Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. As a disclaimer, the article also contains some graphic nudity.
So there’s these curious differences between multiple versions of a story that can tell you a few things about the era about when they were first told. These differences can manifest in even the most throw-away of details. As a related example, A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun are not only shows that share the same fictional universe. The events that take place in these shows also run concurrently with each other timeline-wise. The perspectives of their respective protagonists, Touma Kamijo and Mikoto Misaka, converge together toward the same events before diverging to cover different ones. Between these two shows though, there’s a continuity error. It’s an little error that doesn’t meaningfully alter their narrative contents in any drastic way, plot-wise.
In the second season of A Certain Magical Index, Touma uses a flip phone, depicted in the image above. He uses a smartphone after the events of the image below (aka after the SisterS arc). In the second season A Certain Scientific Railgun, he uses a smart phone (aka during the SisterS arc).
Using some logical deduction and quick historical digging, this little detail of different phones can reveal to knowledgable and attentive audiences a rough date of when these shows first aired. Flip phones were developed before smart phones. They were popular where I lived before smart phones overtook them in sales and ownership numbers. I also used to have a flip phone before I switched to using a smart phone. The second season of Index (2010-2011) is older than the second season of Railgun (2013). Railgun likely featured Touma using a smart phone over a flip phone because smart phones were more commonly used in Japan by that point. Flip phones were still widely used in Japan over the smart phone when Index first illustrated Touma using a flip phone.
If these anime adaptations of Index and Railgun could communicate that much information about when they were animated based on that little error, what could the less throw-away aspects of different story adaptations of an iconic Devilman scene and set of characters tell us about different moments in time?
I’ll be discussing the original Devilman (1972-1973) manga , the Devilman G (2012-2014) manga, and the Devilman Crybaby (2018) anime.
The Summoning of Demons and the Rise of Devilman
The context in which Akira Fudo is possessed by a demon and becomes the titular Devilman diverge between the original Devilman and Devilman G. The original Devilman has the man-devil manifest in the midst of an underground orgy-turned-bloodbath. In contrast, Devilman G has Devilman appear as the result of an school occult club ritual. Devilman Crybaby largely adapts this scene faithfully from the original Devilman — with some additional contemporizing touches.
The original Devilman’s demon summoning scene is referred to in the manga as the “Black Sabbath.” It is an underground rave teeming with sex, drugs, and all other kinds of decadence and debauchery. The event and even the name itself draws from the sacrilegious event of the Witch’s Sabbath. The Witch’s Sabbath is a term used to describe a Christian phantasmagoria of pagan devilry: twisted and lurid tales of men and women fornicating en mass, desecrating crosses, and otherwise doing every sinful thing in the Christian book. Devilman Crybaby is a faithful, if more embellished, adaptation of the original Devilman’s attempt at invoking the image of this stereotypically un-Christian mythos: a hedonistic orgy giving rise to demented and demonic violence, the moonlit outline of a cross looming overhead. The rave and everything that takes place in it violation of the sanctity of an abandoned Christian chapel.
But given that this coven of sex, drugs, and all manners of decadence and debauchery occurred in the context of an underground rave, the original Devilman’s “Black Sabbath” also draws clear inspiration from the youth rebelliousness and sexual permissiveness of the 1960s and 70s. Truth be told, there’s serious dispute among historians as to whether these Witch’s Sabbaths ever actually occurred. Given the exacting specificity in Witch’s Sabbaths of people doing every sinful thing in the Christian book, including desecrating crosses (because of course they were), it’s more likely that they were inventions by Christian inquisitors and witch-hunters meant to scare out suspected heretics and heathen-undesirables. In a parallel fashion, the conservative reaction to youthful protest and profligance in the 1960s and 70s exaggerated the debasing image of the underground rave to discourage young people from questioning things and indulging themselves.
Underground raves also have a history of associating and juxtaposing their wild gatherings with provocative icons and rituals of pagan worship. Occult magic and rituals incorporate similar strange and striking imagery in their performance. Add demons and copious amounts of gore and violence, and you have two different paranormal set-ups for Devilman.
