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Cry Baby Cry, Make the Devil Sigh

 By Salim Garami

What's good?

Yuasa Masaaki is going to have a really good 2018 year. Earlier last month, North American animation distributor GKIDS announced they had acquired distribution rights to his two works from 2017, Lu Over the Wall and The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, as well as his 2004 cult hit Mind Game. The acquisitions can promise no less than a breakout in recognition in the U.S. for the 52-year-old animator and his studio Science Saru. And yet, it's only apparently going to be riding on the tail of Yuasa's latest release, the Netflix anime series Devilman Crybaby, inspired by Nagai Go's tragic action-horror manga series...

The titular crybaby is Fudo Akira (Uchiyama Kōki), a teenage high school track athlete who has an overwhelming amount of empathy for any misfortune that he witnesses or senses. Enough to literally bring him to tears, this isn't a story that holds back. And that bare humanity is what brings his childhood friend, prodigy genius Asuka Ryo (Murase Ayumu), to use him as a guinea pig for an experiment in a suspicion that will soon escalate into a full-on war with demons, returning to reclaim the Earth and eradicate humanity. Ryo has Akira possessed by Amon, apparently the biggest meanest demon in the clan, but Ryo's bleeding heart is able to fight the demonic inhibitions and all Ryo to keep his human soul alongside all the strengths of the demon inside him... becoming a Devilman! Akira starts using these powers to try to fight off the return of the demons to the best of his ability as well as argue for the humanity of some other devilmen who might exist, while the evidently psychopathic Ryo keeps his plans with each new revelation close to his chest.

Yuasa's been known for his manic, flexible animation styles all wobbly and bouncy with lines that would not be expected to work with a premise so sobering and severe (the show doesn't take too long before it becomes emotionally draining and the final two episodes are cruel and devastating). But Yuasa has also been known for exploring the developments of sexuality and psychology, especially when they're intertwined (at least Mind Game was about these things). And being from the perspective of a young man right in the middle of his transformation into an adult, you can bet that Devilman Crybaby has concerns about how Akira has to come to terms with his new body and how he can qualify killing vicious monsters while knowing that some of them might have the souls of humans. And also that approach towards sex and love is not altogether healthy (between this and Mind Game, Yuasa appears to have an overwhelming obsession with breasts that can have a habit of being skeezy).

Indeed, before the opening credits even finish - a series of watery Rorschach blots developing and shaping into imagery insisting on the relationship dynamics between Akira, Ryo, and Akira's best friend and crush Makimura Miki (Han Megumi) set to a rapidly throbbing techno bass track by composer Ushio Kensuke - it's clear that Yuasa will be finding a way to turn visually adapt the dark psychological complexities of the story as the moment demands and there will always be that undertone of the end of things coming. Even when its apparent that Devilman Crybaby might have a bit of frivolity.

Which it does. Humor spills right in its DNA. It's a tone it balances ridiculously well, such as the horrorshow rave ending Episode 1 filling with a grotesquerie of violent mutations and thereafter watching those mutations cause an indiscriminate bloodbath (Devilman Crybaby is a very violent show) yet all of these deformities happen in a floppy manner befitting the work of Tex Avery and with the sort of berry-color vibrancies of a psychedelic work. Or how it constantly follows-up on some traumatizing event in Akira's life with the home life of his guardians, The Makimuras themselves who are pleasantly big-eyed adults with likewise pleasantly big-eye children including a naive and curious son.

And there's still the very conscious manner in which Yuasa and his fellow animators establish a binary between innocent humans in rounded and light designs and possessed ones with a darker tone to their skin and several new edges defining the shape of their heads and bodies, especially Akira who goes from moptop to spiky hair immediately after Amon possesses him. 

Yuasa's cartoonishness subsides more and more as the series develops and the story darkens to a point where hope is nearly impossible to reach, but Devilman Crybaby never ceases to be the most accomplished work of animation in Netflix's output - the lines are always clean enough that Yuasa can bloat and balloon his imagery and get twisted and wicked and we never get lost on what's being portrayed. The framing around Ryo and Akira is not only interesting, but it's the sort of star-crossed presentation that one reserves for a very specific type of emotional relationship. And the lighting is as thoughtful as the demon designs are completely indulgent, especially in the opening rave and ending... well, there's something I really can't give away except to insist that the resolution of Devilman Crybaby is reminiscent of a certain anime classic, one that has actually acknowledged the work of Nagai as its inspiration. But it's in beautiful hues of empty blues and purples filling up the sky as a sea and giving a romantic key to the finale of the 10-episode series.

There are many things Devilman Crybaby wants to be about amongst psychology and sexuality, it wants to go into mass hysteria, bigotry, religion, misogyny, and it's not as eloquent or sharp about some of these things as it is about others. Even ignoring the overglut of themes, it's narratively sloppy with more characters than it can handle even for a 10-episode story and certain motivations are non-existent or insufficient. And, like I said, it is a shattering story with each new episode, the kind that ruins your mood well after you've finished it. But it's exactly the sort of ambitious "I want to talk about EVERYTHING" writing that makes for an interesting watch and even if that's not one's bag, Devilman Crybaby is too overwhelmingly beautiful to look at to dismiss.

Like I said, Yuasa is in for a good year.

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Reader Comments (1)

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February 16, 2018 | Unregistered Commentersarahah exposed

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