How ‘Devilman Crybaby’ Subverts the Tropes it Helped Create

Lucas DeRuyter
TV Anime
TV Anime Streaming Netflix

The Netflix original anime Devilman Crybaby is unlike any other anime in recent memory. Based on Go Nagai’s 1972 manga Devilman, Devilman Crybaby follows the same general plot of the manga, but adds a collection of new characters, plot points, and story beats. While these additions help improve the series’ pacing, characters, and dramatic tension, it also casts a critical eye on the tropes that the original manga helped popularize.

The meta and subversive moments in Devilman Crybaby highlight some of the problematic ways the anime industry handles fanservice, sex, and sexuality. The Devilman manga helped introduce and establish some of this more mature content and themes to manga and anime, and there are now hundreds of series that handle such material in a wide variety of ways. It’s appropriate, then, that Devilman Crybaby casts a critical eye on such content and presents its mature themes in such a thoughtful manner.

Warning: this article contains some light spoilers and touches on graphic, mature content.

The Manga and What it Inspired

The beginning of adult manga and anime.

The original Devilman manga is as weird as it is brilliant. It was one of the first manga to feature sex, graphic violence, a queer romance, and an overall nihilistic story and ending. It was basically one of the first really popular ‘adult’ manga. With the passage of time, the manga is now a bit schlockier than when it released – there’s a fight involving eyebrows becoming weapons – however, the Devilman manga is still a great read and played a pivotal role in broadening the kinds of stories manga can tell.

However, Devilman’s success and impact on the industry had some negative effects on the industry as well. The Devilman manga in many ways is a starting point for the trends that have lead to many of the problematic elements in the anime an manga industry today, like the voyeuristic sexualization of young and very underage girls and the addition of sexual elements to stories that are completely unrelated to those themes.

Instead of simply adapting its source material and leaving those tropes unchanged, Netflix’s Devilman Crybaby chooses to subvert the mature elements in a way that calls out the frustrating elements of the anime and manga industry.

Critiquing Fanservice

Calling out the practice and mentality behind the practice.

In episode three of Devilman Crybaby, the main female character, Miki – a high school-aged track star with a large social media following – is shown bathing with her breasts and butt fully displayed. However, as opposed to simply being alone in her home like in the manga, in the Netflix version, she is unknowingly photographed by members of the paparazzi through a large one-way mirror. These people intend to sell the photos online and profit from images of a naked, underage girl.

This scene in the anime subverts the fanservice from the manga and makes a statement about how scummy fanservice can be in anime. While the characters photographing an underage girl without her knowledge are clearly villains in the show, the scene lingers on them long enough for a viewer to realize that they’re doing the same thing. This scene makes a viewer feel bad about viewing this kind of fanservice and highlights just how terrible it is when done in this voyeuristic way.

Taking the Power Away from Sexual Content

Removing the idea and allure of the taboo.

There is a lot of explicitly sexual content in Devilman Crybaby. While at first, it can seem pandering and unmotivated, the graphic sex quickly becomes comical due to its ridiculous and over-the-top presence. Perhaps the most extreme example of this comes in the second episode when the main character, Akira watches pornography projected onto a large screen in his school’s A/V room with the sound blaring.

Often in media, and especially anime, sex and people’s desire to have it are taboo subjects, and depicting those concepts makes a program more mature or edgy. So, it’s refreshing to see Devilman Crybaby feature this content without patting itself on the back for doing the same. It depicts sexual content humorously and as just another part of life for the characters.

LGBTQ+ Representation and Sexuality

Ahead of the industry by leaps and bounds.

While the medium of anime and manga are no strangers to depicting LGBTQ+ characters and relationships, either these relationships are the major focus of the story or the characters are depicted with clichés and stereotypes. That’s why when Devilman Crybaby features multiple well-rounded queer characters and same-sex sexual imagery with the same matter-of-factness as that of heterosexual sexual acts, it feels groundbreaking.

It’s also great to see the show use sexuality to explore characters, rather than define them. In episode five, the audience is lead to believe that Akira’s extreme horniness is due to his demonic powers corrupting him. However, by the end of the episode, the anime implie that this behavior is instead a means for Akira to cope with the recent death of his absent parents. Not only does this development subvert the promiscuous and hypersexual tough-guy trope, but it is also a fantastic example of enhancing a character’s motivations and identity through their sexuality.

Devilman Crybaby is a compelling anime full of stunning, one-of-a-kind visuals, a fascinating yet nihilistic story, and gorgeous action scenes. However, its efforts to subvert and criticize longstanding problematic trends that the Devilman manga helped establish in the ’70s elevates this anime to greatness.

The Netflix anime series feels so fresh and original because it’s willing to abandon and criticize the unfortunate tropes that most anime shows adhere to. Hopefully, creators are inspired by the boldness of this series and create their own unique and insightful stories that continue to challenge norms in the anime and manga industry.

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Lucas DeRuyter
University of Wisconsin Madison graduate with a deep interest in media, writing, and storytelling.
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