Although watching anime will always come second to my love of comic books, I’ve watched some great shows over the last 5 years. From the dark and melancholy Mirai Nikki and Death Parade, to the abstract hilarity of Pop Team Epic, to the mainstream superheroes of My Hero Academia, there are plenty of great shows throughout different genres. But even the twisted tales from Junji Ito could not have prepared me for this anime.
Devilman Crybaby is a 2018 update of the 1970s Devilman. I know nothing about the original show or its manga, nor do I have any desire at the moment to research any of the story’s history or watch the original adaptation—I am still reeling from Devilman Crybaby. That sentiment has nothing to do with my overall opinion of the show, but this anime goes to extremely dark and unexpected places. Beware of some devilish spoilers, anime-niacs.
Devilman Crybaby features sensitive teenager and track athlete, Akira, reunite with his childhood friend, Ryo. Ryo has become aware of the existence of demons and needs Akira’s help to convince the rest of the world of their existence—he fears no one will believe him alone. Surrounded by sex and drugs at a party is where Ryo believes demons will reveal themselves, so he convinces Akira to tag along. Ryo begins to indiscriminately stab people with a broken bottle as some of the victims begin to morph into demons. One such demon, Amon, seems to merge with Akira.
The process of a demon merging with a human causes an internal battle between a demon’s heart and a human’s heart. If the human’s heart is strong enough, the person, although changed, will not be completely controlled by the demon, but will actually be able to transform into a “Devilman.” Of course, this is what happens to Akira. It is clear that his personality and behavior have changed, but whether as a human or in his Devilman form, Akira has control over his actions and does not feast upon humans the way demons do. The teenager actually fights demons who prey on humans in secrecy; no one initially knows about Akira’s ability, not even his adopted family.
Akira lives with the Makimura family as his own parents are doctors who constantly travel the world and help people in need. The teenage daughter of this family, Miki, is a cute and popular track star who is extremely close with Akira, bordering on romance. Much of the rising action in this anime focuses on an upcoming important track meet in which Ryo suddenly thrusts proof of the existence of demons upon the world.
Although the primary focus of Devilman Crybaby is Akira’s struggle to hide his secret while also battling nefarious demons, the show also spends time developing his relationship with Miki and characterizing their friend and track teammate, Miko. A mere 10 episodes, Devilman Crybaby does a great job of juggling plotlines, creating tension between characters, and establishing disturbing settings. I watched the first six episodes before taking a break for a week. When I returned to finish the series, Devilman Crybaby took a drastic turn.
Of course, there are disturbing visuals and situations throughout the entirety of this show. The body horror involved in both sex and violence are plentiful, but once Ryo reveals the existence of demons to the world in a seemingly secretive and selfish plot, the tone of the show quickly grows even darker.
The public panics as Ryo shows video of demons murdering humans and paranoia runs rampant as people rightfully believe that anyone can be disguised as a demon. The streets are mostly empty, except for roaming gangs looking to cleanse locales of demons, whether there is any proof that a person is secretly a demon or not. Some citizens accused of being demons are tied to poles and stoned by panicked masses—the world begins to crumble. But why did Ryo purposely stir this panic?
Well…there’s quite a plot twist that I’m hesitant to spoil here. There are also three incredibly disturbing scenes in the final three episodes of the show that I don’t think I will ever forget. I’m certain that some who are reading this have already watched Devilman Crybaby—it ended over two years ago. Still, a few people I knew who had watched did not spoil anything for me. Therefore, I’d like for anyone who might be interested in this show to go in blind just as I did.
Devilman Crybaby isn’t just disturbing because of the subject matter and violence, but largely by the art and animation. Certainly there is violence and gore, and some of the demons are disgusting, but even during calmer moments in the show, there is something unsettling in just the style of art, which obviously works to the series’ benefit. There is a certain rigidity to Akira once he merges with a demon that commands attention whenever he is on the screen in a very uncomfortable manner. Track athletes who have merged with demons run quite differently—it is very animalistic. The artists and animators did a wonderful job, because even slight movements become discomforting to watch.
This show reflects the fear and hatred found between nations and groups of people. Rather than rational leadership that leads to discussions and understanding, a fear campaign propagated by Ryo helps spread propaganda throughout the world and ultimately leads to people murdering each other in the streets. It is an easy connection to make to minorities being beaten and killed simply for being different, literally demonized by politically parties, media outlets, and other sects of society. Devilman Crybaby certainly takes the aggression to a larger scale, but the connections between the fear and violence displayed in this anime and real life are sadly and scarily easy to make.
Devilman Crybaby is an interesting show, visually unique, and also one of the most depressing stories I have witnessed. It is hard for me to recommend this anime because of how sad and visually disturbing it is, even though I very much enjoyed it. But if you like horror, gore, and psychologically disturbing stories, there’s a very good chance you’ll enjoy Devilman Crybaby.