Devilman Crybaby Detox: How to Survive the Withdrawal Stage (Haters Welcome)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the new year, then you’ll recognize Devilman Crybaby as the Netflix darling that started it all. “It all,” meaning a new kind of anime wave made purely for Western audiences. Meaning, there’s none of the nuance your typical anime might usually have, although you’ll find the absence is more than made up for with a whole lotta gore.
Anime’s savior or anime’s downfall? Some meaning to the excess or another clear case of style over substance? The best thing to come out of Japan in recent memory or trash that wasn’t worth the hype? The internet is full of these conversations and because the show’s extreme nature demands that you pick a side, it’ll be hard to find anyone who was just okay with Devilman.
Personally, I dug Devilman and I think I’d watch it ten more times if I could. But we’re not here to talk about that or why I think you should all agree with me. There are way too many articles and video reviews out there that already get the job done and they’re probably all way better-written than this anyway.
What you’ll get instead, is a list of other things you can also check out whether you liked the series or not. Didn’t think Devilman was all that? That’s okay. Think Devilman was just misunderstood? Even better. Here, you’ll find a short break-down of the things that made Devilman the series it is, then the closest thing I figured would give you – stan or crazy stalker – a better alternative.
Some ground rules before we begin:
- No recommending director Masaaki Yuasa’s other works, because that would be cheating.
- No recommending stuff like Evangelion or Berserk, because they’re clear about their Devilman influences and that would be cheating too.
- No recommending other Devilman works (OVA, manga, earlier series), because – no duh – that would be cheating. But because the Devilman OVA English dub is so infamous, that it’s become mandatory viewing, I’m leaving the link here.
There was a lot to love about Devilman, but my ultra-favorite part of the whole thing was the hip-hop. That’s a biased opinion, of course – my favorite part about everything will always be the hip-hop. And because Devilman had a lot of hip-hop, it’s safe to say I became committed to it the minute the first bars started to drop. My relationship with the film Tokyo Tribe wasn’t any different.
The film, released in 2014, was directed by Sion Sono. You’ll know him for his absurd, WTF style of comedy, which you can see in his other films like Strange Circus, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, and Love Exposure. Tokyo Tribe, based on a cult manga and anime series, is a hip-hop musical, and honestly, that’s all you really need to know about it.
Like Devilman, the hip-hop used in the film is the stuff that gives it heart. Unlike other series that might shove the music off to the side, Tokyo Tribe and Devilman both give hip-hop its due by putting it in the spotlight. Instead of getting stuck with mood-setting duties, hip-hop has been given a more active role as Chief Storyteller and a character that’s completely its own. The MCs in Devilman are easily memorable because of this, and without them, the show would lose half its personality.
Hip-hop artists have always been viewed as street poets, where they start resembling the Greek story-tellers of old whenever they get together and jam around a burning trash bin. With hip-hop, artists are free to perform whenever, wherever. When all you need’s a beat and a couple of bars, it’s not that hard to assume hip-hop’s the real music genre of the people. In Devilman – and in real life too, actually – hip-hop is the medium through which the characters vent their frustrations about the world, society, and the way things are run. While some key things often go unsaid in Devilman, it’s the MCs who give you a crucial minute to see things from the perspective of the small humans caught in the middle of the great devil war. With its hip-hop soundtrack, Devilman is able to keep some things pure, and it’s something that becomes obvious when one of the MCs drops a whole freestyled verse for a girl he’s crushing on.
In Tokyo Tribe, the use of hip-hop is not so nuanced, although it’s got its beats and rhymes wired all the way to 11. But don’t be fooled by the posturing macho swag. In Tokyo Tribe, the clichés and stereotypes are there for a reason. The real cool part about the movie is how nothing ever really stops, which, in truth, is how hip-hop is really supposed to be. In the film, things just happen and flow, but that’s all cool, because you’ll be bobbing your head to the DJ’s spins in no time.
Incidentally, rapper Young Dais stars in both productions – he’s the main character Kai in Tokyo Tribe, and Kukun, aka Cool Bro Dreads, in Devilman. You’ll be glad to know he plays a nice guy in both projects.
It’s easy to forget how old Devilman really is, since its tropes and story look so simple from the onset. At first, there’s nothing so impressive about its story or characters. There’s Akira, the obvious good guy with a heart of gold and supernatural abilities. There’s Ryou, the obvious bad guy with a hidden motive and a clear soft spot for his best friend. They’re pals, but because both lead characters are so different from each other, you know things are bound to go to hell soon. They do, eventually, but that’s only after the show gets you invested that you’ll be absolutely gutted by the time shit hits the fan. No matter how twisted the plot gets, it’s this central conflict that will keep the story grounded until the end.
If you thought Evangelion and Berserk were bad enough, wait ‘till you hear where they got their inspirations from. That’s right – if you’ve seen this kind of plot play out in anime before, then it’s most likely taken some pages from Devilman’s Hell-summoning manual. With its manga and original anime series coming out in the early 1970’s, it’s easy to see how the franchise paved the way for darker stories in such an innocent-looking medium.
You could accuse Tekkonkinkreet of virtually the same thing, especially since its two main characters don’t have to put in a lot of effort to make the contrast more pronounced than it already is. Directed by Michael Arias and released in 2006, Tekkonkinkreet is based on Taiyo Matsumoto’s manga, and tells the story of brothers Black and White. The setting is a mythical, dirty city named Treasure Town, and despite the tough life here, it’s up to both siblings to protect it from the yakuza who want to take over. From here, it’s easy to play spot the difference with Devilman: two protagonists, two moralities, two ways of doing the same thing. Yet, through it all, the two manage to stay as tight as anything – until, of course, the proverbial you-know-what hits the you-know-where.
