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  • Hey Wisecrack, Jared again.

  • And today, we're taking a look at the show that dares to ask the question: how much body

  • horror can we realistically animate in twenty-two minutes?

  • I'm talking about Netflix's devilishly good anime offering, Devilman Crybaby.

  • While you may know it by its reputation as 'that show with lots of incredibly violent

  • humping, 'cartoon boobs, 'and incredibly violent cartoon boobs,' Devilman Crybaby

  • has some deep things to say about metaphysics, the media, and even international relations.

  • So, welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Philosophy of Devilman Crybaby.

  • As always, spoilers ahead.

  • And by the way, we never get it right if you want dubs or subs, so we literally flipped

  • a coin, and it landed on dubs, so be happy.

  • But before we get into the recap though, I just want you all to know we're working

  • hard trying to put together an anime podcast.

  • It's in very early stages, but a lot of our best video ideas start from podcast discussions,

  • so subscribe to our channel Wisecasts to get a closer look into our creative process.

  • Anyway, on to the recap.

  • Akira, a teenage boy known for crying over almost anything, is living with the Makimura

  • family while his parents travel the world providing free medical care.

  • When he tries to save his crush/housemate Miki Makimura from what looks like a gang,

  • Akira is interrupted by his trigger-happy adoptive brother and childhood friend Ryo,

  • recently back in Japan after a research project in South America.

  • Ryo tells Akira what he learned abroad; namely that devils are real and that they are possessing

  • human beings.

  • Trying to collect proof of his theories, Ryo takes Akira to a drug-fueled sex party called

  • 'Sabbath,' where his bloody rampage actually succeeds in summoning a group of demons, one

  • of whom tries to possess Akira.

  • That demon, Amon, fails to take over Akira completely.

  • Akira gains the strength and power of a devil, but is still in control of his mind and body.

  • You're a man who possess both the body of a devil as well as the heart of a human.

  • Devilman.”

  • While Ryo and Akira initially plan to use his powers to fight the devils, the show gradually

  • reveals that there's more to Ryo's plan.

  • When the demon threat is revealed to the public, Ryo gains immense influence with world leaders,

  • turns on Akira and promotes policies which promotes the murder of not only devils, but

  • millions of human beings.

  • This all comes to a head in the big reveal: “You see, I'm Satan.”

  • Yep.

  • Followed by a massive human-devil-Devilman battle culminating in the end of the world.

  • So, how did we get from a bad night at the club to the apocalypse?

  • The answer has to do with two distinct but related concepts: “moral panicsandthreat

  • construction.”

  • Sociologist Stanley Cohen argues that mass media constructs a “moral panicdirected

  • at certain groups of people by portraying their behavior as deviant.

  • Society labels these people a threat, which justifies excessive social control and policing

  • over thedemonizedpopulation.

  • As he put it, “[The media] informs us about right and wrong, about the boundaries beyond

  • which one should not venture and about the shapes that the devil can assume”.

  • Devilman Crybaby references a few well-known moral panics.

  • For instance, local news falsely identifies the young rappers as members of a gang.

  • The mistake - and their resemblance to the constructed stereotype of violent youth nearly

  • gets them shot by police, even as they try to cooperate with the officers.

  • The show also references the archetypal moral panic: witch-hunts.

  • For her almost supernatural speed, Miki is known to the media as 'Kamioka's witch of

  • track and field.'

  • As a result, the mob, calls her a "witch!

  • She's an outsider!" before killing her and burning her body.

  • More to the point, though, is Ryo's use of mass media to create a moral panic over

  • devils.

  • After triggering Koda's transformation at the track meet and causing a massacre, Ryo

  • uses his livestream to sow fear and mistrust among the general population: "Demons exist...

  • There could be one right next to you.”

  • Taking advantage of his academic title, Ryo claims to be merely a reporter of thefacts;”

  • in fact, he uses multiple media outlets, including social media and traditional broadcasting

  • to promote as much fear, paranoia, and violence as possible.

  • "In this battle against the demons, I'm sure that we will win once again."

  • As the end of the world draws closer, Satan/Ryo encourages more and more violence by expanding

  • the definition of 'devils' to include anyone deviating from the social norm.

