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Devilman Crybaby (2018)

He may not be one of the biggest names in English speaking anime and manga fandom, but Go Nagai is easily one of the most influential creators ever to come out of Japan. Devilman Crybaby is the first of several projects commissioned to celebrate Nagai's 50th year in the business, with new versions of his creations Mazinger Z and Cutie Honey also due later in 2018.

Devilman is one of Nagai's most iconic creations. It launched almost simultaneously as a manga and anime series in 1972, although the original TV series was considerably toned down. The character would return in OAVs in 1987, 1990,  and 2000, as well as in a live-action film. He (or his alter-ego Akira Fudo) would also crop up in cameos in multiple other Nagai works.

Crybaby sticks pretty closely to the original manga storyline which features the good-hearted Akira Fudo who becomes half-demon, in order to fight other demons. In the show's world, it is revealed that demons (or devils) have lived in the shadows since prehistoric times, and need to possess humans in order to take caporal form. Akira's childhood friend Ryo tricks him into merging with a powerful demon Amon, in the belief that his pure soul will allow him to retain control of his body while gaining demonic powers. Luckily, he's right, and Akira becomes Devilman- and his life is never the same again.

As Netflix's first true anime original (previous titles labelled as such were actually acquisitions) this is quite an audacious start. However, it has actually attracted more attention in English-speaking fandom less for its source material and more for the fact that it's directed by Masaaki Yuasa.

Yuasa and Nagai may seem like odd bedfellows, especially if your only experience of the director's works is something like Lu Over The Wall. However, it all gels much better than you might expect. At times, (usually in quieter moments) the series looks much more conventional than some of Yuasa's other works. The character designs are a softened, more modern looking version of Nagai's original art. At other times though Yuasa really lets loose, with some stunningly out there and grotesque imagery. It becomes clear that Yuasa's fluid style is perfectly suited for the show's demonic transformation scenes and other nightmarish, trippy visuals. There are other flourishes that are pure Yuasa, such as the unique way that characters run.

It's a remarkable thing this is getting released on such a high-profile platform, as this is assuredly not for everyone. On a purely aesthetic level, Yuasa's works tend to provoke extreme reactions on both sides attracting strong love and equally strong hate. And that's before you even get into the show's actual content. Those sensitive to the use of religious and demonic imagery will hopefully know to stay clear based on the show's name and premise alone, but this is not for the squeamish. Nagai's penchant for sex and violence is on full display here and Yuasa does not hold back on either count. The storytelling too has not had its rough edges softened. Screenwriter Ichiro Okouchi (Wolf's Rain, Turn A Gundam) updates the storyline to modern day, while remaining true to Nagai's bleak, hard-hitting original plot, twists at all. It's often not an easy watch, and the penultimate episode, in particular, has reportedly left many viewers reeling (with good cause).

While the script occasionally features some laughable dialogue, it's also a pretty smart show for the most part. The apocalyptic narrative can be read as a metaphor for puberty (Akira's overnight transformation being the metaphor at its least subtle). Despite, the show's frequently bombastic nature, it also treats its characters well, shedding light on even the minor ones and adding surprising depth.

Devilman Crybaby is a curious beast. Much like its central character, it combines elements together to create something that probably should not work, but somehow does. This strange hybrid of the old and the new, dark and light, East and West combine to create something the likes of which you will never have seen before. Assuming you've got the stomach for it, this is something which deserves to be seen.

FROM Netflix
10 Episodes 

IN A NUTSHELL: Masaaki Yuasa deftly resurrects a classic in visually spectacular, operatic style.