I’m so happy about Devilman Crybaby.
It’s brought so many new people to the series, which had been criminally underrated outside of Japan for years and decades up until now. I’ve very much enjoyed seeing my TL flooded with Devilman fanart, reactions, and shitposts. But most importantly, I’m happy because Crybaby was mostly able to live up to my high expectations – it was being helmed by one of my favourite directors, Masaaki Yuasa, after all. Even so, there were some mishaps in the decisions Yuasa took as director, which are worth examining and criticising. Heavy spoilers for Crybaby and the manga ahead.
Firstly, if we look at what Yuasa changed for his adaptation, modernisation emerges a clear trend. Whether this was his own desire or Netflix’s decision, I honestly don’t know, but it could be either. I don’t think that the original Devilman being set in the 1970s would particularly be a problem – in fact, I think looking at how little has changed from then to now makes it more impactful for a modern audience, if anything. But in any case, the changes Yuasa made in order to modernise the series are mostly positive ones.
Much of the visual design of the series was redone in order to modernise it, most prominently of which can be seen in the character designs. Both Ryo and Akira have lost their bouffant hairstyles and sideburns, which admittedly does make them lose a little bit of charm, but is mostly a warranted change given how ridiculous they would look in a modern setting. Also, instead of the heavy metal aesthetic that draped the original, Yuasa has instead chosen to draw from the aesthetics of house music and the club scene for his adaptation. We see more trippy, avant-garde visuals, such as the club scene in episode one, where bodies pulsate to pumping EDM under bright, changing lights, rather than the heavy metal mosh pit permeated with darkness and gothic trappings that we saw in the manga.
Most of this was done to shift the aesthetic of Crybaby closer to that of Yuasa’s previous work on such shows as The Tatami Galaxy and Ping Pong: The Animation, not only so that Yuasa himself would be able to better visualise and direct the show, but also so that his team over at Science Saru wouldn’t have to change their style too dramatically for the adaptation, which may have possibly slowed down their work. Overall, I don’t have too much of a problem with the modernisation Yuasa undertook in terms of visuals, since Nagai’s art is so unique to him as an artist anyway, and a straight-up recreation of it on the screen would never be able to live up to the original because of that. Plus, if it helped get this anime made and looking as good as it does, then I don’t blame Yuasa for daring to go against the grain of hardcore fans just a little bit.
Speaking of hardcore fans, in a strange turn of events, it turns out that Devilman the anime actually exists in Crybaby? Miki’s brother, Taro, is a huge fan of the anime, and has lots of merch of it in his room. When I first realised this, I was shocked and confused to say the least – how would it make sense for Devilman to exist within it’s own canon? But then I realised that Crybaby was referencing the original 1972 anime, which had a significantly lighter tone than the original, and also did not have the same dark ending of the manga. It was essentially more of a tokusatsu show more than anything else, and this makes it work in the context of Crybaby – the show is both able to recognise it’s own legacy by incorportating the original Devilman anime into it’s own canon, but also creates for itself a unique identity as a ‘true’ adaptation of the manga as it draws the viewer’s attention to the fact that both versions can exist within the same canon. Yuasa’s decision to include this was unexpected nor was it needed, but the way in which it was executed made it work unexpectedly well.
Yuasa’s adapation also sees the forgoing of the high school bully characters led by Dosu-Roku, and instead replaces them with a rap troupe. This troupe doesn’t fulfil the same role as bullies, since they aren’t antagonistic towards Akira and Miki particularly, just quite forceful in rapping at them for seemingly no reason – a great move on Yuasa’s part. To have Akira’s weakness pre-Devilman transformation shown by his inability to protect ‘his woman’, as is done in the manga, would have come off as overly chauvinistic and a little bit behind the times. Instead, having Akira’s empathy and weakness evident from the beginning was a much better and more subtle way, as I’ll go into a little bit later. Furthermore, by replacing these bullies Yuasa is able to create some really memorable characters that serve an interesting role in the overall story, since they add a relevant layer of social commentary when they are assumed to be shoplifting and are eventually threatened with a gun by the police simply because of how they look, and are used to add in some genuinely great J-rap to the already excellent soundtrack. Because of this, they ended up being some of the most memorable characters in the show, and the subject of a lot of memeing.
