Disclaimer: Please note that I delved into Devilman Crybaby having not seen the original anime, so I’ll not be comparing the two during this review. I did see the 2-part OAV “The Birth” from the 90’s, but as it was a very short story that only really focused on Devilman’s “birth”, so to speak, I’ll not be comparing this to Crybaby either.
Devilman Crybaby is a Netflix original series, the first of which has actually come out of Japan (previous anime-style series featured as Originals on Netflix were actually produced in the USA). It is based on the Devilman manga from the 70’s, which has been translated to animation format a few times in the past as well. This particular iteration boasts a new animation style, and – supposedly – a more faithful adaptation of the original manga story. The story in question follows a young man, Akira – who happens to be particularly kind and innocent – who is possessed by a demon/devil and is able to defeat the evil creature’s takeover of his soul. His body, personality, and mannerisms change dramatically, but he is otherwise able to control the devil’s powers and becomes Devilman, a half-human, half-devil being who fights other fully-possessed human-devils in order to protect humanity. As the series progresses we begin to uncover more and more information about where the devils came from, what they want, and why Akira’s friend Ryo pushed him into becoming possessed in the first place.
So what does one say about Devilman Crybaby? Well, let’s first start with something simple: the animation style. I’ll be the first to say that it turned me off in the beginning. My husband’s reaction was similar, but also biased, due to his love of the prior iterations of the story. I, personally, came into the show clean (only going back to watch the OAV after I’d already watched a few episodes of Crybaby), and my initial thoughts about the animation style was that it looked unfinished. The line-work is very light, the colors seemed washed out, and the artwork in general seemed rushed to me, with body proportions often seeming so out of whack that I imagined artists working so fast that they had no time to go back and fix things. In time I got more comfortable with the style, but I was still personally annoyed by the extreme “stretching out” of the characters. A lot of traditional anime features characters that are unnaturally tall and skinny, with super-long legs and extraordinarily delicate, long fingers, but Crybaby, I felt, took this to the extreme. Everyone’s legs were ridiculously long, and so skinny that they wouldn’t be able to to stand up under their own body weight. They looked like Barbie dolls, if Barbie was wearing the smallest girdle she could find and had been spending nights on a medieval rack. It may be a picky complaint, but I personally feel with animation that a strange style can be very distracting and take your attention away from the actual content of the show, and that’s what happened to me while watching Crybaby.
Moving to the content in question: I personally enjoyed the story, though I found it a little confusing at times. I’ve personally found that it’s become a trend in more recent anime releases to be very vague about individual motivations, light on clarifying details, and purposely bewildering when it comes to revealing any kind of furthering information toward the plot. Crybaby was no different. Although it wasn’t as mystifying as some others I’ve watched in recent years, there were definitely a number of points that had me frowning and wondering if I’d missed something somewhere. In particular, Ryo’s motivations had my brain swimming throughout the first half of the show, as he seemed to act like a hero one moment, and a vicious lunatic the next. He seemed ridiculously schizophrenic to me, and while his character and driving force made sense by the end of the show, there were practically zero little hits or details that would give a viewer the opportunity to guess at what might be going on with him. Instead, it all came to a head in one fell swoop in a single episode very near the end of the show, giving an impression that the creators suddenly realized out of nowhere that they were running out of time to tie up those points. Similar issues arose with other parts of the story, but Ryo is the easiest piece to speak about without accidentally revealing anything. Basically, I felt as though information was purposely withheld in a way that made the show needlessly vague with plot points, but then it slammed you with everything at once right at the end, as though in a mad catch-up to fit everything in before they ran out of episodes. The plot itself was very interesting and I’ll honestly say that I enjoyed it overall, but this method of “everything truly important crammed into the last couple of episodes” annoys me as it makes it difficult for the viewer to form ideas and theories throughout, and then suddenly says “HERE IT ALL IS!” with little warning.
One point of the plot that I did find extremely interesting was the gradual focus on, basically, how horrible people are. The show on the surface is about a devil-man hybrid creature fighting other devils in order to protect humanity, but as the story moves on we see more and more evidence to make us question whether or not humanity deserves to be protected. This type of storytelling isn’t for everyone, I know, but I personally enjoy it. Humanity is flawed in a great many ways, so I enjoy those more ambiguous stories that don’t necessarily have a black-and-white, good-and-evil set-up. There were likable characters on all sides, including super-sweet Miki, crazy-cool post-transformation Akira, and the wide variety of creepy and weird devil creatures, and the show played with the idea of “goodness” being a choice; one that humans often make poorly, while believing themselves to be “correct”.
Another point that I feel I should mention is that this show – like its predecessors – is extremely graphic, which should of course be taken into account when deciding if it’s something you’d like to check out. There’s a good bit of nudity, some graphic situations of a sexual nature, and a lot of violence, including gore. Quite a bit of gore. It’s animated, of course, so it’s not quite the same as watching a super-bloody horror movie, but it absolutely has the capability to disgust and disturb, based on your own personal lines.
One final thing that I’ll say is that the ending of the show completely caught me off guard and made me unsure as to how I felt about the entire experience. I can’t really say anything without massive spoilers, but suffice it to say that the events of the last two episodes struck me as surprising and extreme, and by the time the credits rolled on that last episode I was left staring at the television screen, feeling a little bit like a huge joke a had been played on me.
I’m sure it seems as though I’m throwing out more negatives than positives here, but the truth of the matter is that I did enjoy the show. The things I’ve mentioned as annoyances definitely detracted from it for me, and though I personally enjoy the adult content and the commentary on mankind, I know that those are also things that some people would be unable to enjoy. But overall, as a whole, I have to say that the series was interesting, fun, weird, mind-bending, and a little hypnotizing. I was hooked and wanted to keep moving to the next episode and the next. How I felt about the ending is similar to what I’ve felt at the end of certain movies and books, so it’s not an isolated event and not a deal-breaker by any stretch. I do feel that certain aspects of the show could have been done better, but in the end I whole-heartedly give the series a thumbs up. If you’re a fan of anime, specifically graphic anime with supernatural themes, this ten-episode Netflix Original series is worth checking out.