Devilman Crybaby wasn’t my favorite show. In fact, about a year after its release, I was surprised to find that I gave it a 6/10 on MyAnimeList.net. I must have been somewhat underwhelmed upon finishing it. After all, I wouldn’t call it a show with an incredibly satisfying ending. But it was an ending appropriate of the source material it was adapting.
Go Nagai’s Devilman taps into the darkest reaches of the human condition and juxtaposes it with the horrors of demonic monstrosities. The story tells of the end of days; the brutal end to an imperfect race consumed by sin, depravity, and hatred. Masaaki Yuasa’s vision of the story modernized the doom and gloom, creating a unique series with far more of an international appeal than many anime.
It had issues, to be sure. The abundance of Engrish lessened the impact of big narrative moments and certain characterizations paled in comparison to previous adaptations. The animation – while lively – could be laughable at times, teamed with some inconsistent artwork that I could take or leave. Despite all that though, I think I was too harsh on this series. I came to that conclusion when I reflected on one scene which has stuck with me to this day.
[Spoilers for Devilman Crybaby]
In episode nine, things are at their lowest point. By this point, people know that devils exist and paranoia is constant. It seems like everyone knows a “devil” whether or not they are actually a devil. Akira Fudo continues to fight to try and convince humans that devils are not evil.
Akira stands between a mob and a group of humans tied to pillars being stoned. He doesn’t attack, but simply pleads to them to stop hurting humans and to attack only him. At a certain point, after the mob begins targeting their aggression at him, a child amongst the mob stops and runs to Devilman, embracing him. Soon, more children follow suit. By the time tensions die down even the rest of the mob embrace him as well, either with apologies or thanks. They even bring down the people who they had tied up.
This scene probably sticks out to most people, but this isn’t the scene I’m talking about. It’s a smaller part of a much larger moment. The above-described scene is interwoven into a montage of events all focused on one powerful moment: the moment that Miki Makimura goes online to defend Akira.
While the world seems to burn around them, Miki finds herself in her room with only her computer. She introduces herself and explains that Akira Fudo, who had just been outed as a devil by his once-friend Ryo, is her family. She has no qualms stating any of this, even though it makes her a target of a global witch-hunt.
She goes on to speak to Akira’s character and what makes him more human than most people in her life, even as his body has altered. Miki tells the world that Akira has always cared for others and cried for their pain; about how his empathy and strength are something that everyone should strive towards.
“If more people in the world were like Akira, I think everyone would be happy.”
As the scene switches between Akira’s taking a stand against the mob and those reading Miki’s message around the world, text covers the screen. Just as quickly as we see Miki’s message take form, we see its reception. As if the director Yuasa’s intent to make his series worldwide wasn’t clear enough, the hateful vitriol appears in English as well as Japanese, Arabic, French, etc. It reads like any comment section anywhere.
She ends her message with a proclamation of her belief that peace is possible if everyone believes in it. She would accept anyone with a heart like Akira’s, regardless of whether they are human or demon. The responses are about as expected until a single message catches Miki’s eye.
“I’m a Devilman, too”
More and more, people start coming out as devilmen. As much as they are a minority, the weight of their statements sticks. This scene shows the very best and the very worst of humanity in its full splendor through a modern and depressingly nuanced lens. And it is fleeting. By the end of that same episode, Miki and her friends have been murdered and humanity’s fate is all but sealed. The story is over and all that’s left is to see the fire burn out in the final episode.
The parallels between this scene and coming out of the closet as a member of the LGBT community are fairly obvious to anyone who thinks to look. As a gay man myself, the scene becomes more poignant as time goes on.
Going into my junior year of high school, I finally had accepted that I was gay and that I always had bee. It was a long road to reach that realization but when I did, it felt freeing… until that one morning. I woke up and realized that as far as I knew, I was the only one in the world who knew I was gay and the feeling that my family didn’t know was tearing at me.
The same day that I realized this was the same day that I came out to my parents and my older sister. Fate must have played a trick on me because as my parents would tell me later that day, they had talked about whether I was gay just the previous night. My sister had no idea and her friends still find it hilarious that they all suspected it before she even knew.
I harbor no illusions about the privilege of the story I’ve just abridged into two paragraphs. The fact that my family was accepting of me is a miracle of which I am blessed, even in a mostly democratic state like Illinois. Even most of the gay guys I know in this state have at least one parent whom they believe would not respond well. That fear is real and it’s important that I not forget how lucky I am compared to others like me.
So in a show about everyone on Earth freaking the fuck out over the presence of demons and letting paranoia back up every stigma and superstition about the “other”, the prospect of coming out into that world is horrifying. But even in that hell, there was a brief moment where people felt courageous enough to not hide who they were.
