters are unrealistically famous