Devilman and What Modern Horror Feels Like

In January 2017, Devilman/Crybaby was an anime released to hit reviews from critics and audiences. The anime is based on the manga of its similar name Devilman, a superhero horror manga from the early 1970s. Go Nagai’s manga itself broke new ground for horror manga at the time and is possibly one of the more influential stories at that time, without Devilman many stories like Berserk, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Parasyte wouldn’t have existed in the Japanese comic scene. The original story was born from Toei Animation approaching Go Nagai and asking for a toned down version of his previous story Demon Lord Dante. What was created was the horror story of Devilman many fans of the medium knows and loves.

Devilman as a story is very interesting, throughout its publication history the manga has had several different adaptations all with very different imagery throughout. In 1972, an adaption of the manga simply named Devilman was released and ran with 39 episodes in total. Nothing was particularly amazing about the original anime besides the Devilman theme song that followed the adaptations for decades. The 70s anime just acted like every other superhero anime at the time despite the very striking themes of the story, some even could say that the 1972 adaptation filled you with hope while the manga filled you with a deep dread due to how drastically different the themes of the stories are. However, with the original anime and multiple OVAs the story was never adapted to completion. It wasn’t until Devilman/Crybaby when the full story was adapted though with its own changes to the source material. 

Being released on Netflix, it was hailed by some fans as Netflix’s best show at the time and it shows. The anime however was met with some controversy with its usage of sex, gore, and religion, some often not understanding that it was there for a single reason. The entire story of Devilman/Crybaby uses its tools and foundations to tell a tale filled with dread and sorrow so what exactly is that tale? What is Devilman/Crybaby trying to say to its viewer with all of its imagery?

Devilman Crybaby | Science SARU

A massive detail with Devilman/Crybaby and its previous adaptations is the idea of humanity and how it acts towards war and serious emotional world struggles. Go Nagai uses Satanism in a way that pushes this anti-war mindset and dives deep into the human mindset, the anime tends to press somewhat harder into this with the usage of modern rebellious imagery and scenes with sex, gore, rebellious music, and excessive swearing. Those who can’t fully see the idea of the story creates a mindset where the viewer might feel that the characters or story are ‘edgy’ or ‘unsettling’ when there’s always been something underneath that sheen of ferocity.

When modernizing Devilman/Crybaby, the story opted for pressing harder into a modern rebellious mindset with the simple addition of social media and how that single-handedly controls the public during times of stress and terror, this being explored the most in the latter episodes of the mini series. The bigger push into the social media aspect of horror is what makes Crybaby stand out the most from the original. The original story took place in the 1970s meaning the deep dives into modern culture suffered from one thing that Crybaby may even experience in the future, the change of technology and morality. 

Some remarks that come with adapting classic horror and manga as a whole is the problem of modernization. Many individuals argue the addition of technology doesn’t work with older stories, however the powerful usage of social media or the internet as a whole can be used in horror and Devilman/Crybaby helps with that mindset. Another good example of how social media can be used well in horror are films like Unfriended or last year’s Host, but Devilman/Crybaby does something different from either of those stories.

This particular usage of social media enters into a deeper idea of humanity and moral panic. During one of the more emotional scenes of the series, we see what people are saying about demons on social media and the visible difference of how one of the story’s main characters, Miki Makimura, function in the world and environment. Stories like Devilman exist to paint a picture of humanity, sometimes in a positive light or sometimes in a cynical outlook. Human expression and behavior is one of the most striking features an individual has. Although we’re shown that Demons are evil, there are many times in the series that show a mirror to the view and what’s left of humanity in the story. 

There are many arguments towards gore and violence in the Horror genre, many believe it is used too much and often muddies the intended vision. The series has the big three in terms of typical horror, sex, gore, and drugs which helps discuss the  deeper implications when it comes to the humans of the story. In the story, there are multiple scenes where demons brutalize and mutilate humans and sometimes other demons which includes a mixed mindset with human/demon hybrids much like the main protagonist, Akira. 

Devilman Crybaby | Science SARU

Human behavior, change, and the sheer idea of love is what pushes this story to be what it is. The whole point of Devilman/Crybaby is to push and move forward or, in some circumstances,  even change and get demonic abilities. Akira, the main character, is one of the many true heroes of the story due to how he is a ‘crybaby,’ he is kind and innocent even though he becomes half demon, this can be the complete opposite to many other hybrid heroes because other characters want to become a demon out of sheer power or curiosity which pushes them to a state of trying to understand whether or not they’re in the wrong.

Devilman’s story of religious mythology and what’s on the table with gaining sudden power can be unbelievably cynical and dark, it can feel absolutely empty or destructive, the anime’s ending expresses this emotion strongly, however, what it truly pushes into is love. The protagonist sees the good in people, the world, and even in certain demons.  In the end of Devilman/Crybaby what you truly see is a dark ending but it’s the ending of someone, a god even, realizing that he was loved too and you end on someone feeling true emotion for the first time. 

One of the many reasons Akira Fudo is such a compelling protagonist is due to him having a mindset on humanity so compassionate and willing that he changed the world and in some ways, even Hell. This is why Devilman/Crybaby is one of the most striking story modernizations yet.

Piper Whitaker

Born in the southern regions of America, Piper Whitaker (she/her) grew up with a deep love of horror in comic books and manga as a child and puts their love and deep analysis into writing about them.