Much like Devilman, it’s this contrast that gives Tekkonkinkreet its bone and structure. Unlike Devilman, you might find Tekkonkinkreet comes with a little more substance and a lot more conflict to play with. Where Devilman’s conflict is all about doing the morally-good thing to save the world, Tekkonkinkreet tells a more complex tale. Here, the conflict gets a lot deeper because of the brothers’ incredibly strong bond with themselves and the city. If Devilman’s conflict left you hanging, then Tekkonkinkreet should give you all the gray shades you need – and then some.
On a semi-related note, Tekkonkinkreet author Taiyo Matsumoto would go on to write another manga series titled Ping Pong – the animated version of which was directed by Devilman director Masaaki Yuasa.
Ancient anime adage dictates that if it’s excess you want, it’s Redline you’ll get. Like Devilman, this film is more known for its excessive use of well… everything. In both projects, it’s the wild, dynamic art and soundtrack that serve as their nutrients and blood, flowing through their veins to keep them going. Devilman has its disco-themed, techno house beats; Redline has its dubstep-infused, deeply fat bass thumps. Pair those with animation that leaps out of the screen and you have yourself a definite winner.
Devilman deals with the classic angel/demon conflict and the impact human vices have on the world. Redline takes on what’s possibly the greatest space race ever inked on paper, complete with fancy hot rods, eccentric drivers, and hot babes with unbelievable body proportions. Give these ideas the exaggerated technicals they deserve, and if the audience remembers the project for its story, then that’s just a bonus.
The unique animation style does a lot more for these films than you realize. Because their attitudes are so extreme, it’s understandable how the creators didn’t want to let these unrealistic concepts go to waste with mediocre productions. Thanks to this, the characters’ humanity and simple natures get emphasized in their own ways. Does that make sense?
To my mind, the more exaggerated everything is, the more simplistic your characters’ motivations get. This can’t be blamed on a complete lack of effort on the producers’ part. Because everyone is so focused on making the show look as fantastic as possible, you can almost forgive them for letting the plot development suffer to make way for groundbreaking technical work. It’s no excuse, but it’s an understandable sacrifice to make.
This is why the show might compensate by getting to the real, raw truth of things. This means the plot and the characters’ motivations might not be as complex as you’d expect. There might be some gray areas attached to their conflict, but things will still get split into the simplistic black and whites in the end. Depending on the writing, this gamble could either pay off or end up ruining the whole show altogether. Think about it: if the characters’ emotions are so simple that they can be easily described in a couple of lines, then this gives the creators more chances to go all-in on those feelings. In this case, it’s the show’s extremes that give it air and allow it to breathe. If Akira’s going to be sad about something, or if Ryou wants to be evil, then the show’s going to make sure you’re going to get the full scope of those emotions. This is why, when things blow up, they really do blow up.
On the other hand, Redline isn’t as complex as this and clearly falls short of any expectations you could have for its story. Everything about it is simple and it doesn’t take a lot of analyzing power to get to its nuts and bolts.
But it is jaw-droppingly awesome. No matter the complaints about its shallow or simple nature, there’s really nothing you can say against its technicals. It’s like that old anime adage says: who needs complicated backstories when you can get space races in high-definition, amirite?
Like it or hate it, sing its praises or condemn it ‘till your dying breath, you have to admit Devilman was a real jolt of energy for what counts as mainstream anime for Western viewers. While it pushed the envelope and bypassed a lot of the censors, Devilman’s basic set-up makes it a good entry-level watch for anime newcomers.
This is why the last recommendation of the list is something that’s so unlike Devilman – not immediately, anyway. Mononoke isn’t something you’d call popular, nor is it the groundbreaking sort of thing Devilman ended up becoming. What it is, however, is a cult show for a niche fanbase. It’s different in how quiet and patient it is, compared to Devilman’s raging energy and impulse. At the same time, Mononoke gets its shine from its stellar technicals. Like Devilman, Mononoke wouldn’t be half the show it is without its creative canvas-like visuals and oriental-inspired soundtrack.
Mononoke stars a Medicine Seller as its main character, and little is known about him, save for his profession. A man deeply in-tune with the supernatural and the other dark ways the world might work, the Medicine Seller spends his days taking care of the mononoke – otherworldly beings born from the dark feelings humans keep in their hearts. Although it’s more Mushishi than anything, Mononoke is well-known for its more dynamic approach to its subject matter. The average story plays out the same way a detective story would, where the Medicine Seller investigates each supernatural case by interviewing the witnesses attached to the incident. From here, he’s able to get to the bottom of each case by uncovering the grim secrets that gave life to the mononoke.
While it’s different from Devilman in a lot of ways, Mononoke’s similarities with it lie in the more important aspects. Both series dared to be different and it was this intent that allowed them to give new life to the medium. In a way, you can consider both to be the pulse the medium might need, even if Mononoke is so deeply rooted in Eastern beliefs and traditions, that it didn’t exactly click with a greater audience. While so externally different from each other, these two shows at least remained committed to their inherent desires to give something new to their audiences.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re looking for another different kind of series that tests the boundaries of the animated medium, then you could consider giving Mononoke a shot. And if you enjoyed the other works mentioned here and the ideals they represent – hip-hop, the time-old conflict between good and evil, and the excessive technicals – then it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to revisit Devilman Crybaby and enjoy it for the weird, passionate, flawed schlock it is.
And that was just about that funky post-Naruto run thing they do. Wait ‘till you see what the rest of the show is like.
Devilman Crybaby Detox: How to Survive the Withdrawal Stage (Haters Welcome)
Can't seem to scratch the itch Devilman Crybaby left behind? Whether you loved it or cursed the day it was birthed, here's a bunch of other things...
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