Devilman Crybaby: Why I Liked It (And Ryo) – By Kaitlyn McCafferty
If you know me, you know I have recently finished watching Netflix’s newest anime, Devilman Crybaby. The show is a ten-episode reboot of the 1972 anime, Devilman, based off of the manga series of the same name. Crybaby takes after the original Devilman plotline, following a timid Akira and his journey into demon-hood, overseen by his mysterious friend Ryo. The Netflix reboot reimagines the story from a more modern perspective.
I have been fixated on Crybaby ever since I started watching it last week. The reasons for this—aside from my hardcore fixation mentality—are most likely: the over-the-top nature of the anime, the themes, and Ryo. I will be discussing all of these elements while referencing the events and plot of the anime, so there will be spoilers ahead.
I feel the first thing I must talk about is the overwhelming, outrageous drama of Crybaby. The graphic imagery, deliberate dialogue, overblown—yet thoughtful—character designs—they’re all created with the thought of adding more drama to the story. Logic takes a back seat to flashy colors, machine guns, and gruesome demonic transformations. The anime holds nothing back to strengthen its narrative on sin and virtue, war and life; intense tragedies unfold throughout the series, sex and violence often intermingle in disturbing and outrageous ways, and heads explode left and right without the thought of what might be more logical or palatable to an audience. From a story-telling perspective, I personally admire Crybaby’s value of theme, emotion, and downright cool action sequences over detail or believability. I think a lot of stories are held back by a desire for too much clarity or sense. The very nature of Crybaby’s story seems to hinge on the storyteller’s desire for awesomeness and entertainment.
Indeed, even the ambitious theme of the story is executed without hesitation. Angels, demons, drugs, sex, and the apocalypse all converge to tell a tale of love and violence, as well as what it takes to be human. It’s grand and messy, but fun and catchy. I find it fascinating that normally, when Western shows try to tackle these themes, they’re often shaped into a tale of heroism, engrained with Western values and morals—like working for what you have or telling your heterosexual love interest that you love them because you both might die tomorrow or whatever. Anime like Crybaby can exist absolutely without morals. They depict themes from everyday life, but they don’t really hold any lessons. Crybaby in particular plays with this dichotomy between hardcore violence and tenderness. Akira is the strongest demon in the world, but he cries when he sees the slightest evidence of suffering. (Spoiler sentence ahead!) Characters eat their mothers and friends, people turn into demons and tear their partners apart during intercourse, and ultimately the main hero fails to stop the beings on planet earth from destroying each other. (Spoiler sentence over.) I felt what Crybaby’s story wanted me to feel, but I sure as heck didn’t learn very much. There was no dogma; only a story.
On kind of a side note, while I could get into a discussion on exploitation (of female characters, sexual violence), I’m not even sure where to start with this series. I’ll just say that this existed, and while a big point of the story was evil and violence, and creepy male characters often got their comeuppance, I wish female characters didn’t have to be objectified graphically for the audience anyway. Male characters were displayed in a sexual manner too, but at less frequency and with less victimization involved. My biggest qualm was that the main female protagonist, Miki, was not written with as much spunk or independence as she was in the manga. In one episode in particular, nude photos were taken of her without her knowledge. The men responsible for taking the photos died, but Miki was not the one to kill them and she spent the rest of the episode naked and unconscious. In the manga, a running gag was that Miki was incredibly strong, but insisted on Akira saving her. This was lost in the anime, which is disappointing and made her story much weaker. (Spoiler sentence!) I also want to say that the ancient Amazonian civilization that worshipped Ryo was really bad. (Spoiler sentence over.) Now, I will continue with why I like the anime.
Ah, Ryo: the very reason I started watching Crybaby. Aside from the fact that his character design just does it for me (that blond bowl cut is genius and the puffy white coat positively stupendous), he’s a very interesting character. He was written stylishly—his lack of morals and existence as evil contrast so nicely with Akira’s intense heroism and empathy. The two make quite the entertaining duo. Ryo also remained a successfully compelling character all throughout the series, whose motives and desires were not revealed until the very end.
Ultimately, I will be watching this series another time through. I will also be looking into the older version of the anime, the dub of which I hear is incredible. I recommend Devilman Crybaby to anyone who is willing and able to stomach the graphic scenes, for its entertaining plot, grand mixture of themes, and Ryo—my large-coated, favorite boy.