Remember the days of staying up 'til 2am to watch whatever over the top, violent, and sexual anime SyFy (back when they were known as just regular old Sci-Fi) had managed to find for our desperate, weeb hearts? Those hours spent watching strange, beautiful, and often deeply demented animation was as much a starter drug for the birth of anime’s popularity as Toonami’s after school hour, catching the attention of those for whom Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon was a bit too tame. Well Netflix’s new series DEVILMAN crybaby (the most recent adaption of the classic Devilman manga by Go Nagai) is a call back to that time, polished up with today’s politics and aesthetics.
And it’s freaking crazy.
The series follows Akira, a shy high school track star who lives with his best friend and his (and everyone else's, male or female) crush Miki, the witch of highschool track and field. But Miki is not the only BFF in the picture, and soon, Akira’s childhood friend Ryo bursts onto the scene. Ryo is a strange young man, inexplicably rich and astronomically intelligent, far beyond his age. Dragging Akira to an orgy, Ryo explains that he is trying to hunt Demons; creatures that hide in plain sight, but are drawn out by sinning. Creatures that Ryo has a plan to defeat. Unfortunately for Akira, that plan involves turning him into "Devilman," a human/demon hybrid. Becoming Devilman puts Akira in the position of savior of the world, as the demons start to come out of hiding to take Earth back from the humans who have destroyed it. And that’s just episode one.
Akira and Ryo are tied together, a bond that just becomes more complicated as the show moves forward. The subtext between them is far from the only queer content in the show that embraces (and in its gory way, destroys) all forms of sexuality.
The series walks a fine line between devastatingly bleak and ridiculously over the top, but manages to balance it in the only way it could be: a multicolored orgy turned bloodbath rapidly shifts to a beautiful school day, keeping you on your toes as it whiplashes your emotions around. Ridiculous imagery serves to distract you so that when the emotional blows come, you have no idea what hits you. The animation, while clearly on a lower budget, does a lot with what they have, using color and composition to make their world both strange and heartbreakingly familiar. Surreal, beautiful, and disturbing, the show will leave you wondering what the hell you just watched. (Mostly in a good way, but also sometimes in a way that may keep you up at night.)
This isn’t the first adaption of Devilman by any means, but it does stay surprisingly true to the original manga, man-eating breast and copious queer subtext included. The series is a classic in Japan, with Devilman appearing in multiple versions of stories, crossovers, and influencing many other anime classics such as Evangelion and X/1999. (Or, really, most things by Clamp.) If DEVILMAN crybaby is your first toe dipped into classic anime stories, those wouldn’t be bad places to continue, with both having plenty of queer contexts of their own. The series leaves you wondering about some of the disturbing implications about humanity, especially given our current climate.
With all 10 episodes ready to binge on Netflix now, don’t miss it!