What Makes Devilman Crybaby An Innovative Anime
by Tito W. James
It’s been months since Devilman Crybaby launched on Netflix and it still remains one of the most memorable and controversial anime of the year. To do the show justice, I wanted to do a more in-depth article as a follow up to my first blog about the show.
I’ve talked about Devilman Crybaby on my podcast and did a variety of blog articles about Devilman creator, Go Nagai.
Here are some of the many elements that make Devilman Crybaby unique and innovative.
The most typical anime openings are just shots of the main characters striking cool poses and a Japanese pop song in the background with English lyrics relating to the show’s plot.
Devilman Crybaby’s opening theme is closer to the opening to Skyfall with a long, continuous shot and mystic chanting in the background. It was the only anime opening that I never skipped through. There are clues and spoilers hidden expertly in the opening credits montage that will only make sense after you’ve viewed the show.
Music in anime is always more impressive than in Western cartoons. However Devilman Crybaby’s soundtrack stands out even amongst the best with its evocative techno beats and and surprisingly good freestyle raps.
The Animation Style
With Masaaki Yuasa directing, we get his signature fluid-yet-exaggerated animation style. Yuasa’s use of warped camera angles and limited color palettes are used to full effect. The show’s art is a breath of fresh air in an industry that rewards homogenous-looking anime about cute high school girls and giant robots.
Characters move and animate similar to old American squash-and-stretch styled cartoons. This stylization coupled with the serious tone of the anime makes for a truly unique viewing experience. Yuasa is less concerned with depicting the world as it “is” and instead conveys the world as it “feels” to the characters inhabiting it.
The Graphic Content
Anime is no spring chicken when it comes to violence or sexual content. What is striking about Devilman Crybaby is that it’s not just shock-content for the hell of it. The show is creating harsh social commentary that touches upon the darkest aspects of humanity. The anime explores issues of drug use, police brutality, hate crimes, classism, homosexuality, xenophobia, sexual exploitation of minors, war, and genocide.
Devilman Crybaby pushes the limits in terms of what subject matter can be shown in animated form and what kind of heroic arc can lead to a satisfying story. Even if the creative choices unsettle its audience, it remains true to pushing the anime medium forward instead of falling back on comfortable clichés.
My art history professor defined the word sublime as “chaotic beauty”. It is the beauty that comes from tigers, cactus, and lightning. It is a beauty that is dangerous enough to destroy us. It is as wondrous as it is terrifying. By this definition, Devilman Crybaby is a sublime anime.
The Source Material
In the original Devilman manga by Go Nagai, hermaphrodite-angels fight demons on a prehistoric version of earth. The demons possess the dinosaurs and other wildlife and then combine into a bio-organic rocket ship mind-controlled by Satan. And that’s just chapter one!
Having read the manga after watching the show, I found it to be a little too heavy on exposition. But there are enough differences that it’s worth checking out by die-hard fans. What Devilman Crybaby does well is adapt the bits of the manga that were heavily censored in its original anime adaptation. The manga’s dark ending was completely cut from previous anime series.
Speaking of dark endings…
The Ending (Spoilers!)
This is the biblical apocalypse. Satan was successful in turning humans against each other to create a hell on earth that he could rule. However, by creating hell on earth, Satan damned himself. Who wants to rule a kingdom of ash? Most importantly, Satan lost the one person he loved–Akira. All the characters who died are seen briefly sitting at a table laughing and talking. The image parallels to “The Last Supper” and could hint at a happy afterlife for our protagonists. Ultimately, God snaps his fingers and the forces of heaven wipe the earth clean only to reform billions of years later with two moons. Two Moons mark that this is the second version of earth–and possibly a second chance.
The adventures of Akira and Ryo continue on this post-apocalyptic earth in Go Nagai’s spiritual successor manga, Violence Jack.