What if Attack on Titan’s Eren Jaeger had been born into a world similar to our own, but it was plagued by the sudden appearance of demons that possessed people? Netflix’s latest anime series, Devilman Crybaby, feels a lot like the answer to that question, even though its source material goes back almost 50 years.
Devilman Crybaby will remind you of Attack on Titan in many ways, if only because the title conjures up the kind of hero at the focus of both series: whiny, emotional, fractured teenaged boys inexplicably blessed with ludicrous superpowers making them incredibly important.
Akira Fudo, Devilman Crybaby’s title character, is a meek and weak crybaby until he’s possessed by a demon and maintains his human heart through sheer emotional will — remember, he’s a crybaby, and boy does he keep on crying. All this happens after Akira’s childhood friend Ryo randomly shows up and reveals that demons are real. Akira gets swept up in a growing global epidemic, trying to destroy the demons before they kill all the humans.
The laughably flippant and seemingly generic title “devilman crybaby” tital could very well apply to all manner of anime horror protagonists. There’s Ajin: Demi-Human, Tokyo Ghoul, and yes, Attack on Titan, just to name a few.
The base premise of these stories is all-too-familiar: An emotionally fragile high-schooler discovers or is awarded some kind of terrifying superpower that alienates him, splitting his identity into two. All of these main characters are their own kind of devilman crybaby, weeping at their plight while struggling to define themselves in the midst of new powers.
Like Eren Jaeger, Akira is neither human nor a monster, and that defines his experience. These anime stories double-down on violence and gore, but none of the others comes even remotely close to pulling off anything even nearly as stylish and sexy as Devilman Crybaby.
You see, Devilman Crybaby is a shockingly horny anime.
Devilman Crybaby never shies away from heavy-handed symbolism, startling nudity, or all manner of violence and gore — sometimes right in the middle of sex. You’d be hardpressed to find any story that manages to so totally irreverent yet ultimately biblical in its scope. Its fusion of sexual titillation with gruesome gore is enough to make even hardcore anime fans squirm, or, you know, get totally aroused.
So much of what the show offers begins at the erotic before devolving into horrifying and offputting — the overall style is surrealistic but still manages some great attention to detail. One early scene depicts an orgy at a rave where topless girls pass out shots and party drugs. But when the devils smell blood, their true selves explode from the heads of humans. Humans are tripping on all sorts of drugs and they see fellow partygoers ripped in half.
In one shot, while a woman is mid-coitus, she transforms into a horrifying demon and devours her partner by chomping through the middle 30 percent of his body like she’s a Venus flytrap. Bloody limbs just clatter to the ground and the blood just pours and pours.
In Attack on Titan, the monsters take the form of sexless, gaunt, and slack-jawed giant. The world is crisply drawn with precision, the beauty of the natural world juxtaposed against impossible gore.
But in Devilman Crybaby, each devil is unique, showcasing all manner of monsters from various cultures alongside shocking novel creations, some of them dreamt up by tentacle porn enthusiasts and others by people who’ve wondered how Harpys might masturbate. This world is insane and the animation style characterized by many shades of darkness accentuated by bold splashes of color.
An excellent pulsating soundtrack does some of the heavy lifting, sometimes conjuring up feelings of noir-esque pensive melodrama.
Curiously enough, we eventually find out that Akira’s real superpower isn’t his powerful winged demon form that can rip most demons in half (the long way), but his emotional sensitivity. He doesn’t cry for himself, he always cries for other people. We’re left to assume that it’s his intense empathy that allows him to maintain his human heart. The figure so often at Akira’s focus is his neighbor, classmate, fellow track runner, and sort of neighbor-sister: Miki Makimura.
Devilman Crybaby goes to some predictable places at times, humanizing some of the demons and demonizing most of the humans — but you’ll marvel by just how far the series goes in ten 23-minute episodes.
Without giving too much away, the scope of Devilman Crybaby gets totally biblical by the end, ignoring your expectations and delivering a finale that’s hard to predict. If you can stomach the gore and learn to love a demon, than it might just be your favorite Netflix anime yet.
Devilman Crybaby’s 10-episode series is now on Netflix.
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