In contrast to the original Devilman’s “Black Sabbath” underground rave, Devilman G inaugurates the threat of demons and the rise of Devilman with the school occult club ritual gone horribly, horribly wrong. Devilman G and the original Devilman seem to have been created with different audiences in mind: those folks who knew about the first underground raves when they were on the rage, and those folks who possess more contemporary otaku tastes. The stock image of clubs at school researching the occult out of geeky curiosity didn’t become a commonplace narrative trope in anime and manga until decades later. By the time Devilman G was published, occult school clubs, occult activities at school, and paranormal-obsessed chuunibyou characters were an established feature in the otaku landscape. Whether you’ll find the former set-up more compelling than the latter, school-uniformed youth dabbling in black magic is just as believable a narrative segue way into the world of bloody Devilman as is sparking a violent chain reaction at a subterranean party already boiling over with vice and sin.
Compared to what Devilman G decided to do, Devilman Crybaby is more content homage the iconic “Black Sabbath” of the original Devilman, all the while updating its aesthetic so that its take on the underground rave reflects more contemporary rave scenes instead of past versions.
The Different Incarnations of the Delinquents
What I would argue is the the next memorable thing to happen at the beginning of the original Devilman (next to the introduction of Ryo Asuka and his little coat pocket friend) are the introduction of the delinquents. They are supporting characters that play, at least initially, the perfunctory role of rote bullies. Their initial bully roles are nothing special, but their character designs were depicted in such an exaggerated cartoonish sensibility as to set them apart visually from other human characters like Akira, Ryo, and Miki Makimura. The original Devilman would see these delinquents evolve into more complex characters. Devilman G ultimately opted to have some of them killed early. Devilman Crybaby, however, decided on a complete makeover of these delinquents, replacing them with street rappers spitting commentative fire.
The original Devilman imagines these characters as the iconic Japanese school delinquents of yesteryear. They’re your stereotypically transgressive school-uniformed Japanese delinquents. They wear the draperies of male Japanese students, but their school uniforms are worn improperly. Their coats are partially or fully unbuttoned. The unbuttoned coats expose wrapped bandages, wife beaters, and bare chests. They’re posed with a posture and gait that makes them look intentionally thuggish and shifty. Their faces are drawn to look caricature-ly hideous-looking. Their facial features are drawn with a stylistic unnaturalness. Their eyes, mouths, and even heads lack a sense of symmetry. As to why the iconic school delinquents of yesteryear are always expressed in comics wearing school uniforms, it’s likely a by-product of early post-WWII Japanese laws and norms (1) forcing families to get appropriate school uniforms for their kids at whatever cost and (2) encouraging kids to wear their school uniforms when they’re out for whatever occasion.
Devilman G re-imagines the delinquents with different clothes, but otherwise the same poses, gaits, and faces of the original Devilman. School uniforms for many Japanese families in the early post-WWII years were a significant financial hardship to obtain for their kids. As a result, it became more practical for students from poorer families to treat their school uniforms as all-purpose wear when going out even even in the absence of a school day. Fast-forward to 2013. The laws and norms for mandatory school uniforms still apply in the contemporary Japanese period. (1) You still see many children walking around in school uniforms on school days, but (2) families now generally have enough money laying around to afford their children an extra set of clothes that aren’t school uniforms. Compared to the original Devilman, the delinquents of Devilman G are wearing that continue to signal shadiness and dangerousness while also reflecting modern conditions and fashion sense: leather coats, hoodies, beanies, chains, etc.
