#1 A revival of Go Nagai’s seminal work
The Devilman series was a product of the early 70s and the most memorable part (to me, at least) of Go Nagai’s shift to more violent manga. The man’s an absolute legend who had no trouble courting controversy and pushing the limits of what society accepted from manga and anime.
While the franchise would continue to be relevant since then, with new novels, manga, and OVA’s, it would never again become as prevalent as it was during the run of its 39-episode TV series in 1972, but here we are in the late 2010s and Netflix, of all companies, brings us a 10-episode revival of Nagai’s story.
And Devilman Crybaby is more than just a remake with only a quarter of the runtime, as it also vastly modernizes the original story to be fitting for our current day. Characters use smartphones and computers, they draw information from the internet, and the way people communicate is different from how it was in the 70s. It might not sound important, but the result is a show that makes a lot of sense. For example, after been accidentally filmed transforming into the titular Devilman, main character Akira Fudo begins Googling his own name. The internet and communication even play a vital role in the story in ways that wouldn’t have made sense when Nagai first wrote it.
#2 The titular crybaby
Devilman is a story rooted in Christian elements. Demons are living alongside humans, taking over the bodies of those with sinful thoughts and bestowing them incredible powers. The exception to this is Akira Fudo, a teenager who was taken over by the demon Amon, but was able to restrain it and maintain his own mind.
As the demons begin to wage war on humans and the world plunges into chaos, Akira’s position is an interesting one. His powers could tip the scales of battle, either saving humanity or dooming it. The potential problem is that he is an absolute crybaby and a would-be hero with no concept of utilitarianism. I think a scene that sells his philosophy happens when a Demon is murdering people by the dozens in a frenzy and he still chooses to persuade it and rescue the possessed person. Many lives lost just to save one, technically-innocent person.
His reluctance towards violence clashes with his best friend Ryo Asuka, a man who always employs the most extreme measures possible to get results as soon as possible. He is a violent man, able to gun down demons in person and then slaughter any humans who witnessed it. As the story proceeds, it makes you question whether Ryo and Akira can save humanity together or will be forced into opposite sides of the conflict.
#3 The rap scenes
The world of Devilman is a cold, hard place, even before demons turn up to devour people in the alleys. To make this clear to the viewer, Devilman Crybaby neglects the ancient rule of “show, don’t tell” by turning the narration into song.
A group of youngsters at the bottom of society hangs out at the city docks and share their frustrations with the world through rapping. These guys start off as side-characters, but get so much screen time that they become way too memorable and likable to be branded as such. I don’t even like rap music, yet still enjoyed how good of a job they did with it in this show. A minor frustration is that they didn’t dub all of the raps to English. The Japanese versions are fine as they are, it’s just that it makes for an abrupt switch to suddenly hear a different language and have to read subtitles.
#4 The stylistic look
Devilman Crybaby constantly resided in this grey area where I was never entirely sure if I was looking at something deliberately experimental or if the art was just being held together with spit and crossed fingers. This is far from a top tier production and certainly doesn’t approach the quality of, say, 2000’s The Apocalypse of Devilman. However, the show then turns this around by having such great surreal and demonic visuals that it had me doubting whether the shoddier scenes were intentionally made so the art-style as a whole would be more flexible. The answer is probably no.
Crybaby struggles to hold up when it wants to slow down, with particularly the track & field running scenes being awkward and nearly unbearable to watch. When it dips into the demonic themes, that is when the visuals come to life. Imaginative transformations, colorful scenes that distort in a drug-fuelled haze, and even big battles between powerful creatures. Once you get a taste of these excellent moments, it becomes much easier to forgive the show’s low points and you may even find the art-style growing on you.
#5 Violence, sex, and more violence
And while it feels redundant to point this out, Devilman Crybaby is still incredibly violent and filled with sex, drugs, and everything else that made the original story controversial. In fact, that Netflix picked up the Devilman license is perhaps the only reason we actually got a new Devilman show.
Devilman Crybaby would not pass the TV broadcasting standards in Japan without heavy censoring and cutting a whole bunch of stuff out. Netflix, however, doesn’t give a toss. Give it a 16+ rating and off it goes! Full frontal nudity, dismemberment, beheadings, organs getting ripped out, it’s fantastic and not something you regularly get to see in series-length anime.
At the same time, it’s violence and sex that doesn’t feel deliberately edgy and forced in. Devilman Crybaby isn’t trying to keep up the shock value, its implementation and use of sex, drugs, and violence is always consistent with the tone of the story and used where it’s fitting. The fact that it fits in almost all the time is just a nice extra.