This post is very spoiler heavy for both Devilman Crybaby and Tokyo Ghoul. You have been warned.
First it was PewDiePie. Then it was akidearest. And after that The Anime Man and Gigguk also boarded the hype train for “Devilman Crybaby.” So I watched it last night with hubby and after being so amped up for it… It fell short. Really short.
The first two episodes were difficult to watch. It felt like the anime was trying to make up for its lack of an original plot by being edgy. While, for the most part, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the art style, it did keep the graphic sexual scenes from becoming completely impossible to watch. The sex scenes aren’t the “sexposition” type in “Game of Thrones” and they aren’t meant to be arousing. They are meant to disgust you. Disgusted I was and if it weren’t for the hype, I would have stopped watching after the second episode.
“Tokyo Ghoul” explored very similar themes and, in my humble opinion, did it better than “Devilman Crybaby” in almost every single way. The sad thing is, even with all its religious references “Devilman Crybaby” just didn’t go as deep as “Tokyo Ghoul.”
The Root of All Evil
In “Devilman Crybaby,” the devils possess humans at the raves. These parties are dubbed “Sabbath” gatherings, which can be interpreted as a strictly ironic name, but can also be understood as the height of a kind of hedonistic cultural belief that casual sex and drugs is as close as people can come to reaching the divine on earth. This suggests that society at large abandoned religion and traditional spirituality and was instead embracing an artificial, chemically induced kind of religious experience that was focused solely on bodily pleasures. In fact, the only religious characters we see are Miki and her family, who are ill-equipped in the face of pure malevolence; they are so out of touch with the mindset of the general populace that it is no wonder they all die.
Miko is another character whose physical desires corrupt her. She hates Miki for being a faster runner than her. She believes the people around her only value her due to her connection with Miki (which is somewhat true). Miko loses herself spiritually and thinks she must reclaim her identity as the true “Miki” by proving herself to be the physical superior of the two. Miko derives her worth from her body, so it makes sense that she allows Nagasaki to take lewd photos of her while Miki does not.
At the rave, Ryo breaks a bottle and starts attacking people to make the devils appear and begin possessing people, further driving home the point that evil manifests when people operate purely as animals. While Akira had agreed to become possessed to defeat other devils, he remains a good character because he retains his empathy and love for others. This is what sets him apart from Ryo and the other devils; Ryo doesn’t believe in love and has no compassion. On the other hand, Akira does not want to sacrifice those at the rave for the sake of the greater good. Akira becomes a “devilman” somewhat against his will after his body was contaminated (he is forced to drink some alcoholic beverage and swallows some other drug, most likely ecstasy).
In “Tokyo Ghoul,” Kaneki becoming a ghoul is somewhat similar. Kaneki is socially a bit awkward and very innocent. He is attacked by the ghoul Rize on their first “date” (ghouls survive by eating human flesh). Rize dies from steel beams falling on her and the doctor who saves Kaneki decides he’s going to transplant Rize’s kidney into Kaneki to save his life. Like Akira, Kaneki’s body becomes contaminated. However, Akira goes in with his eyes open while Kaneki is blindsided. They both become hybrids; half monster, half human.
In “Devilman Crybaby” the existence of evil in the world is demonstrated to be a lack of compassion for others and surrendering to physical desires. In “Tokyo Ghoul,” the origin of evil is not nearly as straightforward. The existence of ghouls is never explained. Yet, we see characters who take their condition as ghouls in different ways, and their choices of how they manage their urge to eat flesh show their differing moral standards. On one end of the spectrum is the gourmet, who makes a spectacle of finding the best tasting people and eating them, and on the other end are characters like Hinami, who is just a child, and Yoshimura, who takes in wayward ghouls and helps them blend into human society. “Devilman Crybaby” introduces the devils as having a predisposition toward evil. In fact, Silene briefly comments on the sexual depravity of the devils and flippantly asks why they should resist their urges, a point that is never brought up again. Only Akira has overcome those urges and influences others to follow suit. The characters lack depth and immediately flip from evil to good. “Tokyo Ghoul,” by contrast, shows that people (and ghouls) all have the ability to be evil and most only choose to do what they believe to be necessary, though some will go out of their way to cultivate their evil tendencies.