Devilman Crybaby completely reworks the delinquents to look different and serve, in significant ways, different roles. The delinquents of both the original Devilman and Devilman G play the initial function of harassing Miki and Akira. They serve that function establish these two main characters from the start as strong-headed and wimpy, respectively. To that effect, depicting the delinquents as hyperbolically cartoonish, thuggish, and ugly didn’t clash with the narrative intentions that the creators of both Devilman manga had in mind. The creators of Devilman Crybaby, on the other hand, wanted to give the delinquents a different role. They wanted make the delinquents more relatable to contemporary Devilman viewers while preserving their memorability for general Devilman audiences. Instead of your transgressively stereotypical Japanese school delinquents, the anime recasts them as fly street rappers with a modern urban aesthetic. They have different faces, wear flamboyantly baggy threads, and operate on a rhythmic-like swagger. According to a response to an interview question by the director of the show, Masaaki Yuasa (translated in a blog post courtesy of Sakuga Blog):
─ I see the delinquents have been modernized as rappers. You even have artists who are active in the hip-hop scene like Ken the 390 and Hannya playing them.
It wouldn’t feel right if we had delinquents acting like they came straight out of the 70s. I feel like rappers are the people who speak what’s on their minds today.
Rap, as people began to know it today, has its origins in African American communities in the 1970s, roughly around the time of the original Devilman. However, it would be a while before it would become popular in the US. It would be longer still, decades, for this form of music to be picked up in Japan and become mainstream. Rap, on the whole, has a youthful, city-based, and working class character connected with it in both countries. It’s associated widely with vapid vulgarities and toxic machismo at one end. It’s also understood less prolifically as a medium by which young, urban, and lower-income music artists express their social, economic, and political frustrations.
Like in the original Devilman and even in Devilman G, the delinquents are introduced accosting Miki and Akira. But instead of simply attempting to intimidate the two main characters, the delinquents instead spit a rap that expresses sentiments of frustration, melancholy, despair, resignation, and hope. In one interpretation, they serve as the voice of their generation: youth that see oppressive problems all around, with no obvious bright future in their lives, society, and future to look forward to.
In a later rap, lyrics describing the delinquents’ frustration are paired with moving scenes of ominous issues casting shadows on Japanese society today: drugs, homelessness, pollution, gun violence, and gradual breakdown of community trust. Drugs are extremely illegal in Japan. While homelessness remains super taboo and scandalous in Japan, the number of homeless people in Japan has grown steadily as economic growth and wages continue to stagnate. Pollution historically has had severe negative on the Japanese populace due to its narrow and dense population distribution, and climate change is a world-ending issue that requires more that just Japan’s contributions to fully combat. Guns are notoriously difficult in Japan to acquire as a civilian that isn’t a yakuza gangster. Japanese society prides itself on a record of public safety built around people trusting each other not to violate each other’s property and persons.
In another rap, the delinquents reflect on the appearance of demons in the world. They then question cynically whether destructiveness that demons bring is any different to the violence that humans do to each other on a daily basis. Bear in mind that demonic possession in both the original Devilman and Devilman Crybaby happens when humans witness or participate in acts of cruelty being done by one human to another. Metaphorically speaking, it’s as though human cruelty brings the worst out of people.
In the case of Devilman, the worst is a literal demon.
The world of the 1970s is different in many respects to the worlds of 2013 and 2018. New methods and sensibilities for drawing backgrounds and characters have made the old methods and aesthetics appear retro or dated by comparison. Mainstream cultures have developed new senses of casual fashion and new standards of school attire. Subcultures like the anime, manga, and video game otaku one continued to expand their database language, interests, and appeal. It wasn’t too long ago that Japanese news organizations decried otaku in the wake of the Miyazaki Tsutomu serial murders as suspicious and dangerous individuals. Now, the Japanese government has launched initiatives like Cool Japan to promote anime internationally, and Japanese politicians now characterize Japan affirmatively as an animeland to attract tourists. The issues of the day that plague societies have also shifted and changed. The Japanese bubble economy burst in the 1990s and brought with it increasing socioeconomic inequality, homelessness, and pessimism by Japanese youth about the future. Climate change is a more menacing and existentially-ending specter in people’s minds than it ever seemed to be decades ago.
Multiple adaptions of media like Devilman over the decades act as snapshots in time. Creators divulges aspects of what they’ve seen and heard as they write their stories. They give people willing to research and remember the history of an era an idea of what life for was like then, now, and when a story was, is, and will be published.