The Significance of the Classic Anime Devilman in Devilman Crybaby

Devilman Crybaby made quite a splash when it was released earlier this year on Netflix, introducing Nagai Go’s classic series to a new generation of anime and manga fans. While there are stylistic differences stemming from both difference in era and the aesthetic of director Yuasa Masaaki, Devilman Crybaby is largely the same as the original 1972 Devilman manga at its core, showing that the series’s story of a human who uses demonic powers to fight other demons and its themes of human strength and ugliness are still culturally relevant.

While Devilman Crybaby is hardly the first adaptation, spin-off, or sequel, it does do one thing that most other Devilman works try to shy away from: it incorporates elements of the kid-friendly 1972 Devilman anime TV series. In that cartoon, Devilman is closer to a superhero than a brutal demon in appearance and demeanor. Even his theme song calls him a “hero of justice” while listing all of his special ability (Devil Wing, Devil Eye, Devil Beam, etc.).

It’s so different from every other iteration of Devilman, and Devilman Crybaby repeatedly uses it in such specific scenarios, that I believe TV anime Devilman has special significance in Crybaby beyond providing an addictive remix of the classic theme song, which can be found below.

Whenever that song, “Devilman no Uta” is used, there’s an element of innocence or human compassion attached. It’s often paired with an actual image of the TV anime Devilman himself, who shows up on television screens or on YouTube videos and the like. It’s especially prevalent in Ryo’s flashbacks, where a young and orphaned Ryo can be seen staring at the green, heroic Devilman on TV. Ryo appears to be drawn towards it.

There’s a third symbol too: Devilman’s actual design in Crybaby. Devilman adaptations tend to draw more from the manga than that old anime series, and this extends to the aesthetics of Devilman himself. In almost every version, Devilman feels more like a beast than a man, and Crybaby’s is generally no exception. However, there are times in Devilman Crybaby when Devilman himself feels more reminiscent of the “hero of justice.”

Devilman the character can be thought of as having two original strains—the Nagai manga original and the classic TV version—with different iterations veering towards one or the other. If a work wants to hint at a more hyper-violent Devilman, they portray him along the lines of the manga. If, however, it wants a cleaner and friendlier Devilman, then the TV version is the way to go. Crybaby Devilman strikes a very interesting middle ground. While he has the fur, the facial features, and the overall demonic appearance, he takes aesthetic elements from the TV version. Namely, he has those distinct stripes on his shoulders, and he’s often portrayed with a blue/greenish tint to his skin. It’s unclear if his skin is actually supposed to be green, or if the creative lighting of the series just makes it look that way, but there’s a clear commonality between Crybaby Devilman and TV Devilman, at least in part. What’s also noticeable is that the green skin seems to be most noticeable in scenes where Akira is trying to defend the innocent, like when he protects a group of innocent people from being stoned to death out of fear that those poor souls “might” be demons.

In other words, the incorporation of elements of the TV anime Devilman into Devilman Crybaby isn’t merely for referential purposes, or a clever wink and nod—It’s actually important to the themes and symbolism of the series. While Crybaby largely follows the plot of the original manga and not the TV anime, the presence of the superheroic Devilman is ongoing, and it hints at Akira’s inherent goodness. He struggles with himself and the devil inside, but Akira ultimately wants to fight for what’s right and just, whether his foes are human or demon. The old anime Devilman is who he aspires to be, even if he ultimately cannot live up to that ideal.

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“Jesus is Kind of Like a Buddha, Right?”

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

It is a somewhat common mistake to assume that Japan as a wholly foreign and alien culture despite events such as the influence of China on its development, the appearance of Commodore Perry, and various interactions with nations such as Portugal and the Netherlands. However, no matter where it comes from, Japan’s own history can be considered unique (and just about any culture or area can say the same), and there are certain implicit and assumed elements that can permeate Japanese culture.

I was asked by Johnny Trovato to address broadly the subject of how theological differences between Japan and countries with more of a Christian history affect how anime and manga are viewed. Truth be told, even though I’ve watched plenty of series which reference religion and spirituality such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Inari Kon Kon Koi Iroha, and Hermes: Winds of Love (don’t watch that last one), I’m not really an expert on the subject. I originally planned on tackling the subject from a fairly limited perspective, but fortunately I recently discovered a book called Holy Ghosts: The Christian Century in Modern Japanese Fiction by Rebecca Sutter. While it’s not quite on the subject of Japanese religions and beliefs, it did help me to realize an aspect of Japanese culture, media, and literature that I believe sheds a bit of light on how religious beliefs are used in anime and manga.

