Devilman Crybaby, Made in Abyss and the essence of brutality

I normally don’t put spoiler warnings in my posts but given that Devilman Crybaby and Made in Abyss are new series I figured it was a worthwhile courtesy. I’ll be giving away major spoilers for both of these series so if that matters to you then don’t read onward. Do save this page to read after watching them, though!

Animation allows visionaries to put their imagination on a page. Be it fantastical, pseudo-realistic or an absolute hellscape, animation is capable of conveying the gamut of stories in ways that live-action might not be capable of. The only limitations placed on creators are external, be them decency laws or platform stipulations or appropriateness for a target audience. For example, you’ll never see blood in a Disney film or actual nudity in an anime’s television broadcast. So what happens when a looser-regulated platform like Netflix unhinges a studio from these shackles? Well… you get Devilman Crybaby.

One episode of Devilman Crybaby is all it takes for its flagrant sexuality and violence to bare itself. An unrelenting barrage of gore, breasts and demonic abominations, Devilman Crybaby makes full use of the freedom Netflix allows to display its depraved, often hedonistic world. In particular, the second half of this opening episode revolves entirely around the series’ also-ran protagonist Akira being transformed into the titular Devilman, tearing up demons in a satanic nightclub filled with gyrating naked bodies. No detail is spared in depicting the gory event. Every gut and butt is on full display. You could say the devil’s in the details; Devilman Crybaby is able to sell the brutality of its world by being free of sanitization but full of satan.

Masaaki Yuasa and his studio Science SARU keep up the unapologetic brashness of Devilman Crybaby through to its conclusion. Characters are fodder and can be killed or demonically corrupted at any moment. By the time the credits roll everyone has died, violently. The overarching metaphor for the folly of human nature has impact because we see disturbing imagery like Miki and the rappers decapitated and de-limbed, their body parts paraded around on spikes. As we see the characters get systematically eliminated it’s impossible not to feel ire towards the often-human perpetrators. However, this also has a numbing effect wherein we disassociate ourselves from them so as to prevent our own emotional turmoil. The cast become chess pieces in an author’s grand metaphorical scheme. Essentially, Devilman Crybaby uses brutality as a means to make a point rather than to elicit empathy for its characters.

Made in Abyss acts as a counter-study to these narrative philosophies. Rather than brazenly flaunting its brutality, Made in Abyss plays its cards sparingly so as to give these gut-wrenching bursts of violence maximum impact. The series spends its time developing the relationship between Riko and Reg, drawing out the viewer’s compassion as they set out on a heartfelt quest to descend The Abyss against impossible odds. While they come up against obstacles in the untamed wilderness in early episodes, they always have an out. This seismically changes in episode 10 when Riko is stabbed with lethal poison and dies for a short time. Riko bleeding profusely through her eyes and Reg attempting to hack off her arm to stem the poison is shocking in contrast to their cute character designs and the precedent set by the series thus far. The depiction of brutality has an impact on us because of how we feel about these characters.

To put it in other words: if you don’t care about Made in Abyss‘s characters then you may not be impacted by its brutal scenes, whereas even if you don’t care about Devilman Crybaby‘s characters there’s still a deeper meaning to be gained. There are benefits to both approaches. Made in Abyss is more intimate and immediate, the type of story that makes you feel like you’re on an adventure with the protagonists. This sense of closeness will leave viewers remembering the journey they (the viewer) took. Inversely, Devilman Crybaby‘s focus on metaphor gives the viewer a sense of distance from its beat-to-beat plot. It’s not that the series’ characters aren’t complex– in fact, the entire cast is well-written– but rather that they’re the medium through which the author is making a statement.

While I’d argue both of these series have relatable casts on paper, the way in which they’re brutalized is the key factor as to how much the average viewer actually relates to them. To use completely anecdotal evidence to support my claim, these are the community reactions I examined for these two series. When Made in Abyss‘ tenth episode aired, people lost their minds. Twitter and forums exploded with this sudden revelation of just how dark the series was willing to go, just how far it was willing to damage its characters. To this day, that and the Nanachi/Mitty flashback specifically come up when discussions of the series arise. The discourse around Devilman Crybaby has almost entirely revolved around metaphorical readings and the general depravity it displays. By constantly hitting that high note of graphic violence, our memories paint the series in broad strokes which in turn makes us reconsider it from a meta angle.

(It must be noted that part of this difference in reaction is likely due to the way the series were released: Made in Abyss was a simulcast whereas Devilman Crybaby was released as a batch. However, when Re:Life was released as a batch in 2016 people primarily reacted to specific character moments rather than themes or “broad strokes.” As such, we can infer that the way a story is released doesn’t fundamentally change the reactions people will have to it.)

