Devilman: Crybaby – 01 (First Impressions)

So begins my foray into the venerable Devilman franchise, which dates to 1974, its latest iteration available on Netflix at the same time in America as Japan. It’s actually been available for a while now, but I didn’t get around to cracking it open until now.

The first episode of Crybaby is brisk, starting with some heady philosophizing, giving us a quick glimpse of friends Asuka Ryou (a cold realist even in his youth) and Fudou Akira (the titular crybaby, who has enough empathy for both of them).

It isn’t long before the mundaneness of P.E. (and the somewhat head-scratchiness of a random attack by beatboxing rappers) is left behind in a cloud of Ryou’s Mitsuoka Orochi exhaust and the innocent, sensitive Akira finds himself in a debaucherous orgy of hedonism in which drugs and sex reign supreme, the escape of the young, rich, and bored.

Ryou brought Akira here to pop his cherry…in a sense. Ryou’s experience abroad has led him to believe a human can merge with a devil/demon and gain its power while maintaining their humanity, and Akira is the perfect vessel to test that theory.

However, the orgy isn’t, well, bloody or gory enough to draw out any devils, so Ryou rectifies that by wrecking up the place. He and Akira are very nearly beaten to death in the fracas, and before long devils start sprouting from the orifices of women and what were once areas of pleasure become weapons of evisceration.

It’s a huge mess, but Ryou gets what he came for: the demon Amon possesses Akira and merges with him, resulting in the titular Devilman. Perhaps because of how good and pure Amon’s human vessel is, Devilman is particularly powerful, and dispatches the other nasties without too much trouble, and with quite a bit of satisfaction.

And there you have it! Oh wait, why is Ryou doing this? For SCIENCE, I suppose; humans aren’t evolving fast enough for him; perhaps he believes it’s time to shake things up by nurturing such mergings as Akira with Amon. Or maybe that one merge was all he cared about, in hopes his friend, always a crybaby, would benefit in some way.

Yuasa Masaaki’s unique style is unmistakable here, and though this is certainly more violent than the only other work of his I’ve seen. As I said, it’s a brisk and relatively straightforward episode with a decent hook: what the hell will become of Akira now that Ryou has condemned him to share his existence with a demon?

Shokugeki no Souma – 02

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SnS keeps the energy pot at a rolling boil this week, delivering another gemstone to be played with by a dog such as myself. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun staring at a glowing screen. Probably because I stare at glowing screens too much. But one thing’s for sure, SnS has got it goin’ on.

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Souma’s dad ships him off to transfer at Totsuki Teahouse Culinary Academy, telling him from the dining room of a swanky hotel in Manhattan (where everyone from congressmen to monks would give their left nut to eat his food) that if he can’t get in and graduate, he has no business harboring dreams of surpassing his dad.

Souma doesn’t question any of that, but he knows it will be an uphill battle, as he sticks out like a sore thumb on a campus full of pompous, entitled asses, all of them with some kind of elite pedigree in the food industry.

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The most pompous of them all has been chosen to evaluate the transfer applicants, including Souma: the arrogant, imperious Nakiri Erina-sama (Taneda Risa), whose superhuman palate has earned her the nickname “God Tongue,” which if ever taken out of context, could really give some people the wrong idea…especially when you consider she has no problem using her power to melt the hearts of smitten subordinates like Arato Hisako.

Erina has been rejecting food since her first words decried a dearth of flavor…in her mother’s milk. Her whole life story is probably embellished, but the point is, she knows food, and she’s at the top of the food chain. And Souma’s at the bottom.

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Even though all the other applicants, dozens of them, flee upon being given permission to do so from Erina (so as to spare themselves being finished in the food world forever if she were to shoot down their food), Souma stays, because he’s got a job to do: surpass his dad. That means he needs to get in, so he mostly ignores the eccentric behavior of all these rich dummies, remains calm, and starts cooking.

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The exam revolves around the use of the egg, which is simultaneously the easiest food to prepare and the easiest to mess up royally. You want to know if someone can cook? Ask them to make a simple fried egg or omelette. This is essentially what Erina does, and while she maintains a strict dubiousness that this shaved gorilla from the muck will ever hope to excite her royal palate, his white rice seasoned with chicken wing/bonito aspic and egg does just that.

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Erina is the queen of bizarre flavor metaphors, from being hit with a jukebox under a waterfall, to baithing in a hot spring with a gorilla, to being tickled by angel feathers in heaven. But when those angels in her “ha-food-cination” start to bear the commoner Souma’s visage and they start to get all grabby with her sheet, she’s suddenly turned off.

