Devilman Crybaby’s first episode features a plethora of fractured people caught between sides in some facet of their existence. At the school, the trappings of gendered communication see the boys express a different persona depending on the privacy of their conversations. On the news an athlete adopts a cool and calm demeanor, temporary, and fundamentally incompatible with his unhinged bellicosity. The presence of inner devils both figurative and literal, sees individuals torn apart as one half fights the other for primacy.
However it is Ryou Asuka who initially poses this dynamic, in the form of a rhetorical question to his childhood friend Akira:
“Why do you run?”
With this statement he refers to the limitations of the human body, and points towards the ability of technology to enhance or even surpass our natural capabilities. After all, our proven advantage over the animal kingdom is not raw strength or agility, but instead the way we utilize our minds to create tools with which to eradicate our flaws.
But if there is one thing that the story evidences right off the bat, it’s that the conflicts we are drawn into are ones that do not neatly fit this technocratic model of “survival of the smartest”. While indeed a gun is best equipped to kill when a hand cannot, and a car is best designed for travel in which legs are not enough, what device do we have for when it is the mind that fails? The seemingly infallible demand, that if the body does not fit the purpose then a tool can be made in its stead, is brought to court when the mind must make itself secondary or even tertiary as necessitated by the invention it imagines to create. Perhaps the mind can build a better limb but could it really build a better mind?
Indeed what device would allow the boys at the school to freely express feelings of crude lust and carnal desire to the subject of their attention? These are distinctly social trappings and something we have engineered ourselves, a side effect of what we have decided to perceive as functional living. While in certain ways social media does allow us to act out of turn, this is engendered through a contained environment, kept clearly apart from the mundane. Even the most advanced software to date does not bridge the venerated boundary between Honne and tatemae.
And what of the supernatural? As the presence of devils is revealed to be in the hearts and homes of the people, what answer could science truly provide us? Anything created by the mind would be irreparably tainted by the unwanted companionship between human and devil, which while theoretical, serves as a neat allegory for the limitations of attempting to overcome the limitations of your own limitations through your limitations.
Ryou’s usage and subsequent failure to kill the devils with a conventional machine-gun is testament to his own logical pitfalls. In the end it is the messy and dysfunctional nature of Akira’s being, gaps which Ryou would seek to reconcile, that gives rise to the most powerful devil of all. A Devil, human in nature, and one that demolishes all notions of technological superiority.
“So why do you run?”
I think for Akira, it is because he chooses to embrace rather than fight the essence of what makes him human. As a child there is a moment when Akira insinuates that Ryou “is crying too”, even when we can see that is no tears streaking down his face. Ryou does not initially understand this remark, a symptom of his stubborn refusal to believe that his inhumanity might be what informs his humanity. In truth when Akira tells Ryou this seemingly incorrect detail, it is to say that while the way they express themselves may indeed be distinct, they are assuredly not antithetical.
Devilman teaches us that the separation between human and devil is blurry. Because nothing innate to a devil is inherently inconsolable with humanity.
Akira runs because he feels like it. Akira runs because that is what his body is capable of. Ultimately, Akira runs because it is in his nature to do so.
He accepts the subtle pulls of his existence.
And so too, does a devil.
Disclaimer: This was written having only watched episode 1. I intend to write about each episode in a similar vein, only referring to events up until that point. As such I will embrace the natural limitations of this format, and how comments now may later be contradicted in future episodes.