Even so, one aspect of modernisation I wasn’t so keen on was Yuasa’s use of social media, particularly in Miki’s death at the hands of the mob in episode nine. It’s not like I was against this from the start – proper implementation of social media into Miki’s character could’ve given Yuasa a chance to offer some more social commentary about the power and influence of social media. But, the way in which it was inserted into episode nine was not the best. First of all, the pace of the episode grinds to an absolute crawl as we see Miki type her message on social media out word by word, as we see Akira being hugged as Devilman in the background. As a result, an otherwise tragic scene in which Devilman is accepted by the public, only to lose all hope anyway when Miki dies, was squandered. Secondly, the fact that Yuasa chose to use social media above anything else seems more superfluous than meaningful – why couldn’t she have been writing in her diary, or a letter to Akira as the mob approached? By choosing to use social media, Yuasa seems to be trying to callously modernise aspects of the scene, rather than trying to utilise this change to add another layer of meaning, or otherwise further the impact of the scene. Because of this, I didn’t find her death as shocking as I did in the manga – which was quite disappointing, considering that I view it as an absolutely key moment in the series as a whole.
All in all though, I was pretty happy with the way Yuasa modernised the story and modified it to work in a modern setting. Not only did it allow him and his team to work with a style they were more familiar with and therefore faster, it also allowed him to swap out some uninteresting characters with some interesting characters, in the form of the rap troupe. I wish I could say the same about Yuasa’s attempt at inserting more characterisation into the series however, since on that front, I am of a more mixed opinion.
My first gripe with Yuasa’s attempts to insert more characterisation into the series is the changes that he made to Miki’s character. Now, generally I would very much be in favour of developing a character first before killing them – after all, this elicits a stronger emotional response. I therefore totally understand why Yuasa would choose to focus on developing Miki more as a character, in reconfiguring Miki’s character to be more independent through stressing her prowess at track and field and sense of right and wrong. Yet, adding characterisation does seem to be a slight misunderstand of why the original manga death scene was so impactful – it was simply the sheer wrongness of a cutesy, one-tone love interest being beheaded and impaled on a spike. The way the original manga did not develop the character of Miki does seem a bit outdated now, and somewhat chauvinistic considering the lack of other female characters, but does feed into Go Nagai’s general aim for the series to subvert tropes and expectation. After all, above all else, he chose to take the manga in such a dark direction in a fairly standard shounen magazine at the time – so that he could really mess with reader expectation and illicit a very strong emotional response simply out of this pure wrongness.
Similarly, I’m not so sure about the way Yuasa changed Ryo Asuka’s character for his adaptation. A lot of the humour of the original manga comes from the outlandish and strange ways Ryo acts, such as pulling out a machine gun and open firing in broad daylight. Furthermore, this brash and strange behaviour elicits suspicion in the viewer right from the start – we subconsciously wonder why Ryo acts so strangely, and when the reason as to why is revealed to be that he has been Satan all along, we are both satisfied because we got an answer to our question, but more surprised that Ryo of all people turned out to be Satan, since he comes off as more goofy than threatening. In Nagai’s manga he clearly isn’t a character we’re supposed to take seriously, yet in Yuasa’s version Ryo is much more calm and collected, the voice of reason in the landscape of madness, and above all, very suspicious. Although he does do outlandish things such a race through the streets in his flashy sports car to find Akira in episode one, his personality comes off more as more aloof genius than crazy goofball. Clearly, Yuasa wanted to take out the humour from Ryo’s character so it didn’t detract from the drama when he is revealed to be Satan, but I don’t think such a thing was necessary. Nagai’s reveal is already dramatic, since once again he is able to subvert our expectations about Ryo.
Thankfully, I did enjoy and appreciate the way Yuasa reconfigured Akira’s character. In the original manga, it’s never clear what kind of person Ryo was before he became Devilman – sure, from his failure to stand up to the bullies we understand that he isn’t very brave, but we never get a grasp beyond that as to what kind of person he really is. Yuasa however introduces from the onset the idea that Akira is a ‘crybaby’ (hence the title), stemming from his unconditional empathy for others. Because of this, we understand much better and on a much deeper level Akira’s journey throughout the series, since we have a clear baseline in which to base his development. Therefore, key character moments for Akira such as Miki’s death are much more impactful in Yuasa’s version than in Nagai’s, even if Yuasa’s execution of such moments are slightly lacking. To be honest, I had always been frustrated at Nagai’s weak characterisation of Akira in the original manga, considering most of the story centres around him and his journey, so I was very glad when Yuasa chose to alleviate that frustration in such an effective way.