The fact that the story didn’t end happily doesn’t change how impactful that is. It sends the same message that it would have without acknowledgment of that interpretation. Before I ever considered the parallel to my own sexual identity, I thought the ending was depressing for all the reasons everyone else did. The difference is that now instead of simply empathizing with a concept, I’m relating to it.
Stories like this, whether or not the subtext is intentional, are approachable to wide audiences without drawing direct comparisons. X-Men is another pop-culture touchstone that appeals to a lot of people and also speaks to people in the LGBT community because of subtext. A bunch of individuals who feel they have to hide who they are because the world thinks their existence is wrong. It’s about troubled youth finding their place amongst their kind and fighting for an equal world.
People are often afraid of being “preached to” unless it’s a message they already subscribe to. In a divisive time, we are wary of anything with an “agenda.” Stories that touch on feminism or equality nowadays make even well-meaning open-minded people skeptical when they are very up-front.
The reaction that someone has to a message which is topical in a politically divisive time may be strongly negative because it is asking us to consider value systems that we are conditioned to attribute to a certain type of person. A certain kind of conservative, a certain kind of feminist, etc.
A strong reaction – even a negative one – isn’t bad. After all, the point of art is to breed discussion. Right now there is a lot of media which is commenting on life in a way that some find uncomfortable because it’s reminding us of things that we either hate or have been told to hate. We are having all of the feelings we should have when consuming art, but not often enough are we asking ourselves why we feel that way.
In the short term, more radical media that draws immediate attention to divisive concepts is natural and necessary to further a discussion. However, in the long term, I think we’ll always need stories like Devilman which parallel real-world issues through a fictitious context.
None of this is to suggest that I’m content with the hiding away of sexuality or real-world subjects. For one thing, I’m always down for more gay characters in media. For another, I’m a lover of political thrillers that convey real-world events at the heart of major turning points in history. To that end, integral to the meaning of the subtext in shows like Devilman is the discussion. It requires people to come out and express what parts of film or TV they saw themselves in and why.
Someone who watched Devilman Crybaby may have enjoyed it or hated it without ever considering the subtext or its relation to being queer. That is totally alright. Hell, I didn’t consider it this deeply either until just a few weeks ago. So why does it matter to someone who can’t relate? Because it allows us a chance to see the art we already love or hate in a new light.
One of my favorite shows of all time is Snow White with the Red Hair, or Akagami no Shirayukihime. It’s a colorful, feel-good story with an inspiring main character and a love story that feels nuanced despite its fantasy setting. I’d always thought that it could be argued to be a kick-ass work of feminist fiction, but recently I began to appreciate it a little bit more.
For a show lacking sexual material, and one that is certainly apolitical, Shirayukihime can still present relatable parallels. From the beginning of the series, Shirayuki’s unusually bright red hair is drawn attention to. It is what draws the eye of the dastardly prince Raji, what makes her the target of a lord fallen-from-grace, and it’s addressed many other times besides that.
I rewatched episode two, where Mihaya, the aforementioned fallen lord, kidnaps her and tells her he plans to sell her. The situation alone is uncomfortable and sets an imaginative mind alight with all of the terrible implications, but the show specifies that her hair is what will catch a good price.
The hair could be symbolic of any number of things, but consider it what it is as a plot device: a reduction of Shirayuki’s worth down to the physical. It is objectification that acted as the trigger for her quest in the first place. A prince wanted her because of her unique hair, and she said fuck that. Alone, this interpretation of mine is but a sliver of what makes the show interesting. The bulk of my love (and assumedly most viewers’) comes from how Shirayuki overcomes the obstacles in front of her without adopting a stereotypically male role.
She isn’t violent, but won’t sit idly and wait for rescue. She is intelligent and pursues what is within her reach and power, a scope that seems limitless the further the story goes. Hell, almost every antagonist in the series at some point ends up reforming and becoming friends with her. The show is great because of the likable and inspiring characters throughout. Looking at the subtext through the lens of feminism helps one to appreciate the kind of impact a story like this would have on people who we can’t relate to.
The point that I have been meandering closer and closer to is thus: be thankful for the opportunity to hear and witness stories from people of different walks of life. Because even if you can’t relate to a story, you can at least empathize with it. Rest assured, I’m going to continue to write with the intent of expressing why these animated shows and films mean what they do to me.
Because I’m a Devilman too.
Devilman Crybaby is available for legal streaming through Netflix.
Snow White with the Red Hair is available for legal streaming and home video release through Funimation.
A friend of mine on twitter once said that sometimes imperfect shows have perfect moments and I couldn’t contain all my thoughts on this scene any longer. I hope you enjoyed the read and I implore you to leave a comment telling me what you thought.
This is my last post of 2019. I will be taking December off to work on fiction writing, but I will be back in the new year with an assortment of new projects that I can’t wait to share with you all.
Thank you very much for reading and I’ll see you all in 2020!