Updated: Feb 19, 2019
I should have known what was coming.
I thought back to director Masaaki Yuasa’s earlier works: shows like “Kemonozume” and “Kaiba” — both beautiful and bleak in their own ways.
I should’ve know what was coming.
A bittersweet symphony of psychedelically rendered sex, violence, love, and loss.
But still I dove in, perhaps foolishly, thinking things would be different. See, I’ve never been the type to shy away from the tough subjects but, I know my limits well. A right heavy show (last year’s “Made in Abyss”, for example) can take me out of commission for days while I try to process the trauma of the imagery but here I was again, at the threshold of a show called “Devilman: Crybaby”.
“It’s got “Devil” and Crying in the effing title, how did you not know what was coming??”
From jump, Devilman: Crybaby hits hard and fast with scenes guaranteed to shock all but the most desensitized modern viewers. That said, rather than the cornucopia of hypersex and ultraviolence, I found it was Devilman’s humanity and humor that captivated me. Throughout the tale, we are introduced to a colorful cast of characters each with their own dreams, desires, and inner demons. Each of these characters feel thoroughly fleshed out and, when the proverbial ish hits the fan, they all make decisions that (agree or disagree with them) feel natural to their arcs. This is an area where I feel that the show succeeds well: it largely avoids clear demarcations between “good” and “evil” and really digs into each character’s motivations.
It can also be, at times, a very funny show.
Without giving too much away, I can say that the show throws in some quality instances of absurdist humor that had me cracking up so much that I was able to glide somewhat more easily over the otherwise relentless onslaught of technicolor grotesqueries. Still, Devilman is an unquestionably bleak show and, while the sheer gaudy spectacle begins to fade away midway through the series, the humor starts to die somewhere along the way. What remains is a sharp commentary on the ease with which people allow themselves to get caught up in fear and paranoia and demonize others. Devilman is very conscious of the contemporary world context it is being released into and, as such, it feels very fresh and sharp and its commitment to its cautionary thesis is impressive even if the results of said commitment can be painful to watch. Devilman definitely succeeds in demonstrating what can happen when we allow our capacity for empathy to wane and, aided by some extremely powerful and heart wrenching scenes featuring the use of social media, the speed at which this dehumanization can progress is made painfully clear. The show’s extreme violence, and often disturbing sexual content, will undoubtedly turn many people off, but even for those hardy souls who press on, very little emotional consolation is provided. That said however, we are treated to scenes of such tremendous compassion and camaraderie that they are capable of moving one to tears. These were the moments that I kept in my heart even as everything else was falling apart, and that is where I think that the show really shines. “Devilman: Crybaby” argues that it is our capacity for love, not our hatred that makes us strong and our existence worthwhile and it is one of those rare stories that is able to eschew tired platitudes and actually drive home this point in a powerful and impactful manner.
I completely understand that this show might not be for everyone but I nonetheless highly recommend watching “Devilman: Crybaby” all the way through. It might not be the easiest or most comforting show to pick up but I definitely believe it to be one of the most potent and impactful narratives I have seen in a long while.
Fen Smyth is a Writer, Game Designer, and Musician from the Bay Area. When not doing any of the aforementioned, he can often be found cooking up zany schemes or playing whimsical instrumental music deep in the forest. His musical work can be found at: www.fenyang.me
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