By Madeline Febinger
“Devilman Crybaby” tells the story of Akira Fudo, a meek high school boy who becomes possessed by a demon and gains superhuman powers. This anime, released as a Netflix original series on Jan. 5, is a remake of the original 1972 “Devilman” manga by author and artist Go Nagai.
One afternoon, Akira finds his friend Miki being harassed by thugs on a dock in a scene that features freestyle rap. Even in the English dub version, the freestyle raps throughout the series are mostly kept in Japanese. The raps have a strong rhythm to them that go beyond the expectations for music in anime.
The scene becomes even more chaotic when Akira’s childhood friend, Ryo Asuka, mysteriously appears in a white coat with a gun. Although they’re the same age, Ryo has become a professor while Akira is still in high school. From his first dramatic appearance saving Akira and Miki, Ryo becomes arguably the most intriguing character.
As Ryo tells Akira that demons are hiding in society disguised as regular people, they form a plan to expose the existence of demons to the rest of the world. They infiltrate a Sabbath party, a popular kind of party associated with Satanism, knowing that demons are commonly found there. Ryo knows that demons won’t show unless there’s violence, and without hesitation, starts stabbing partygoers at random.
Ryo’s attempt is successful, and the demons make an explosive entrance with their striking and vibrant character designs. To Akira’s surprise, Ryo asks the demon Amon to possess Akira in an unexpected twist.
While the anime is cliché up to this point, this scene is memorable and sets the premise for the first appearance of Devilman, Akira’s demonic alter ego. Akira, weak and afraid, is shown running from a huge, menacing demon. The screen turns black, and all of a sudden, in bright red, we see a new Akira, stronger than before. Instead of losing complete control to the demon, Akira becomes a demon with a human heart, or a Devilman. As a powerful song plays in the background, the Devilman becomes a hero who is able to fight back against the other demons.
The plight of the protagonist is complemented by a striking subplot with strong female leads, like the witch of track and field, Miki Makimura. While Miki finds fame as the star of the track team without the help of demons, her friend Miko can’t keep up. Eventually, Miko fuses with a demon out of jealousy. Since it’s common for female characters in anime to exist only as romantic interests for the male characters, it was refreshing to see women with strong characterization and ambitions of their own.
One weakness of the anime is that it’s only 10 episodes — the characters could have seen more development if it were longer. Still, for the short amount of time there is to learn about the characters, it’s easy to get attached to them.
As the plot progresses, humanity learns about the existence of demons and the paranoia leads to apocalyptic chaos. The beautifully animated battle scenes are just as important as the more emotional scenes that deal with themes of love, trust and what it means to be human. Although the concept initially seems cliché, the dark tone and unexpected ending make it a thrilling watch until the end.