Tag Archives: Animation

CAPSULE: DEVILMAN CRYBABY (2018)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Griffin Burns,  Kyle McCarley, Cristina Vee, Cherami Leigh (English dub)

PLOT: High schoolers are being eaten by demons bent on conquering the world; crybaby Akira is convinced to merge with a devil in order to become a superhero and oppose them.

Still from Devilman Crybaby (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: We could rule it out simply due to format (TV miniseries rather than feature film). Even if we considered it as a longform movie, however, Devilman only distinguishes itself from other anime in its exceptional, often trippy, visuals. It’s simply not that weird, especially by the elevated standards of its baseline-strange genre.

COMMENTS: “Devilman Crybaby” begins with an androgynous blonde in a cosmic ball dropping onto earth, like an egg fertilizing a larger egg, then segues into protagonist Akira’s childhood flashback, where the young crybaby bawls over the fate of a wounded rat while his friend Ryo tries to euthanize it with a wicked box cutter. Years later, Ryo is a machine-pistol toting prodigy anthropology professor investigating a demon infestation who convinces Akira to serve as an experimental subject: he takes him to a “sabbath” party (basically, the world’s tightest rave) so the mild-mannered teen can be deliberately possessed by a demon. Director/animator Yuasa goes nuts at the orgy, giving us huge glowing wire sculptures, topless high school chicks lit in aqua gyrating like strippers on ecstasy, another topless girl passing out pills to everyone who enters the party, and in-the-open pansexual couplings everywhere. Then, things get weird: Ryo starts slashing random dancers with a broken champagne bottle because the party’s “too tame” and devils “love the smell of blood.” This somehow leads a (topless) girl to urinate (while keeping her panties on) while her boobs turn into a head-chomping tentacles, giant bugs and spikes burst out of other copulating teens, and Akira to turn into Baal as teenybopper heads and limbs fly around a party that suddenly looks like a high school massacre set in a neon cathedral. The last time you want to get possessed by a devil is when you’re peaking on acid at the club.

The orgiastic scenes and various mutant devil designs—including one who incorporates the lamenting heads of his victims into his torso—are the best part of “Devilman.” During breaks in the battles between Devilman and the monsters, Akira fantasizes (in explicit fanservice detail) over his surrogate sister (they grew up together in the same household, but are not related by blood). We also follow a subplot involving rapping teenagers. At times, “Devilman” alternates so much between awesome tentacle battles and Akira using his Devilman x-ray vision to check out pseudo-sis’ undies that it almost seems like a parody of anime conventions. You won’t be surprised at all by the identity of the main villain, but you might be a bit confused about how the Devilmen fit into the scheme.

Besides the standard angsty superhero tropes, there’s also a bit of genuinely weird stuff, some of it intentional (a bug-eating coach) and some of it unintentional (they expect us to buy that regional high school track and field meets are so popular in Japan that they pack Olympic stadiums for them?) The anime genre works according to its own internal conventions, and requires a heightened ability to suspend disbelief from its audience. In general, however, I thought the storyline (a reboot of a popular anime series by the legendary Go Nagai) was juvenile (in theme and form, not in its not-for-kids sex and violence) and beneath Yuasa’s talent. The characters are predictable types, if affectionately drawn, and the theme of human empathy is not particularly deep. It’s Yuasa’s next-level visuals, best displayed in the bacchanalia of Episode 1 and the apocalypse of Episode 10, that raise “Devilman” above its brethren. Even some of the minor sequences, like a minimalist nighttime drive in Ryo’s white sports car, with streetlights lights strobing by like regiment of precise fireflies in the side view mirror and windshield, are of superior design compared to the industry standard. Yuasa borrows a good deal of “exotic” Christian imagery, particularly the cross, horned devils, and a mangled eschatology (which has been a thing in anime ever since and pioneered it in the 1980s). The final episode features an twelve-winged “angel” riding a seven-headed dragon, weaponized rainbows, and other stuff that got left out of the Book of Revelation but would have looked really cool on an Iron Maiden album cover. Devotees of the style looking for action-oriented psychedelic thrills with a little teenage drama on the side will groove to it, but it’s not the best pool of anime goo for a newbie to dip his or her toe into.

