Reviewby Mike Toole,
Episodes 1-10 streaming
Akira Fudo is a good kid, though unremarkable in every way. All of that changes when his childhood friend Ryo suddenly appears with a dire warning—mankind is slowly being attacked, possessed, and destroyed by demons! After a terrifying transformation, Akira is now Devilman—a monster with the powers of the demon Amon, but the pure heart and good character of its human host. As Devilman, Akira is forced to defend the people close to him, fight off the demon race that both attacks him and seeks to turn him to their side, and confront the monstrous power that lurks just under the surface of the human race itself!
I met Masaaki Yuasa at Anime Expo a few years back. When he was first announced as the director of DEVILMAN crybaby, I remembered seeing him speak effusively of loving mainstream anime, prizing his work on Crayon Shin-chan, and wishing he'd had the chance to work on a series like Naruto. Well, it's hard to get more mainstream than Devilman! Go Nagai's action-horror tale of one youth's transformation into a vengeful monster may have been out of the mainstream for a while, but there was a time when Devilman aired at 8:30pm on Saturday nights! That time was 45 years ago though, so this is a series that's due for a modern re-imagining.
At first, DEVILMAN crybaby really does just feel like a straight take on Nagai's classic story with Yuasa's loose and colorful stylings; the first couple of episodes are like the 1987 Devilman “Rebirth” OVA, only viewed through a funhouse mirror. Narratively, the show matches the OVA almost beat-for-beat, except it doesn't have that '90s Manga UK comedy dub. In both versions, we have a good boy named Akira who lives with the Makimura family—bubbly Miki, energetic little Taro, and their responsible mom and dad—because his own parents are absent. Abruptly, a laconic blond boy from Akira's past named Ryo Asuka shows up, sprays machine-gun bullets at some mouthy punks to run them off, and whisks Akira away in a car, where he informs the good boy that he's discovered a method to turn him into a devil—and he plans to do so promptly in order to wage war against the hidden demons ravaging mankind!
After an eye-popping re-imagining of Akira's first transformation at a satanic drugs and rock n' roll party, which ends in a parade of lurid grisly murders, Yuasa and company are content to stick to formula for a while, with Ryo pointing his newly weaponized best buddy at every demon they find. However, this version of Akira is strangely empathetic. He cries a lot. At first, it looks like he's crying over the sad fate of the demons' victims. Later, he'll cry for the demons he savagely rips to shreds, poor souls who lost their humanity, and even later he'll cry as a means to hang on to his own humanity, even as the implacable spirit of Amon tries to take him over.
It isn't long before Yuasa and his Science SARU coterie start experimenting, and not just with the visuals. Nagai's Miki Makimura was a classic manga girlfriend, a nice girl with a tough edge who doesn't have a lot of weight to pull by herself. In Crybaby, Maki isn't just a plot device—she's a driven and talented track star. She wants Akira to run the relay with her at Koshien, where the national championships will be held to determine Japan's next generation of elite athletes, but he's not good enough at first. After his transformation, he easily posts a 10-second hundred-meter dash, and looking at his rougher face, his rippling physique, and his newfound confidence, it becomes clear that Akira's transformation into Devilman isn't merely a dark superhero story, it's a metaphor for the anxiety that comes with puberty. And that relay race is also something of a metaphor.
The changes don't stop there. The trash-talking punks who scattered when Ryo started waving his gun around reappear throughout the series, and they're a huge breath of fresh air as a crew of freestyle rappers in this version. Their appearance always knocks the dark superhero stuff out of the picture, introducing an unlikely and most welcome grain of humanity to the proceedings and helping to keep the story grounded. There's also a B-story involving the struggles of Miki's athletic rival Miko, who becomes a pivotal character on her own and a athletic/demonic adversary for Akira in a more tacked-on subplot. If any part of DEVILMAN crybaby feels a little rushed or out of focus, it's this part—and since these characters stick around for several episodes, it definitely trips the show up a bit.
Science SARU had a lot of creative freedom on this project - Aniplex and Dynamic Planning Inc. are the sole listed production partners, along with exclusive broadcaster Netflix. They really took this to heart, making a Devilman that's filled with crazy, colorful violence and depraved imagery, a series that dances riotously and fearlessly on the edge of hardcore pornography. A story like this shouldn't have to pull any punches, and very little is held back in DEVILMAN crybaby's exploration of human violence.
Nagai's Devilman has always been at least partly a study of humanity's struggle with our darker, more bestial selves. Crybaby brings some ideas to the table about how urban legends spread, and about how people deal badly with societal upheaval. The show is also about how quickly people will other anyone who seems suspicious or abnormal, and they'll do unspeakable things to them in the name of protecting their in-group. I'll tip my hat to Ichirō Ōkouchi, the Code Geass guy, for telling another story about a teenager suddenly imbued with formidable powers, who tries so hard to turn away from savagery to defend the weak and reject his meaner cohort in the name of bettering mankind, but who screws it all up along the way anyhow.
I watched parts of DEVILMAN crybaby in English and parts in Japanese. The dub is a perfectly solid piece of work, with Griffin Burns playing a nicely energetic Akira against Kyle McCarley's chilled-out, almost emotionless Ryo. In Japanese, Koki Uchiyama and Ayumu Murase's similar chemistry is whiplash-inducing if you're used to the actors' pugnacious rapport from Haikyuu!!. The best part of the Japanese cast is Megumi Han as Miki; she turns in an emotionally charged performance that sets her apart once again.
Ultimately, what sets DEVILMAN crybaby apart is its ending, in which Akira has to confront the fact that Ryo has always been his driving force and his ultimate antagonist. The pair have always kept each other's secrets. There's jealousy there alongside unresolved feelings of affection—after all, Akira has Miki to pine after now, but Ryo's only ever had Akira. There's a moment late in the story where Ryo, determined to force Akira to show his power to the world, gets on television and talks about their situation; this is material from the original comics, but watching Akira squirming in anxiety as he sees his friend out him as a demonic superhero in this version is like watching someone getting doxxed on live TV. And unlike the sanitized 1972 TV series or truncated '80s OVA, Yuasa's animated Devilman depicts the full apocalyptic terror of Nagai's original story—it's one hell of a trip.
DEVILMAN crybaby is both a thorough depiction of Go Nagai's dark, violent story and a fresh angle at the same time—purists might complain that the geniuses at Science SARU get too creative and goofy with the classic look of Nagai's blocky and muscular characters, but the remarkably creative visuals will keep your interest any time the story starts to waver. My only major caveat is that this series is not for the squeamish; it's almost certainly the most ludicrously violent, sexed-up anime TV series ever aired (even if only in streaming form). Despite that, it's a series that strives to transcend its form, a paean to how we all try so hard to run that relay race together and can never quite do it.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-
+ The weirdest and most intensely perverted Devilman out there, a genuinely fresh and exciting take on a classic character, filled with amazing animation
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