  • He falsely implies that deviant behavior is a proven indicator of the potential to turn

  • into a devil.

  • "So you are saying anyone dissatisfied with society can potentially turn into a demon?"

  • "That's correct."

  • "So, then, in order for us to defeat the demons—" "We must eradicate them before they become

  • demons."

  • He pulls off the same feat at the international level through a process scholars call, “threat

  • construction.”

  • Certain camps of foreign policy theorists argue that many international threats posited

  • by national leaders are largely 'constructed' -- that is, issues become threats when people

  • in positions of power define them as such.

  • Like creating a moral panic, threat construction involves identifying some 'other,' whether

  • that be another country, an organization, etc., and defining its otherness as a danger.

  • The other is portrayed as not merely a physical threat, but a threat to the very identity

  • of the domestic state.

  • Political scientist David Campbell explains that, in the process of threat construction,

  • “[The other becomes] the barbarian who stands in opposition to the 'civilized' self”.

  • Following this model, Ryo manipulates inherent weaknesses in US foreign policy to start WWIII,

  • beginning a nuclear conflict which wipes human life from existence.

  • Ryo takes part in a high-level government discussion about how to handle the threat

  • posed by the devils.

  • By this point, world leaders have bought into Ryo's logic completely and have become distrustful

  • of one another: "We must be wary of the movements of neighboring countries.

  • There's information that they've already been taken over by the demons."

  • In response to the situation, the US government reflexively identifies Russia as a 'geography

  • of evil' (a term coined by Campbell), and declares that devil possessions are the product

  • of a Russian bioweapon: "The US department of national defense closed its borders in

  • response to the possibility of demons being Russia's biological weapon."

  • In Devilman Crybaby, the US and Russia respond to the devils much as real-world governments

  • respond to terrorism.

  • Because the threat is 'barbaric' and a threat to civilization, no measure is too

  • extreme to stop them, including nuclear war: "Annihilate this demon insurgency that threatens

  • our capital!”

  • The show explores the dangers of throwing up artificial boundaries between groups.

  • The bloodshed and heartbreak that fills up the last few episodes are a direct result

  • of the public's willingness to buy into Ryo's 'us vs. them' mentality.

  • "Maybe you can run faster than people because you're a demon!"

  • "You think you're better than the Japanese?"

  • This preoccupation with boundaries is also reflected in the show's exploration of what's

  • called "Dualist metaphysics”.

  • So what does that mean?

  • Dualism posits that reality is binary or oppositional in nature, composed of two eternally clashing,

  • irreconcilable forces, such as good and evil.

  • One of the classic examples of dualistic philosophy is the ancient religion of Manichaeism.

  • As religious scholar Todd Calder explains, “According to Manichaean dualism, the universe

  • is the product of an ongoing battle between... good and evil substances which are in a constant

  • battle for supremacy".

  • At first glance, the show appears full of binary oppositions which will never be resolved.

  • For instance, Ryo is distinguished from Akira by his inability to shed tears, which serves

  • as a visual cue for the ability to feel emotion.

  • "Why would I cry?

  • I'm not sad.

  • It was going to die anyway."

  • The show also sets up a sharp divide between fear-based violence and the Makimuras' Christian

  • pacifism: "One of the people who was following Jesus pulled out his sword, attacked the soldier,

  • and cut off his ear, so then Jesus said to him, 'Put away your sword and return it to

  • the sheath.'"

  • Ryo is a dualist to the core.

  • He describes devils as fundamentally lacking in the human capacity to feel: "Devils have

  • existed on earth since long before humans.

  • They are ferocious, extremely savage, and have no emotions."

  • What's more, the show takes that Manichean idea of a battle betweengood and evil

  • substancesvery literally.

  • Ryo first discovers the existence of devils when the corpse of his formerly-possessed

  • professor is revealed to weigh "twice the size it was when he was alive."

  • This possession, in other words, was not only spiritual, but physical — a case of two

  • bodies, one 'good' and the other 'evil,' fighting for the same space.

  • The show emphasizes the material dimensions of this battle between good and evil whenever

  • a devil successfully takes over a human host, often ripping apart their body in the process.

  • Over time, however, Devilman Crybaby winds up turning this dualistic model completely

  • on its head.