The Price of War
“Devilman Crybaby” and “Tokyo Ghoul” both end with all-out warfare between the “monsters” and the humans. However, the battles begin and end very differently. In the beginning, Kaneki and Akira’s bodies are invaded by evil forces, but Kaneki, who was completely innocent and did not consent to what was happening to him, must recover and almost died from the experience. Akira, on the other hand, knew what he was getting into and actively tries to grapple with the evil in the world and use it to his advantage. (This is the difference between Bilbo stumbling upon the ring and Elrond thinking he can wield the power of the ring without being corrupted, though this does not seem to factor into why Akira ultimately dies while Kaneki lives.)
Side-note: Kaneki is simply more developed than Akira. After Akira becomes a devilman, his personality does not change. Kaneki, however, radically changes as a result of Jason’s torture. Before his encounter with Jason, Kaneki struggles to exist as a ghoul, being too conflicted to eat. After being tortured, he embraces the power that comes from being a ghoul and puts himself on the front lines, eating other ghouls to become stronger, so that he can protect the people he cares about. (I would say this is similar to Frodo using the ring to hide from enemies when he needs to.)
Akira and Kaneki both position themselves as leaders against the “true monsters” they face for the same reason: they both want to protect those they care about. However, the line between good and evil is less clear in “Tokyo Ghoul” than in “Devilman Crybaby.” In “Tokyo Ghoul,” the ghouls that Yoshimura brings together at Anteiku (a coffee shop) regard each other as a family. The viewer sees them as the good guys and they are the ones that end up being attacked by humans – not Aogiri, the ghouls that do not attempt to live peacefully among humans. In other words, the final war is between two sets of people that the viewer believes to be good. The humans are retaliating against all of the innocent people that have died and the Anteiku family are fighting for their right to exist. This is what makes the final battle so heartbreaking.
Conversely, in “Devilman Crybaby,” the final battle still feels like a war between good and evil. As stated previously, the only devils who reclaim their humanity are the ones approached by Akira. Plus, the only human death the viewer really cares about is Miki’s. Sure, the circumstances of Miki’s family’s deaths are quite sad, but it was the situation that was sad, not the loss of any beloved character. Ultimately, there was Ryo/Lucifer, his band of devils, versus the humans, who were misguided but good for the most part.
Both shows have that one human character that is basically Jesus/completely pure and is almost killed for knowing too much fairly early on in the series. In “Tokyo Ghoul,” Hide represents everything that is good and innocent. I don’t think this needs to be explained if you have seen the anime. During the final battle, he is wounded trying to save humanity, of course, at Anteiku: where good and evil meet, literally and figuratively. We don’t know for sure if he dies in the anime but he sure looks dead.
Miki is the sacrificial lamb in “Devilman Crybaby.” While the deaths of Hide and Miki symbolized the inability of the good guys to protect the innocent from the evil of the world, the ending of “Devilman Crybaby” is much more nihilistic. While Hide dies because he inserted himself into the fray (which, perhaps, is inevitable in its own way), Miki has no chance whatsoever. Miki is hunted down by humans because she announced to the humans that Akira is a devilman and that not all the devils are evil. Humanity didn’t want to believe her and just wanted to silence her. People already referred to her as a witch because of how fast she was at running. Both humans and devils wanted her dead and the vast majority of the good guys died trying to protect her.
The final battle in “Tokyo Ghoul” is a purge. The wrongs of the past are wiped out and the survivors have a chance to rebuild and learn from the past. The final battle of “Devilman Crybaby” is the end of the world. Good cannot compete with the destructive nature of evil. Not only does the symbolic representation of good die, but then its strongest defender, Akira, dies as well. Lucifer regrets killing Akira but there is nothing to be done. God finally steps in and destroys the world. Really, though, the world seems to have already been destroyed by the time God pokes his nose in.
While “Tokyo Ghoul” is a cautionary tale that exemplifies the dangers of embracing the evil within and not looking for the good in others, “Devilman Crybaby” laments the unavoidable destruction of all that is good in the world. “Tokyo Ghoul” is a story of hope and “Devilman Crybaby” is a story of mankind imploding due its lack of humanity.