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Anime Review: Devilman Crybaby

Devilman Crybaby
Available on Netflix via Science Saru

Devilman Crybaby’s title sequence is stark. Its animation is lush. Its music is superb. So for the first few episodes of the series, I was tricked into thinking that I loved it. I’m going to explain myself by explaining what I don’t like about anime.

Generally speaking, anime are much longer than Crybaby’s ten episodes — the original Devilman run had 39, but even that’s low; Naruto had 220 episodes (Naruto Shippuden adding another 500). How do you stretch out a story that long and still have something interesting to say in each episode?

Most entry-level action-based anime answer this question by sacrificing pacing (overuse of flashbacks, unnecessary exposition, filler episodes to occupy gaps in action, and so on) or by raising the stakes so high that the characters are caricatured and shoved into absurd good-versus-evil battles. The first part of Naruto leans mostly on the first, while Shippuden leans on the second. Devilman Crybaby is short enough that it doesn’t need to do either of these things, so it’s a little baffling that it does both.

Crybaby’s first episode introduces the most stuff, so it’s also the worst-paced. A major subplot is introduced partway in only to completely vanish until the sixth episode. This likely isn’t a problem most anime veterans will have, but in this lag time I accidentally conflated a major character from the subplot with another unrelated character due to their similar hairstyles and how long it had been since the subplot’s introduction.In comparison to the aforementioned five episode gap, the main mid-series event is introduced in the third episode and solved in the fifth, and the finale is an absurd crescendo that obviates the previous nine episodes. Dynamic story beats are generally a positive thing, but here the rushing and dragging leaves me nauseous.

Speaking of nausea, this show is unrelenting in its presentation of violence and sexuality. Crybaby injects more casual butt shots than an Orange County plastic surgeon. The fact that explicit sexuality is being portrayed isn’t the problem. It’s how Devilman Crybaby judges me for watching what it puts on screen. The series is devoid of meaningful sexual relationships. There are platonic romances but when sex is depicted, it is depraved, misogynistic, and violent. From a creative standpoint, it feels hypocritical to have gratuitous, unavoidable shots of women’s breasts and then condemn the viewer for looking. You could argue this is an artistic choice, but the base narrative and themes aren’t strong enough to justify  metacommentary.

On that note, the original Devilman ran in the seventies so maybe the themes it explores were more original then, but I can’t praise Crybaby for saying the same things as The Walking Dead when it says them so much clunkier. “Humans are the real monsters” is an overdone steak that’s even less appealing when it’s delivered through stilted anime dialogue.

It’s not fair to just talk about Crybaby’s flaws. After all, a lot of my issues with it stem from my issues with anime as a whole. Despite how it may seem, I really did like a lot of Crybaby. The animation and music are Crybaby’s saving graces. The story is virtually irrelevant to the tone; it’s how the soft pastels shift to grotesque edges, how carefree electronica warps into pounding, industrial synths. The audiovisual presentation provides enough flavour to distract from the stale bread that is the story and themes and although it can’t redeem the crumbly crust, it definitely makes for a tastier sandwich. The characters are generally well-written and the action sequences unique. While they aren’t Crybaby’s meat, they add a layer of yummy butter.

While most anime resembles a submarine sandwich, Devilman Crybaby is a B.L.T. Both have bread, meat, and vegetables, but Naruto stretches those elements over a grotesquely long mealtime and Devilman compresses them into a quick bite before work. If you like sandwiches, Devilman has all the ingredients for an enjoyable lunch, but personally, I just don’t get the bacon hype.

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