This post contains some light spoilers for DEVILMAN CRYBABY

Neon lights, sex, and blood. The Netflix show DEVILMAN CRYBABY is a trippy and mesmerizing anime with some heavy themes surrounding love and what it means to be human. The streaming service has been trying for a while now to bolster its collection of anime, with titles that range from classics like NARUTO, to “Netflix originals” like NEO YOKIO. With DEVILMAN CRYBABY, Netflix has hit a truly unique and memorable experience.

Netflix released DEVILMAN CRYBABY on January 5th, to a very warm response from critics and audience alike. It was written by Ichiro Okouchi (CODE GEASS) and directed by Masaaki Yuasa (LU OVER THE WALL). Okouchi’s story is an adaptation of the DEVILMAN manga, created in 1972 by Go Nagai. Nagai is also responsible for the original DEVILMAN anime, though its plot differs greatly from the manga and, subsequently, DEVILMAN CRYBABY. Nagai cites an older, more mature readership as the reason for the difference. Whereas the manga is complex and deep, the original anime is a fairly straightforward story about fighting bad guys.

DEVILMAN was a success upon its original release, though it received a fair amount of criticism at the time for its vivid depictions of sex, body horror, and violence. It may be that controversy that has sustained DEVILMAN’s legacy all these years. Flash forward 36 years and suddenly Netflix’s best original anime is a condensed, 10-episode version of that same story. 

Friendship and Demon Hunting

DEVILMAN CRYBABY is the story of Akira Fudo and his friendship with Ryo Asuka. While Akira is a very empathetic young man, who we see openly weeping in the first episode because he sees a stranger crying, Ryo seems like the opposite. He is brutally pragmatic and unfeeling. In fact, while narrating the opening images of episode one, Ryo makes the claim, “Love does not exist. There is no such thing as love. Therefore there is no sadness.”

DEVILMAN CRYBABY: Ryo and Akria butt heads and blood rolls down their faces
Akira and Ryo butt heads | Image: Netflix

Pretty bleak. We come to see that Ryo’s first inclination is to consistently commit violence. He views life as expendable. After Ryo reveals to Akira that the world is under attack from demons, he takes Akira to a rave/orgy called Sabbath, where the demons have been known to surface. His penchant for violence becomes obvious when he begins to slash and stab the people around him. This violence begins to attract the demons the two have come to fight. 

In the chaos, Ryo summons a powerful demon named Amon to take Akira’s body. However, unlike most demons disguised as humans in the world, Akira is different. It is apparently his especially strong sense of empathy and capacity for love that helps him to prevent Amon from taking over. Thus, he becomes a Devilman: part human and part demon. 

DEVILMAN CRYBABY: Akira as Devilman saying "I'm dying to beat the hell out of you."
Akira as Devilman | Image: Netflix

This is the opening episode of DEVILMAN CRYBABY and it sets the tone for the rest of the show. In terms of action, DEVILMAN CRYBABY is relentless. In Ryo’s first strike against the demons, it is difficult to tell who is winning. As Ryo and the attacking demons do battle, countless party-goers are massacred relentlessly. Blood flows indiscriminately in DEVILMAN CRYBABY from the opening episode.

This Show Gets A Bit Trippy

DEVILMAN CRYBABY is obviously not a show for the faint of heart. Stunningly animated, its art style makes one think back to the early days of anime. Perhaps its style is a homage to the original artwork. While many of the characters from DEVILMAN CRYBABY look very similar to their original versions, the original DEVILMAN was never as visually stunning as this show is at its best.

DEVILMAN CRYBABY: Akira running from demons
Akira running from demons | Image: Netflix

As Ryo and Akira make their way through Sabbath, we are inundated with brightly colored nude bodies in sexually explicit positions. It’s a sensory overload at times. It’s too much color, too much nudity, too much music, and the effect is that you really feel a bit overwhelmed by it. You really can’t help but feel like you’re right there with them.

Among the most shocking elements of DEVILMAN CRYBABY is its depiction of body horror. It’s truly psychedelic at times. As images melt together, expanding and contracting, it may trick you into thinking you’re trapped in a Tame Impala music video. That is until you realize that a bare-chested woman just warped and twisted her way into a hideous demon. DEVILMAN CRYBABY often gives us surreal and disturbing imagery to process. When demons reveal themselves, their human forms contort and mutate in horrific ways that would make David Cronenberg proud. 

The artwork of DEVILMAN CRYBABY is hauntingly beautiful and extremely effective. It sets itself apart from other anime visually in terms of both what it will depict and how it decides to depict it. DEVILMAN CRYBABY doesn’t just show you lurid images, it surrounds you with them. The artwork makes it hard to look away, even when you want to.

