I’ve been watching anime for a pretty long time (no comments from the peanut gallery, Editor in Chief Sean Aune). I’ve fallen off in recent years, but I go back long enough with the medium that I’ve watched fansubbed shows on VHS and rented some of my first anime from Blockbuster. I’ve watched anime studios and publishers come and go, and I was there for the original Sub vs. Dub wars. So it’s been with trepidation that I’ve watched Netflix tiptoe its way into anime. It’s with Devilman Crybaby that the company truly dives in, though, and it’s a hell of a start.
Yeah, I did that.
Devilman Crybaby is a modern re-imagining of one of anime’s oldest properties, Devilman. The character first came to life in a 1972 anime and has been adapted into manga, television show, and animated film a bunch of times since. For Japanese viewers and experienced anime fans, the character is nothing new. The anime tells the story of Akira Fudo, a gentle young man who must become a nightmare to save the world. He lives in modern-day Japan where his friend Ryo has discovered that demons live among us and are growing in strength by possessing humans. To fight them, a pure-hearted person needs to combine with a demon. Thus, the joining of Akira and Amon become Devilman, which sounds just a silly when said aloud as you think it does.
By helping to bring this show to life, Netflix is making a statement that I hope is indicative of the streaming giant’s intended direction with Japanese animation.
Devilman Crybaby is gorgeous
Crybaby is directed by Masaaki Yuasa, a modern legend in anime. If you look at the trailer above, you can already tell that this show doesn’t look like most other animation. It resembles it, but it doesn’t look like it used off-the-shelf parts like so many other shows do. Yuasa brings a unique visual flair to his shows. Characters move with a fluidity not present in other animation. They bend and twist in ways stock anime characters can’t. They look organic and alive.
And then when the horrifying beasts of Devilman come to life, the humans transform organically into unimaginable shapes. There are no sharp edges or truly straight lines in Yuasa’s style, and so so his characters can morph and change.
Yuasa is a bold director for a reboot and a bold choice as the director of Netflix’s first jaunt into anime co-production.
Devilman Crybaby is grotesque
This show is not for kids, not even really cool babies. From the get-go, there are people in varying degrees of nakedness and deadness on the screen, and the latter are rarely in one single piece. And the beasts are pure, grade-A nightmare fuel that few creators (Kentaro Miura of Berserk, Junji Ito of Uzumaki) can really do well. A beast steps from the shadows to reveal a chest of disembodied faces literally begging to die. A runner becomes a charging beast with a weeping human face.
It’s visually grotesque stuff, but it’s a blast to watch in motion. The visual style offered by Yuasa and his team means that when demons are torn apart, they’re ripped right in half. I’m not one to sit and bask in violence necessarily, but here it fits the subject matter perfectly.
Devilman Crybaby is faithful
While it varies on some points, being that the original Devilman came out nearly half a century ago, Crybaby sticks to the major points of the original but makes the story feel modern. And the English dub doesn’t make the sin so many old anime made of trying to take Japan out of the story. There’s a recurring character who raps in the show (voiced by Japanese emcee Ken the 390), and those sequences are even left in their original Japanese, rather than the studio trying to do an amateurish translation of the original material.
Whether you’re an anime fan or just looking for something weird and fresh to check out on Netflix, Devilman Crybaby is a great option. It’s not perfect, and it has its own issues, but as a first venture into anime for Netflix, this is a great way to start things off. It’s just 10 23-minute episodes, so watching it in its entirety hardly counts as a binge. Its unique visual style means it should appeal to both anime fans and animation fans alike, too. And hey, if you like watching demons eat it in gory, over-the-top ways, Netflix’s own Castlevania animation (produced by Adi Shankar) fits the bill nicely, as do both seasons of Starz’ Ash vs. Evil Dead, both of which are now on the streaming service.