After repeated failures in trying to write this article, I think I’ve found a way to express my thoughts in a way that you guys hopefully find readable.
When I initially watched and wrote my review for Devilman Crybaby, I did my best to completely shut out what everybody was saying about the anime so I could judge it fairly. I knew that people were going to go nuts over it solely for Yuasa’s name and I’ve gone on and on about how I can’t stand creator worship in the past – particularly when I wasn’t into his new movies and the fans weren’t giving me good reasons for why they liked ’em apart from maybe the cultural themes in Night Is Short, Walk on Girl. And if Yuasa’s name wasn’t enough, the other notable circumstances from being the first fully original anime series on Netflix to being a revival of an old classic weren’t exactly rusty hype machines either. On top of that, I knew it was going to get a huge hate base the moment the anime shoved tits in my face in an artsy fartsy way, so basically I was pressured to get that review out as fast as possible (which led to some unfortunate errors I have since corrected).
Since the review came out, I have taken a glance at the word and probably set a speed record for how many opinions I could read before asking Google Assistant how to delete all of Twitter, Tumblr, anime forums, and such. Dear lord are discussions of this show a minefield, not helped by how a significant chunk of fans have changed their avatars and handle names to represent this new Devilman. A friend of mine informed me that in addition to all the hype, the fact that Devilman Crybaby was released all at once on a platform that everyone has probably contributed to the volatility, and I have to say, for as much as I hated diving into that, I’m kind of glad this sort of discussion exists. I’ve said before how while weekly discussions aren’t inherently bad, most people seem to trick themselves into enjoying an anime more than they actually do through said discussions, so when they try to rewatch that show sometime down the road, they’ll find it holds up about as well as Gravity outside the theater.
As I’ve also said in the past, discussions keep an anime alive and personal enjoyment comes secondary to the impact a work has when you’re someone who criticizes the medium. Because without people talking and some controversy, creators will get complacent and innovation will cease to exist. That self-awareness also really helps when you’re drawing the line between something that’s bad and something that just isn’t for you, like how I feel for Breaking Bad. Basically what I’m saying is that for better or worse, the amount of attention Devilman Crybaby generated is really going to contribute to Netflix taking anime more seriously. And while I’m still staying away from the “why don’t you simulcast outside of Japan” controversies, I don’t have any qualms with creators making anime exclusively for that platform. Well okay, I do have one important qualm: don’t structure anime in a way that encourages binge-watching the way all the other Netflix shows do. Yeah anime tends to be poorly paced in general, but that doesn’t mean we should encourage the practice.
Because oh dear lord would Devilman Crybaby have frustrated me if it was airing weekly. I wasn’t kidding when I said in the initial review that I was forgetting episodes as soon as I finished them. For the lion’s share of the show, you’re watching nothing but really generic superhero plotlines combined with really arbitrary issues Japanese youths face except with flash animation and lots of tits. And whenever I saw someone praise the anime, it would always be “I love this combination of Yuasa visuals and youth culture” or “I think that running animation is funny”. What’s the point in having youth culture in your show if all you tell me about is is “oh, teens get jealous sometimes” or “yeah we can rap”?
Personally, while I never explicitly said that Devilman Crybaby was good in my initial review, I find my opinion on it worsening with each passing day. Part of the problem is that I haven’t found a single praise for the show that wasn’t as shallow as the characterization, whereas the criticism (from the sane people at least) tended to be more fleshed out, which is never a good sign for a product’s quality. But I think the big thing that really kills the appeal of the series for me is how it seems to come off like one of those nostalgia-bait titles catered towards people who yearn for a simpler time, ignoring all the storytelling evolutions that have come out since, and modern audiences realizing there’s a reason we don’t go back to the era of films when Harvey was a classic. In other words, it’s stuck in the past without realizing that said past is devoid of originality.
I mean even if you didn’t like them, you cannot possibly deny to my face that Tokyo Ghoul, Parasyte, and Inuyashiki had more unique visions on the whole demonic superhero formula, and these anime were pretty recent to boot. On top of that, there’s the entire Shin Megami Tensei franchise. I have played all of the PS2 games from Nocturne to Devil Summoner, so I’m way too used to the whole “demons vs angels” thing consisting of heavy religious themes, strong philosophies between the leads, and how flawed yet intriguing the sides of order and chaos can be. Not that Devilman Crybaby needed any of this, but what exactly does it have of its own that can compare? I really can’t recall anything about the series that stood out apart from the message that being Devilman sucks, but ultimately he is the one we should follow. And unfortunately, it’s not until the end when the series fleshes that out into more than just a story crutch – and even then it’s not fleshed out into something very unique.