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Let’s Talk About Sex, Crybaby

Nearly all female characters in DEVILMAN CRYBABY are portrayed naked at some point in its 10-episode run, along with scores of other background female characters. This includes the main two female protagonists, Miki Mikamura and Miki “Miko” Kuroda.  Male nudity is hinted at, but nowhere near as explicit. DEVILMAN CRYBABY is a tad conventional in this regard. For whatever reason, as graphic as the show can get when it comes to sex, there is still a line that even it won’t cross, and that’s below the waistline.

DEVILMAN CRYBABY: Miko and Koji having sex
Miko and the sleazy journalist Koji Nagasaki | Image: Netflix

Sex gets a bad wrap in DEVILMAN CRYBABY. Nearly every sexual situation in DEVILMAN CRYBABY is shortly followed by violence. There are very few depictions of a healthy sexual relationship in the show. Miki’s parents may be the only one, but their love-making is merely implied by the existence of their children. Virtually every other graphically depicted scene of a sexual scenario ends in violence. Sex is actively harmful to nearly every one of our characters. 

In doing this, the show seems to suggest that sex, like violence, is at its core a base impulse. That the two are in some ways related. In fact, the show states explicitly that the largest difference between a demon and human is that a human often has control over these impulses, whereas a demon does not. Akira struggles to keep the lid on Amon’s cravings which bubble up inside of him. These cravings for violence and sex may be amplified in this scenario, but we are meant to identify with them. And considering the events of DEVILMAN CRYBABY, seeing these urges within our own souls presented this way can feel troubling. 

DEVILMAN CRYBABY is All About the Love

Although sexuality and violence are closely linked to vice and lack of impulse control, love is shown as a heightened emotional state. Akira’s empathetic soul is what keeps Amon from taking him over, and that serves as a metaphor for all of us. Through love and understanding, we can prevent these carnal urges from getting the better of us. 

DEVILMAN CRYBABY: Miki and Miko hug. The word's 'I'm sorry' appear at the bottom of the screen. They are surrounded by Original DEVILMAN images
Miki and Miko hugging, surrounded by original DEVILMAN memorabilia and images | Image: Netflix

Never is this more apparent than when Akira manages to use non-violence to prevent a group from torturing and executing their fellow humans. Using only tears, he manages to defuse the hatred and anger that are driving the aggressors. This exemplifies DEVILMAN CRYBABY’s main point. It is always best to fight violence with love and empathy. 

There are many other examples in the show of love having the power to change people for the better. Love drives DEVILMAN CRYBABY’s characters to better understand the people around them, and that empathy leads them to their own humanity. Miko, longtime friend of Akira and Miki, eventually succumbs to demons due to her jealousy for Miki. In the end, she becomes a Devilman herself when she rediscovers her love for Miki.

And in spite of Ryo’s speech about love not existing, love is what ultimately triumphs. He painfully realizes that he was always wrong. At the end of the world, there is literally nothing left but Ryo’s love for Akira.

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What’s the Verdict?

It’s easy for many people to turn away from DEVILMAN CRYBABY and write it off. It’s not a perfect show by any means. It will make some people uncomfortable with its unashamed depiction of sex and violence, but it is always valuable for art to challenge sensibilities.

There is an obsession in culture when it comes to “earning it.” Is shock value the only purpose for depicting sex and violence, or is there some deeper purpose? Some may say that the amount of graphic sexuality and violence in DEVILMAN CRYBABY is needless, just as they did for the original DEVILMAN, but human beings in real life are often needlessly sexual and violent. Art, at its best, mirrors reality. The creator of DEVILMAN, Go Nagai, would argue that any violence is needless.

In Nagai’s own words, “The theme of Devilman is antiwar. When humans transform into devils and demons, what they really are doing is taking up murder weapons and embarking on war.”

DEVILMAN CRYBABY’s gratuitous depiction of sex and violence is its greatest tool, and its use of beautiful animation only helps draw our attention to it. It is a commentary about how these things can easily corrupt a culture that isolates them from empathy. Sex without love is as meaningless as the violence that permeates DEVILMAN CRYBABY. This show is a depiction of the horrible things humanity is capable of when they turn their backs on peace and love and let the demons within run wild. It’s a warning to keep sight of our humanity as our powers for self-destruction become deadlier and deadlier. Sure it can be over the top, but in the end, it has an important message for its audience. That human beings become demons themselves when they stoop to violence, yet love has the power to affect the Devil himself.

Featured image screenshot from Netflix

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