Another longstanding gripe that Yuasa finally addressed was one that I think most Devilman fans were glad to see addressed – the reconfiguration of the Jinmen fight. When I first read the manga, I found it almost laughable the way Nagai introduced a new character, Sachiko, who was supposedly an old next-door neighbour to Akira, only for her to die within about ten pages once she had been absorbed into the shell of Jinmen. Obviously, the moral conflict presented to Akira was still valid, but it didn’t feature a character I was particularly invested in, so the scene wasn’t particularly impactful. Therefore, Yuasa’s decision to have Akira’s mother be absorbed into the shell of Jinmen and thus present the moral dilemma to Akira was a very smart decision. This wasn’t done in isolation however, as Yuasa took the time to establish Akira’s strained relationship with his globe-trotting parents through several brief flashback scenes in previous episodes. As a result, the scene was much more emotionally impactful than the original.
Furthermore, Yuasa took the liberty of creating some new characters for his adaptation. One of them in particular, Miki “Miko” Kuroda, is a welcome addition to the Devilman canon. Her character development from accepting her place in Miki Makimura’s shadow to her own sexual and personal awakening, where she realises her own self-worth, was honestly one of the highlights of Crybaby for me. Maybe this was because she was a new character, and therefore one of the few elements of the story that I didn’t know the eventual conclusion of, since I’ve already read the manga. However, many fans have become attached to Miko, so I wouldn’t say I’m alone on that front.
I wish I could say the same about Moyuru Koda, the so-called “super high-schooler” who the majority of episode 6 revolves around. Ryo plans to expose Koda and therefore the truth about demons, but we never get a real sense of who Koda is as a character, beyond the fact that he is good at running, and that he’s either bisexual or gay. This begs the question of why not an established character? The same sentiment can be applied to the reporter Koji, who is largely used to explore Miki’s character, rather than his own. Since I like Miki’s characterisation in Crybaby, I’m not too bothered about Yuasa adding him to serve that purpose, yet Koda is more infuriating, considering that he was added to replace Zennon in alerting humankind to the existence of demons, yet ends up being less interesting than Zennon.
With regards to plot, I have one serious gripe with Crybaby that honestly just baffles me. The original manga opens with Ryo explaining to Akira the origin of demons, that they existed before humans, remained frozen in ice for millennia once God had tried to kill them, and that now they were beginning to wake up and possess humans in an attempt to reclaim the Earth once more. This exposition provides a good enough explanation as to the events of the story, even if it is not the most nuanced or probable explanation. Perhaps it was for this reason that Yuasa decided to forgo the majority of this exposition at the beginning of the story, instead having Ryo explain at the beginning of the series that demons simply ‘exist’, only to then take time in the finale of the show to actually explain why they exist. And that’s certainly a question that popped into my head at that point – why? Why leave the exposition until now? If you don’t like the exposition and would rather not have it, then don’t include it at all – the series still makes sense without it. Plus, it’s not like Yuasa just decided to repeat Nagai’s exposition – instead he chooses to confound the matter further by explaining that the ‘souls’ of demons exist, which makes even less sense than them waking up from being frozen in ice.
This sudden change in heart at the end of Crybaby seems like an obvious sign that Yuasa and team were struggling for ideas for the finale of the show. After all, in the manga, after Miki’s death the apocalypse comes very fast, only a couple of chapters later, which didn’t leave Yuasa’s team with much material to work with. Considering that they were working for Netflix and not on a weekly basis, this is particularly disappointing, as surely the marathon release format negates the issue of time, since you no longer have to fill a specified block of time in a TV station’s programming schedule, as is usually the case with anime. Yuasa should’ve therefore took the opportunity to combine the last two episodes into one episode, therefore increasing the pace of the tragic end to the series, which in turn would allow it to match the gut-punching intensity of the original manga’s conclusion. Thus, even though I did enjoy Crybaby, it did leave a slightly bitter taste in my mouth as I finished my marathon of it, at two in the morning.
I have been quite negative in these last few points, but please don’t get the wrong idea – I am very happy that Crybaby exists. It’s important to remember that the original manga isn’t perfect either. It’s characters are generally weak, which Yuasa’s team were right to set out to fix, even if the results are mixed. Plus, it does have some elements which are, admittedly, somewhat outdated. Therefore Yuasa setting out to modernise the series was not a foolish move, and did end up improving the story somewhat. Yet, for all of the ways in which Crybaby improves, it also fails to match the original in many ways. In this sense, Crybaby fails to surpass the original, but it did the best with what it had – making it, in the end, a pretty good adaptation.
I’ve been wanting to do this kind of post for ages, so I’m glad that Crybaby provided me an opportunity to do so. Since it’s the first time, I’m still getting used to the formula, so please bear with me for a bit while I work it out. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you think down below, or via Twitter.