“Devilman Crybaby” made a small splash as Netflix’s “first original anime” when it debuted in January 2018. Actually, it was only the first of twelve new original anime series (of a planned thirty) to roll out.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…for as grotesque as it regularly gets, Devilman Crybaby is bizarrely easy to love… a peak example of director Yuasa’s brand of balancing surrealist art and a real love for young people.”–Allegra Frank, Polygon

(This series was nominated for review by Benjamin Rubin, who asked “where else are you going to get psychosexual imagery, a mid-air fight scene that is also a sex scene, the end of the world, and of course, a gay hermaphroditic Satan who causes said end of the world, yet still remains a (slightly) sympathetic antagonist”? Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: VIOLENCE VOYAGER (2018)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Ujicha

FEATURING: Voices of Saki Fujita, Shigeo Takahashi, Naoki Tanaka, Naoki, Aoi Yûki

PLOT: Two young friends investigate a mysterious adventure park only to find that the friendly owner wants them for some particularly icky science.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The cartoon style alone, though not new, is singularly discombobulating. Unlike more typical examples (whether drawn or computer generated), the whole movie’s “animation” is more akin to a picture book with pop-ups and pull-tabs, with occasional doses of squirted liquids and couple of fiery scenes. Then there’s the story, pulled out from some terrible organic-horror closet, in which the young “park” visitors face violence and mutations that were made somehow more distressing by the color picture cardboard cut-outs that they’re made up of.

COMMENTS: My right-hand neighbor was at a loss for words after the screening; my left-hand neighbor immediately wanted to confirm just what it was he had seen. Me, I spent the better part of Violence Voyager with what might have appeared to be a quirky-quizzical expression. Ujicha’s “cartoon” is something that, somewhere inside my mind, I enjoyed, while at the same time leaving me at a total loss as to whom I might possibly recommend it. Before the screening I had had the forethought to write the review out-line. Now, stuck with the Comments to flesh out, I shall try to muddle on.

Bobby and Akkun are school chums who have a penchant for adventuring in the woods and mountains near their small Japanese village. Bobby, whose father is American, is out-going, eager to help, and always curious; Akkun is a local lad who might otherwise be a loner, and is quite loyal to Bobby. When the two come across a theme park—the titular “Violence Voyager”—Bobby is keen and Akkun is apprehensive. They are given an orientation video and suit up for what is pitched as a harmless adventure. But some way into their escapade, they encounter an unconscious girl, who upon awakening tells them she’s been stuck in the park for days. Further exploration leads them to a “Robot Graveyard” and other children. Eventually, a bird-beaked cyborg (?) creature subdues them and they are dragged to a subterranean lab.

It took some getting used to, but eventually the moving cardboard pseudo-animation seemed somehow real. It’s akin to how an imaginative child looking at story-book pictures might see them move. So there’s this simplicity and innocence established at the beginning, but then things start going Horribly Wrong. Disintegrating paper kids, icky ooze guns, and perhaps the most disgusting “mother” character I’ve ever seen utterly warp the naïve sentiments embodied in the visual style. Further hitting the viewer upside the head is the never-say-die chirpiness of Bobby, who is unflinching when faced with the array of mad scientist evil, robot-boy creepiness, and, again, whatever the heck that “mother” thing is supposed to be. As a bonus, the narrator intones at the end that Bobby’s struggles are just beginning, before assuring him, “Be strong, Bobby! You can do it, Bobby!”

Then the credits began to roll and I took at peek at my neighbors. Ultimately, the question has to be asked, did this work as a movie? Somehow, it did. However, the follow-up question is a tougher one: is this a movie that deserves to be seen? For that, I’m at a loss. Obviously I’ve seen it, others at Fantasia have. There was even laughter at the numerous, strangely comical bits. And it’s apparent a lot of work, thought, and artistry went into it. I mentioned earlier that I couldn’t think of anyone that I might recommend Violence Voyager to; there is one fellow, but he’s an odd one. So to anyone who feels that she or he might be an odd one, I dedicate this review and say: “Go ahead. Give it a look. (I practically dare you.)”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one hell of a trip into the mind of a madman… there is never a stretch of more than a few minutes where the audience isn’t confronted by something wholly original that they’ve never seen before.”–J Hurtado, Screen Anarchy