One of the more major lessons I took away from reading Holy Ghosts is that Japan has historically approached religion in a rather pragmatic way. Shintoist, Buddhist, and Confucian beliefs exist together in Japan, but only as far as they’re convenient. When Portuguese Jesuits arrived in Japan and sought to convert its people, not only did the Japanese sometimes interpret Jesus as a kind of “Buddha” that conformed to their own polytheistic views, but many of the daimyo who converted did so because the Portuguese also sold firearms. Spirituality exists, but it has existed to to serve the people, rather than having people be absolutely beholden to one or more gods. Even the idea of the Emperor as god was a response to the prominence of other religious beliefs being used as tools to control territory.

To take what is probably too big of a leap into the present day, I think we can still see this tendency at work when it comes to the utilization of religious aspects in anime. Evangelion famously features Christian imagery and mythology mainly as a way to provide something fairly exotic to Japanese viewers, while Spirited Away is just as much about encouraging young people to rediscover nature regardless of overt spirituality. This, I believe, is where a good deal of the confusion or dissonance might lie when it comes to how people in the United States and other traditionally Christian cultures interact with anime. Of course, not every person who lives in those countries is necessarily religious, and there has been plenty of media that plays fast and loose with the Bible, from Bruce Almighty to Teen Angel (I still love that show, by the way), but often there’s some kind of counter-play with the assumption that many people know at least the basics of Christianity and that there are plenty who firmly believe in its tenets.

I’m going to use two examples of media, one from the US, and one from Japan. Xena: Warrior Princess was a popular show when it aired. Having begun as a spinoff of Hercules: The Legendary Journey, it at first focused mainly on ancient Greece and the presence of Greek Gods. Eventually though, they decided to branch off and include Christianity in the show. Xena meets both David and Jesus, and any historian would probably tell you that it makes no sense. It didn’t matter in the show itself to a certain degree, but it was directly up against the value of Christianity in the US, and how accurate or (intentionally inaccurate) a work it was factored into how it was perceived.

Now contrast this with Devilman, the story of a teenager who gains the power of a devil so that he can fight other demons. Its creator, Nagai Go, stated that he designed Devilman to resemble a bat, even though that’s not quite the imagery people in countries more familiar with the idea of Satan and Hell would utilize. Eventually Satan himself appears, and he turns out to be a hermaphrodite because Lucifer has been described in some texts as being as such. However, the main value of Lucifer’s dual-gender appearance is visceral shock, and Devilman as a whole didn’t have to take into account how much its readers would be going to church every Sunday. Devilman, if I recall correctly, also mixes in various spiritual beliefs including Japanese ones, and it all effectively works to (on a somewhat pragmatic level) help the story along.

The idea that religion isn’t this overwhelmingly powerful subject in Japanese culture and society isn’t necessarily shared by all who live there, of course, but I think there’s a lot in the old adage that says, in Japan, you have a Shinto birth, a Christian wedding, and a Buddhist funeral. That synthesis of beliefs and the ability to mold them into whatever you want defies the idea of religion as this overwhelming, monolithic thing that cannot ever be altered, and anime and manga are proof of that.

Operation Bring Devil Curry to the World

So it turns out that one of my favorite places in the world to eat, Go Go Curry, is teaming up with legendary manga creator Nagai Go to create a new super spicy curry. Called “Devil Curry” in honor of the 40th anniversary of Devilman, it is going to be a permanent fixture on the Japanese Go Go Curry menu.

These days, however, Go Go Curry is international, with stores in New York and Singapore. I know I want Devil Curry where I live, and for those of you who feel that Go Go Curry, while good, isn’t quite spicy enough, I’m sure you’d like to try it out too. The only choice then is to campaign for the international release of Devil Curry.

Every time you go to a Go Go Curry, tell them you heard about Devil Curry and want to have it on the menu.

For the times you’re not near a Go Go Curry, they also have twitter accounts: GOGO_CURRY and GOGOCURRYUSA

The only concern I have is that it might end up losing its Devilman connotations upon going abroad. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The Mathematics of Anime

Wildarmsheero recently linked me to an old interview with Sadamoto Yoshiyuki, character designer of Evangelion, where he describes Eva as being what would happen “if you add “Ideon” and “Devilman” together and divide by two.” A surprisingly accurate description when I actually think about that.

That brought my attention to a Post-Eva mecha show, RahXephon, which can in a similar fashion be described as the average of Evangelion and the old 70s Sunrise anime Reideen (not to be confused with the 2007 version or Chouja Reideen from the 90s).

Going by those statements, we come to the following conclusion:

RahXephon = (Ideon + Devilman + 2Reideen)/4

Anime, ladies and gentlemen.