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.