Devilman: Crybaby establishes a very simple dichotomy of good (people) and evil (demons) very early in its first episode, but by the end of that same episode we know that something isn’t quite right with that. To get the demons to reveal themselves, creepy white boy deuteragonist Ryo Asuka drags protagonist Akira to a drug-fuelled sex party and proceeds to stab as many people there as he can. Drawn to the adrenaline rush of violence, lust and fear, demons start to possess and merge with the party-goers;the bloodbath intensifies until everyone attending is either dead, demon, or Ryo, including sweet little crybaby Akira, who gets possessed by a demon and goes berserk himself. Unlike other demons, though, Akira is special. His initial outburst aside, he’s quite in control of his new, considerably powerful form.
For the first few episodes, this is what he hears from Ryo: Akira is uniquely special, a devilman, with a human heart that overcame the demon possessing him and can use its power to fight off the other demons—provided he acts exclusively on Ryo’s advice, of course. This is the basic status quo for the first half of the show.
Everything changes when Akira meets Koda, a track-star Ryo points out as a demon hiding among people… until Akira spends most of an episode near him and realizes that he’s not alone: Koda, too, is a devilman, a person just trying to get by in life with his demonic otherness. Yeah, he’s a bit of an opportunistic pr*ck, as it turns out, but he’s human in every way it matters.. Right?
Now that the preamble is over, well, what’s the point in all of this? Akira’s realization that other devilmen exist occurs tragically late. In fact, it occurs simultaneously to Ryo’s plan to unveil the existence of demons and create a divine war against them… and here’s where things start to get really messy. In the ensuing chaos, we find that many human beings driven to despair as their lives come undone show nothing but the same primal violent instincts that characterized the demons: not only does Akira now have to differentiate between demons that aren’t pure evil (the devilmen like himself and Koda) , but also humans that are.
In the series climax, an angry mob tears through heroine (and Akira’s best friend/closest confidant) Miki’s home and kills her, along with several of their friends. When Akira returns and finds the mob parading their heads around on sticks, he understandably loses it, and turns the mob to ash in his rage. This scene led me to one of the more interesting anime discussions I’ve had in the last year, and is what inspired this post in the first place, way back in January 2018: my friend @TheSubtleDoctor (follow him on twitter, listen to his podcast Warui Deshou, read his posts for Wave Motion Cannon, he’s a good noodle) posited that in this act, by accepting that not everyone deserves to be saved, Akira forsakes his own humanity. I disagree.
The war for the Earth quickly transcends the lines of species and races and in Devilman:Crybaby, so it’s actions that quite swiftly determine what side you are on. Some Devilmen (like the aforementioned Koda) choose to fight with the physically superior Demons and join them on their path of destruction; some humans reduce themselves to nothing more than their basest instincts and turn on other defenseless humans. On the other side are those who believe humanity as a whole is worth saving. Their forms may not be exactly humanoid, but they stand fighting for a world in which people can live and thrive. They choose to be human. In their violence and their demonic forms, they can look similar to the aggressors, but can you really equate them?
To me, that equation rings false. In fighting back against the demonic assault and the humans that turn their backs on humanity, Akira and the devilmen he leads are taking an important step that, if anything, they should have taken sooner: not tolerating the intolerant. One might argue that the decision to fight back only led to mutual destruction, but if you look at what the show actually presents, it’s clear that the humans had no real choice to avoid destruction. For the humans, it’s more a question of dying on your knees, cowering in fear and hoping that for some reason the people who are intent on killing you don’t do so, or fighting and trying to be the reason the people who are intent on killing you can’t do so. If you don’t fight back, there is no hope. By taking up the fight, Akira becomes hope.
In our real world, there is a frightening amount of people who simply don’t care what happens to everyone else outside of their immediate interest. They will condemn thousands, nay, millions of people to death for some temporary personal gain. Ryo Asuka represents these worldviews surprisingly truthfully in Devilman: Crybaby. If left unchecked, these people will make our world uninhabitable for human life, and like Ryo, they won’t care at all until the consequences of their actions start delivering the corpses of their loved ones to their door. By the time they have regrets we’ll all be too dead for their regrets to do any good. Faced with this threat, I want to be human. Faced with this threat, I want to live my life with hope. And I’d rather die fighting for a world worth living in than roll over and die in one that isn’t.