My own opinions aside, both of these series achieve their intended goals. Devilman Crybaby‘s musings on humanity eerily mirror our own world at times, and Made in Abyss‘s titular cavernous wilds are as dangerous as its inhabitants claim. You could say that in the business of brutality, they’re… a cut above the rest.

14 thoughts on “Devilman Crybaby, Made in Abyss and the essence of brutality

  1. That last sentence has me shaking my head.

    But this was a great piece on how the brutality shown in Made in Abyss and its effect on the audience and story is so different compared to how it affected Devilman Crybaby. But like you said, the fact that Crybaby was released in a batch might have affected the general reactions.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I wonder how Crybaby’s brutality would be received if it did air weekly. Would it be too off putting or would the time between each episode help air out it out more?

    And the internet should just start charging you for the use of puns, good sir.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly, I would have probably enjoyed it less if it aired weekly. Outside of enjoying the act of watching something from beginning to end at my own leisure, the extended period of time between those last few episodes that were already a bit divisive for me might have made me disinterested. Without too much time to sit on the transition between episodes 9 and 10 I was able to power through and appreciate the metaphor even if I wasn’t so pleased with what they did with the characters, but with more time I think I’d have soured. I tried not to inject my own opinions into this piece but I’ll have another going up in due time about why I think a good story is more important than a good metaphor.


  3. I found Made in Abyss’ approach much more enjoyable. As you stated, we really come to care about its characters and this makes everything that happens to them more serious. Devilman on the other hand, though also having great characters that I liked, completely starts to disregard them by self-destructing at the end. It’s real shame since Yuasa’s other works (which I was constantly comparing Devilman to, even though that may not be fair) utilize their characters to the fullest, each leaving a memorable impression. Devilman is obsessed with its brutality, and while I loved all the unorthodox sexual depictions, we kinda get used to it, making some of the later scenes a lot less impactful. I can see a ‘happy ending’ for Devilman in which the characters are explored further work, but personally I can’t say how they would’ve had to go about it. Devilmans brutality was an enjoyable change of pace, but Made in Abyss is something that, months after watching it, I still think back on fondly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think you’re wrong about Devilman at all; the further you get in that show, the more “normal” the extremity of its depictions become. It feels so different out of the gate because other anime simply can’t go as far as it does in showing sexuality in particular. Yet— and yeah, I’m gonna go here— we live in an age where pornography has been one click away for over two decades. Society is increasingly desensitized and the way we respond to Devilman reflects that. It’s surprising given the medium but not really the contents per se.

      As for a happy ending, I’m not sure I’d really be asking for that particularly. That’s the difficult part if I were to prefer MiA’s approach to Devilman’s (which, personally, I do). I wouldn’t want to “water down” Devilman. At present I’m not quite sure exactly what I’d change in Devilman but it’s definitely something I’m thinking about. As it is, it’s a fine ending but definitely a numbing one insomuch as the part of the series I cared more about.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was just a bit disappointing to watch the show kill off all its characters one by one. This already started with Akira’s parents, who kinda came out of nowhere. Sure we’d already seen some flashbacks but I don’t think we knew enough to experience the same emotion Akira was going through when it happened. I’m not entirely sure how, but I would’ve loved to see an ending in which the characters somehow assist Akira in fixing things, however this would be a full 180 from the series’ metaphor. Though it’d still hold some merit. It’d show that while humanity is capable of destroying itself through hatred, it can also redeem itself through love.

        Liked by 1 person

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  7. Not related to your overal point, but how exactly is Devilman’s cast well written? Miki is a generic nice girl, Akira is a nice anime protag with a gimmick (crying) and his relationship with Ryo doesn’t even really make sense considering Ryo’s sociopathic tendencies. The cast is pretty simple, and I’d say underdeveloped, throughout. The only possible exceptions being Miko and Ryo.


  8. While I do think much of the core idea was preserved and well-executed on, I felt the themes and message behind the original manga of Devilman were conveyed a lot better and to much more shocking, hard-hitting effect (particularly near the end). But I’m not one to decry the adaptation for not being 1:1 with its source. In fact, I very much was in favour of a lot of the changes they made, including but not limited to: Masaaki Yuasa’s experimental art and animation style + techniques, condensing down some of the story beats, the music (god! my! oh! that music) and of course the rapping. Perhaps on re-watch I may be more favourable to it, though I do rate it quite highly, however my preference is definitely very much toward the manga.

    If the above comes across as barely relevant to this post… consider it punishment for that last line you made me read (though I secretly kinda liked it).


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