There’s nothing wrong with narratives that focus on the darkness of humanity. We’ve done some pretty awful things throughout the years and continue to do so now. Frankly, it would be absurd to act as if humanity is nothing but good. One of my favorite stories in anime is Hunter x Hunter’s Chimera Ant arc since it so expertly captures the way in which humans are capable of great atrocities by comparing us to another species.
At the same time, when you write these stories it’s really easy to fall into a sort of edgy nihilism that ignores all of humanity’s good p oints. It’s certainly true that humans are often monsters. But to act as if humans are solely monsters, totally incapable of being anything more, is frankly worse than assuming we’re all good. It fosters an attitude of callousness and apathy which is neither productive nor wise.
I came into Devilman Crybaby expecting that sort of edgy nihilism. After all, I’d heard that it was basically all about humanity being no better than the demons. I was quite surprised to see that the show totally rejected this toxic ideology, especially since many people outright called the show nihilistic before I saw it. While it’s certainly up for interpretation, I believe that Crybaby actually makes a lot of strong points about human nature without totally abandoning any hope in humanity and it does this in a few ways.
First, the show definitively rejects the ‘might makes right’ attitude. Throughout the series, the principal difference between Akira and Ryo is their feelings on the weak. From the opening scene, Ryo believes that the weak are better off being left to die. While Akira becomes strong after his transformation into a Devilman, he continues to have empathy for others, demonstrated by the fact that he continues to cry over strangers’ tragedies. Even after basically giving up on humanity, he never does so because they’re weak. To the end, he believes that the strong do not deserve dominance, even now that he himself is strong.
Of course, given that Akira dies, you could argue that his stance was ultimately a failure and that might really does make right. This would be an overly simplistic reading though. The truth of the matter is that Ryo ends up alone in the end, with neither humanity nor demonkind by his side and it’s at that point when he truly regrets everything. If the strong are to defeat the weak, then the strongest will be left alone, despairing the decisions they have made. Ryo’s ideology worked in a certain sense; as Satan, he was the strongest and the weaker ones, including Akira, did not survive. But it didn’t work as an actual ideology for human beings with a heart to follow. The point of all this is clear: reject the idea that the weak should not survive and extend compassion to those who need it. Doing so will leave you with more people to care about.
Another area in which Crybaby rejects this ‘edgy nihilism’ is in its actual approach to human kindness. Don’t get me wrong, humanity is pretty thoroughly awful in this, but it isn’t the universal evil that people seem to believe. Plenty of human characters are shown to be great, such as Miki and her family or most of the rappers. There are many small moments of compassion in between all the violence. Most important though is the hugging Devilman scene.
While I understand that people could see this scene as out of place, I believe it did an excellent job of showing how humanity is, if not worth saving, at least close. It’s true that this scene comes just before the horrific murder of Miki, but that doesn’t invalidate what it has to say. It shows that, even if human kindness wasn’t enough here, where things had already devolved to the point of genocide, it’s still present and could’ve perhaps helped had it been shown earlier. People were tricked into this situation. What that demonstrates is that humanity is certainly capable of being swayed towards evil but it can also be swayed towards good. Miki and Akira’s actions here didn’t work, but they came close, and that says something about humanity in itself. A species truly incapable of empathy would’ve never hugged Akira in the first place.
The final thing that shows Crybaby’s rejection of this idea is the difference between the demons and the Devilmen. The demons are all pretty explicitly evil. They caused this whole mayhem in the first place and we’re never given any reason to sympathize with even a single one of them, barring Ryo himself.
The Devilmen, on the other hand, are mostly good. It’s true that they’re not all perfect people but ultimately they’re demonstrated to be the sympathetic counterpart to the demons. Even Koda, the sole Devilman who works with demons, is given sympathy in a way that the demons themselves aren’t. Given that they exist because they’re demons who kept their humanity, this pretty clearly proves that humanity can be good. They were all brought to Akira because of Miki’s call, showing that while her actions eventually led to her death, they were able to help him in wiping out the demons. If humanity really was just as bad as the demons, the Devilmen never would’ve shown the compassion and emotion that they clearly display.
Crybaby’s ultimate thesis is this: humans are weak creatures, capable of great evil. We can be deceived into doing awful things and often just go along with the flow, allowing the heinous to act as they wish. But we are not only that. We also possess compassion and righteousness, feelings which we can absolutely use when given the chance. We might be monsters, but we’re not demons.
It’s Ryo’s inability to understand love and compassion which leads to his ultimate solitude. His ideology ultimately left him totally alone and without Akira, the one person he truly loved. Humans made bad decisions in Crybaby and it led to their destruction, but the ultimate mistake was Ryo’s decision to do all of this in the first place. Humans might’ve destroyed themselves but ironically, if Ryo had been more human, our species may have survived.
There’s no comfort to be found in the ideology of violence, in the hyper-masculinity that Devilman seems to display. It only breeds anger and distrust. War ruins us, and in many ways makes us into demons, but peace is always a possibility. It failed here, but that doesn’t mean it has to fail everywhere. It’s that opportunity for compassion which separates us from the demons. In the real world, we can easily fall into the depravity of Crybaby, but we can also stop before its too late.
I’m not all that into extreme portrayals of sex and violence, and some of Crybaby’s decisions struck me as odd, but overall I enjoyed it much more than I expected. It rejected the trap that I feared it would fall into and that makes me really happy. I’m an optimist, but I see nothing wrong with a pessimistic work, something Crybaby absolutely is. But pessimism and defeatism aren’t the same things, and Crybaby never falls into defeatism, which is why I was able to enjoy it. It’s a show that had hope, no matter how slight, and I believe that’s valuable.
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