I struggled with this show during my reflections. I tried to find all the value I could. I considered this series a standalone piece though it spawned from a popular manga in Japan. This reflection does not feature outside research – nor do I believe it should. With that in mind, here are a few of my thoughts on Devilman Crybaby.
I loved the first episode. The story is simple, colorful, erotic, and develops to a funky beat. I can immediately say I’ve never seen something like this before. Early on we’re introduced to the protagonist Akira, his love interest Miki, and his best friend Ryo. At first, the story centers on high school track stars with basic high school problems, but as expected based on the title, the story quickly diverts toward a vague concept of demons inhabiting humanity. Ryo is the character to reveal this plot point by bringing Akira with him to a drug induced (borderline orgy) party turned massacre. The standard has been set. I’m excited for episode two.
Overtime a few more characters who are largely unimportant are introduced and I slowly begin to realize the main characters we follow are not changing in the slightest. Miki is the kind-hearted soul that is extremely popular and leads a life believing love will always triumph over evil. Akira, who becomes one of the most powerful demons, is really a strong empathizer who feels the pain others endure and sacrifices himself to avenge them. Ryo is introduced from the beginning as a demonic presence who is their foil. Akira believes in always investing in individuals regardless of the scale at which he makes a change. Ryo though is happy to make large sacrifices to fulfill his personal needs. Major red flags are raised early hinting at Ryo’s antagonist characterization. By episode two’s finale I’m desperately hoping this isn’t a story about a protagonist whose kind heart makes him too stupid to see the evil leading him on. Spoilers, it is.
By the halfway point in the series the values and morality between demons and humans is presented as a gray area. One could argue the story’s overall lesson evolves into not judging a book by its cover. However, the show poorly defends this moral guide by forcing extreme polarity of values on characters. You’re either an Akira/Miki, a saint ready to sacrifice everything for what you believe in, or you’re literally a devil. Devilman Crybaby is a contrived narrative that oversimplifies our world and casually throws logic out the window to insert elements necessary for it to get to its desired ending. The focused narrative beginning at high school track practice suddenly turns into a world war between humans and demons.
What’s most disappointing is that all the characters are largely unimportant. The one character who shows the most change is Miki, not the one I mentioned before, another girl others refer to as Miko. She gets overlooked in favor of the more popular one – hence the nickname. Miko becomes so desperate to beat Miki at track that she is willing to let a demon inhabit her body so she may utilize its power to beat Miki in a race. What Miko learns is that this new power to defeat her rival only amplifies her true internal demons. Beating Miki wouldn’t solve her problems, and so Miko turns to Miki’s love and support for guidance and is willing, by the finale, to change herself to make a sacrifice showing a life well lived. Then she dies. Then Miki dies. And I’m left wondering what it was all for. This incredible character transformation is overshadowed by the saint vs demon narrative you’re supposed to be invested in. This is why we, the audience, are ultimately let down.
The story shoots itself in the foot for not understanding what is interesting about itself. As I mentioned, the Akira, Miki, and Ryo you meet in episode one are the exact same characters to come out in the finale, save for a few aesthetic reveals. They’re the ones we’re forced to follow though their tales have nothing worth relating to. This realization plunged me out of the trance I was in, and my enjoyment for the show plummeted. The finale is meant to be an ultimate surprise, but by that point, I didn’t care. When everyone was finally sacrificed to make Satan feel bad for going too far, I was less than impressed.
All character arcs, regardless of quality or direction, are rendered unimportant because everyone meets the same fate. Their deaths all lead to nothingness, which leaves me wondering why I’m to believe their actions while living mean something. At this point I’m thinking about the worthless sacrifice of Miko for Miki. But the relationship between Ryo learning about his love for Akira is what we’re forced to endure. The relationship between the two main characters is one no sane person can relate to. I felt only emptiness by the end of the show. The concepts are interesting if you’re willing to severely suspend logic and disbeliefs. I wasn’t. I was frustrated and unfulfilled by the end. This is not a story about humans – which could have ultimately been successfully. No, this is a story about devils. I recommend it to anyone willing to take on the burden of understanding what nihilism truly means.