  • The show reveals the socially constructed nature of the dichotomies many of its characters

  • take for granted, and argues that reality is far too complex to be put in terms of black

  • and white.

  • As panic over the devils' threat reaches its tipping point, the show blurs the line

  • between good and evil.

  • One of the more obvious examples is Akira, who, by his very nature, challenges Ryo's

  • dualistic model of the world: in one person he combines devil and human, good and evil.

  • We see this when Akira, in his Devilman form, stands between an angry lynch mob and its

  • targets and offers up his life for theirs, "Why kill each other?

  • If you're going to kill someone, just kill me instead!" defying the angry and fearful

  • humans' expectations.

  • By contrast, we see an example of supposedly 'good' humans resorting to evil when the

  • mob dismembers and burns Miki Makimura for her public support of Akira, and other 'Devilmen.'

  • Devilman Crybaby also loves to play around with dichotomies surrounding gender and sex.

  • The show regularly hints at an ambiguously queer relationship between Akira and Ryo:

  • Akira remains invested in his ability to openly display emotion, even after being mocked for

  • it as a child.

  • "What the heck?

  • He's crying even though he's a boy!"

  • And in his final form, Satan embodies both male and female sex characteristics.

  • But perhaps most interesting is the way the show blurs the lines between devilsstand-ins

  • for the outcasts and scapegoats of societyand the humans they are supposed to be

  • so different from.

  • Mr. Makimura eventually finds his wife and their son, Taro, in a refugee camp.

  • Unfortunately for him, it isn't the reunion he'd hoped for.

  • Taro, now possessed by a devil, can't control his own hunger any longer.

  • His father arrives to find him in his demonic form, eating his own mother.

  • Mr. Makimura tries to fall back on the socially constructed dichotomy between devils and humans

  • to reduce Taro to an evil creature and make some sense of the horror confronting him:

  • "Taro, you are no longer my sweet son.

  • This for your own good."

  • But in the end, he can't help but see his human son in the devil's crying eyes: "Please

  • don't shoot; that's my son in there."

  • The show also provides plenty of evidence to exhibit that, contrary to Ryo's claim

  • that devils are incapable of emotion, they are actually quite capable of feeling love

  • for each other, and, in some cases, for humans.

  • In the episodeBeautiful Silene,” Akira gets into what can only be described as a

  • deadly sex battle with Silene, the former lover of Akira's devil, Amon.

  • In the first round of their fight, Akira nearly kills Silene.

  • But as she lies bleeding out, her partner Kaim comes to her aid, offering to give up

  • his life so that she can merge with his body and live long enough to kill Devilman.

  • But why?”

  • Silene... even bloodied, you are beautiful.”

  • Kaim's sacrifice even causes Silene to cry.

  • Most impressive of all is the change that comes over Satan himself as a result of his

  • experiences with Akira.

  • Having revealed his true form to Akira, Satan admits that he made the merging between him

  • and Amon possible so that Akira would be able to survive the apocalypse and live with him

  • forever.

  • "Oh, Akira, let's live in the new world together.

  • I made you merge with the champion Amon for that very reason."

  • What's more, when Satan kills Akira during their battle, he, king of the devils, experiences

  • grief for the first time, and cries over Akira's body.

  • "Right now, I'm feeling something!

  • What is this?"

  • By pointing out fluidity where we would expect to find hard boundaries, Devilman Crybaby

  • asks us to think hard about the labels we apply to others, and the potential consequences

  • of black and white thinking.

  • The show puts forward some tough questions: who benefits from media scapegoating, and

  • to what ends?

  • To what extent does rhetoric play a role in the identification of 'threats,' and what

  • are the dangers of being too ready to draw lines between 'self' and 'other'?

  • And, in a world where categories as basic as 'good' and 'evil' are the product

  • of manipulation and deliberate construction, what is the right thing to do?

  • As Miko, in her blended human/Devilman form puts it: "What does it mean to be a human?

  • What does it mean to be good?"

  • "If you're gonna die, hurry up and die!"

  • "What is justice?

  • What is right?"

  • And as always, peace.

Hey Wisecrack, Jared again.

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Violence & Metaphysics: The Philosophy of Devilman Crybaby

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    irene Hu   posted on 2018/09/03
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