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In this case, Souma’s food really did excite her palate, and indeed her whole body, but it’s interesting to see that everything is relative in SnS. It was far easier to tear the evil developer and her goons’ clothes off than those of one of the most refined palates in the world. On top of that, no matter how phenomenal Souma’s food is, Erina is simply too prejudiced against his bottom-feeder background and his tendency to, uh, treat her as an equal human being (how dare he!).

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Simply put, she doesn’t like him, so she fails him. While certainly a setback for our hero, there’s zero doubt he’ll find his way into the academy with or without Erina’s approval…probably without, which will mean the beginning of a tense rivalry between them. Still, for at least a time, Souma has to stew in the gross injustice of being rejected despite not only facing a formidable foe with unblinking eyes, but actually impressing her. What’s a bloke gotta do to get some respect around here?

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Fortunately for Souma (and us), Erina doesn’t run the academy; her grandfather does. And he happened to eavesdrop on Souma’s exam, and sneaks a taste of his rice. And because he’s not a stuck-up brat, he’s able to dive fully into the flavor and let it wash over him, leading him to shed a bit of his clothing in clear approval. Souma’s back in!

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Shokugeki no Souma – 01 (First Impressions)

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Whoa, what the hell did I just watch? I’ll tell you: something novel, bizarre and ludicrously entertaining from start to finish. Food Wars wastes no time showing us the kind of depraved wackiness it can stir up by giving us this indelible image of Souma’s classmate being ensnared by a giant squid in a sea of peanut butter.

It is a visualization of the grossness and wrongness of the flavor of those two foods when combined; an assault on poor Megumi’s palate in all its metaphoric glory.

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For all the ecchi mischief this episode gets up to, it uses every minute of its running time giving the main hero Souma a complete arc that propels him from his father’s quiet little eatery to the steps of the most elite culinary academy in Japan, blending shonen themes like tradition, moderation, and the comfort of nostalgia butting heads against modernity, excess, progress, and individual growth.

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Early in the episode, Souma’s goals are clear as he nears middle school graduation: continue training in his dad’s restaurant until he’s good enough to inherit it…The End. It’s a simple dream, and not a bad one, either; but it lacks ambition, and it’s indicated that dream doesn’t utilize his full potential.

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That dream also can’t stand up against duel threats coming from both within and without. Let’s get to without first, with the haughty urban life planner, who looks down on Souma, throws her weight around, threatens him, brazenly sabotages his pantry, and laughs maniacally—everything a shonen villain should do.

The traversal of these well-worn storytelling roads is refreshed by the setting of a restaurant and the weapon of food.

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Contrary to the easy, safe dream the developer seeks to stamp out, the challenge she poses brings out the qualities of a shonen hero who might always talk about simple dreams for his future, but will always ultimately be swept up by grander destinies.

Those qualities include pluck, daring, confidence, and resourcefulness, best demonstrated when he fulfills the developers wish for juicy meat by making a “fake pork roast” with bacon wrapped potatoes.

Both the rendering of the food and the animation of its preparation is suitably over-the-top, as if a great battle were being fought, because in Souma’s head, it is.

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Like Koufuku Graffiti, people eating delicious food react in a very overtly, er, amorous way. But like a foe defeated by the hero’s superior skill (or clever trick), the developer’s practical land shark mind can’t compete with her palate, which been set ablaze by the peerless umami-ness.

If she wants to eat more than her first glorious bite, she must give in to his demand she stop going after the restaurant.

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She does, and then both she and her three goons tuck in, resulting in a meat juice-saturated mental orgy of epicurean ecstacy. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have suspected Souma slipped some powerful hallucinogenic drugs in the roast, but no…it’s just really really good.

Again it’s somewhat like Koufuku, bumped up to 11 and rated R. Souma’s food doesn’t just knock socks off, it tears everyone’s clothes away and rummages around in their naughty-bits.

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But Souma can’t enjoy his victory long, as just when he’s cleaning off the defaced sign of the restaurant, his dad announces he’s moving away to work with an old friend, and will be selling the restaurant in two to three years.

Souma, like me, is initially quite wounded by this news, but it didn’t take long for both of us to get it: this isn’t where Souma should settle. He’s bound for bigger, better things.

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He’ll succeed and fail and cause more flavor orgies at the prodigious Engetsu Teahouse Culinary Academy, which has a grad rate of under 10%, he’ll have his work cut out for him, just as a shonen hero should. He’ll also meet friends and enemies and frenemies and enemends whose naked bodies I’m sure we’ll see in due course.

I look forward to watching more of this hilarious, creative…whatever it is, and also to more outstanding metaphors like standing under a waterfall meditating until being hit in the head by a jukebox. It’s pretty Brilliant. Amaburi Brilliant…only raunchier! Moreover, it doesn’t compromise. It gets a weird idea and it commits; no half-measures.

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