Devilman Crybaby is Masaaki Yuasa’s latest directorial series with his animation studio, Science SARU. This 10-episode anime is about Akira Fudou- initially, a shy, overly-empathetic highschooler who cries for the sorrow of others- who merges with the demon Amon and becomes a Devilman through the persuasion of his prodigious childhood friend Ryo. The story of Devilman Crybaby follows him, Ryo, Miki, Miko and the rappers in the neighborhood, as they witness their everyday lives change, as demons suddenly appear on the streets, looking to take over the world and the throw civilization into their own hellhole through chaotic acts of demonic debauchery.

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But the story doesn’t even comprise half of the watching experience for me. There are the thematic elements of, for instance, how humans are scarily similar to demons when push comes to shove and that we are all Devilmen. Hell, there’s also some (though it seemed kind of heavy-handed to me) social commentary on how people are always quick to judge on appearances in episode 5- a topic we don’t see discussed in anime a lot.

The visual department takes a big slice of the cake with those trademark Yuasa free-flow animation cuts, the sharply color-coordinated sexually explicit titillation- often getting amped up to an exploitative level- and the splatterfest-y gore that tonally bend the otherwise emotional storytelling of the anime. On the surface level throughout most of its runtime, the anime is an edgy nihilistic teenager’s wet dream (aka mine).

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Emotional storytelling in a nihilistic nightmare? Well.. yeah. Yuasa, in an interview, mentions that he set out to tell the story, in the midst of all the tits, butts and spilled guts, of how love really matters by the end. Yuasa aimed to make Ryo the character that starts and ends the story, with Akira, Miki, and Miko serving as the emotional core of the series. Among different narrative and thematic devices like social media and rap, track running became an apparently strong one at the chaotic tail end of the series.

Now that the 350-word introduction is done, let’s talk about running in Devilman Crybaby.

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In the first episode- after the introductory narration from Ryo, the first look into the present world is a practice track run in Akira’s high school. The run itself doesn’t lend the audience any character narrative- obviously- but rather introduces the audience to the characters. But the fact that the high school track is the setting where the characters are introduced say that running is a pretty important thematic groundwork in the anime.

But the talk about running doesn’t stop in the first episode, while Ryo drives Akira to the Sabbath, he poses a question- “Why do you run?… The human ability of movement can never reach those of dogs, cats, or birds. Weapons and vehicles are what bring out the abilities of humans.” Akira doesn’t have an answer to that. This is the moment where it is revealed that Ryo doesn’t really have everything figured out, he is still asking questions. Questions that a normal human doesn’t ask themselves openly.

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Why do we run, indeed? Everyone has their own reason, and so do the characters in the anime.

Akira runs because “It’s what you do on the track”. His answer isn’t really surprising and actually fits his character- he is someone who follows his heart rather than what he thinks is rational. Akira emotes for others than think about himself. In fact, the question also pops up when Akira was trying to get away from a demon in the Sabbath- really never got a straight answer and instead (kind of) agreed with Ryo and subconsciously wanted to surpass human capabilities at that moment by becoming a demon… ok, that’s enough of me jabbering.

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Miko runs for a more textured form of reasons. Initially, it seems like she has a rivalry with Miki where she hopes to one day be as fast as her. As the series progresses, her emotions get muddied and her rivalry turns into jealousy as she realizes that no matter how much she practices, she may never outrun Miki. This (primarily) catalyzes her transforming into a demon. But by the end, after an honest conversation with Miki, she finds the most complete answer to why she runs: love and admiration for Miki fuel her, she has already beat Miki in terms of time on the track but it didn’t give her the satisfaction she wanted.

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The question of “Why do you run?” doesn’t come up, at least directly, again until the end of episode 9 where Miki runs from the mob, she barely outruns the vehicle but she can’t outrun bullets. As a slow-motion montage of people running plays, Miki explains that she just can’t point to a reason, it’s just that she gets a feeling of progress as she runs- she thinks that by running, she can get the world to change even by a little. Miki runs to reaffirm her hope for progress. Even then, as she ran from the witch-hunting mob, she holds onto hope and belief, she believes that Akira will make things better again. I think that this part of the 9th episode really made Miki the best-written character from the rest.

Now a red baton shows up on screen.

In the same interview that I linked before, Yuasa mentions the intertwined nature of his character narratives:

…Besides Akira and Ryo’s story, the character I felt I had to get right was Miki. Why is Akira so attached to Miki, and where does her hope come from? And building on that, why does Ryo come to love Akira? What is it that Ryo takes away from meeting Akira and Miki? I set out to show just how the emotions of these three intertwine… (from Buzzfeed Japan, translated by Sakugabooru)

 

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The passing of the baton can be seen as a way that Yuasa and Ichiro Okuchi (the screenwriter for the series) wrote about the intertwining of emotions from the four characters: Akira, Ryo, Miki, and Miko. In episode 10, there is a pretty long and loopy animation cut which hammers in that aspect of character narration. As Akira fights Ryo in the midst of the apocalypse, that looped animation plays as in-between cuts where the baton passes from Miko to Miki, which symbolizes the dependence of Miko on Miki as a role model through love and admiration. The baton is then passed to Akira, showing that Miki puts her trust in Akira when the situation gets dire. Akira then proceeds to pass the baton to Ryo who drops it on the ground- indicating Ryo’s indifference to human emotions. But by the end, the baton does reach Ryo… by then, it’s too late. Ryo never ran, he never thought he needed to, he never got his question answered. Instead, he felt pain from Akira’s death.

So demons and humans both have emotions. They both run, it’s just that demons are faster.

The goal of this post wasn’t to show that Devilman Crybaby has some thoroughly solid thematic framework that intertwines seamlessly with its character narrative. Admittedly, the anime gets inconsistent and clumsy in its presentation of the themes and character development at several points in its runtime. Rather, I just wanted to share my appreciation for one of the ways Yuasa and the crew tried to put an emotional core to the story in the midst of all the brisk-paced ultraviolent, hypersexual demonic splatterfest. And I would say they did a good job.

Oh wait, how can I end this post about running without sharing my favorite meme from January 2018?

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Ugandan Knuckles who?

Actually, I could end this post without that.

Thanks for reading and I will see you next year with another clumsily-written post.