Challenging Art and Media: The Problem With “Problematic”

Akira and Ryo of DEVILMAN crybaby.

I recently watched the anime DEVILMAN crybaby. I was inspired to tune in by seeing dozens of posts about it on social media in early January 2018. The series was on the one hand acclaimed and on the other hand repeatedly described in media as “gross” and “shockingly violent”, and by some viewers as problematic.

Beyond being vaguely aware of the decades-old DEVILMAN that this was an iteration of, I had no idea what to expect. At just 10 episodes, I thought it would be a good show to marathon-watch and evaluate for myself. Of course, I was also intrigued to read everybody’s takes on it once I could safely do so without anything being a spoiler for me. I had to find out for myself.

Stolas, best owl-demon ever: “Great Prince of Hell, commands twenty-six legions of demons, and teaches astronomy and the knowledge of poisonous plants, herbs and precious stones.”

I was already a fan of Black Butler and an appreciator of occult weirdness involving demons such as the Ars Goetia and the bafflingly corny Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse With Spirits, so after skimming some information, I was sure that I would find something interesting to consider in DEVILMAN crybaby. I watched it in full in a few days’ time. Spoilers ahead for DEVILMAN crybaby and  — very briefly — Black Butler, though be aware that this essay is going to turn to wider considerations in creative media beyond these; you don’t need to have watched them to understand the point I am aiming for.

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