I do have to ask something to the fans: what exactly do you like about the characters? And unless you’re one of those fujoshi who embrace the shallowness as long as the character traits appeal to you or something similar, please don’t have your answer consist of just one sentence, because that was my main problem with them. I still remember Chiaki from SMT: Nocturne and how she was an upper-class girl who upon having all her luxuries taken from her following the apocalypse, grew to realize that the only way to live a comfortable life with demons around is to become powerful. As such, she fused with a God and sought to create a world where only the strong survived, and I’m leaving out some key details because this isn’t a post on Nocturne. I’m not saying Devilman Crybaby needed a character that complex, but who does it have to match someone like Chiaki?
The only person I can think of is Miko, and how she gained demonic powers to surpass Miki, only to realize that she also sacrificed her humanity and ended up with a giant target on her back in the process. Now that I think about it, she’s probably the most interesting character in the show because of how she actually had humans flaws and made mistakes that she later paid for. It’s just too bad that the “rival” she’s jealous of is a generic nice girl who has no faults and only existed as development for other characters that took too long to even form. And that’s not even getting into her family, who have no role other than to be the mother, the father, and the annoying brother up until a certain scene where the show tries to make them important without any buildup whatsoever. Don’t even get me started on Ryo. He only explains himself at the end, and by then it’s too little too late.
But of course, the biggest problem was Akira himself. He didn’t have any personality until he got his powers, which only works if there’s a point to be made about personal identity, which I didn’t see at all in Devilman. And the personality he got was so lame. A demon who cries for humans, so he’ll protect them whilst killing every monster who decides it’s feeding time? Yeah I would do the same (well, minus the crying) in reality unless the demonic powers brainwashed me or something, but in fiction, this only works if there’s some context for the actions, and Akira only had “it’s because the writers wrote me that way, plus it’s common sense” to fall back on as a defense.
There’s a good amount of people who blame/praise Go Nagai for the writing quality, but I honestly don’t think that’s an excuse. I’m not sure how involved he was with the production, but the bottom-line is, if you like Go Nagai’s writing, more power to you (although some fans have informed me that they hated this adaptation for how it didn’t get certain manga scenes/characters right). And if you think he’s bad, then why didn’t the guys who made this anime update the formula beyond making the technology current? Battle Royale is a crappy book and yet the movie is a foreign classic to many people. Plus, Go Nagai’s formula and storytelling devices have been updated many times in the past in order to be used for works we’ve enjoyed. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tokyo Ghoul took inspiration from him, and that’s one of the most critically acclaimed horror manga of this generation.
On a final note, I didn’t realize this until later, but apart from maybe the finale of Episode 9, I can’t recall one time the animation jumped out at me watching this show. It’s still as expressive as we expect from Yuasa, but that’s part of the problem: it does everything we expect whilst adding nothing unique. And it was devoid of visual metaphors to boot unless there’s some deep meaning beneath the sex scenes that I was missing besides “badump-a-dump-dump”.
I think the worst thing I can say about Devilman Crybaby as of now is how the amount of attention surrounding it seems to come more from its circumstances than what the actual show delivers. There are plenty of shows I don’t like that I’d recommend to a newcomer because it helps to get them more familiar with the medium. Clannad is still a perfect representation of the strengths and faults of visual novel storytelling. Death Note is a good introduction to how anime can do thrillers as well as being the most accessible Shonen Jump series out there. Mobile Suit Gundam gets people familiar with the most popular mecha franchise ever whilst also showing how war stories could be told. Fist of the North Star gave birth to anime action cliches and made it acceptable for grown-ass men to cry whilst also representing the old-school style of anime very well. I don’t know what the fuck Devilman Crybaby is supposed to add to what anime can accomplish in terms of storytelling. The only thing it seems to represent is “more Netflix anime”, which is like a kid getting on a sports team because his rich dad bought him in.
So those are my thoughts on the loud discussions surrounding Devilman Crybaby as well as my updated opinions on the show in general. Got to say, it was a nice series to start off this Winter season, especially since the initial broadcast stuff has been completely forgettable with the big shows people wanting to see being saved until the second week or more. Only time will tell how long this hype lasts, but personally I’m ready to move on. And judging by the amount of people I’ve seen who switch to Violet Evergarden avatars and are totally okay with pirating anime they can’t watch legally for a few months (addendum: actually, I found out after scheduling this post that the anime is simulcasting on Netflix in quite a few non-US countries, which is one of the most ironic things I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s also dubbed and the dub is actually pretty decent/fitting), some of you are too.
P.S. The English dub wasn’t very good either.