Commissioned essay for Shane deNota-Hoffman.
Nagasaki is slime. That’s been pretty thoroughly established so far; he pressures and manipulates teenaged girls into lewd photoshoots for a living, and clearly enjoys his job. Things like the hidden cameras in his studio’s shower make clear that when all else fails, he regards consent as unnecessary–and frankly, that’s not surprising, since at least some of the girls he targets probably aren’t old enough to consent.
So it’s rather a bit on the nose when he is possessed by the slime-like Gelmer. This is the most literal example yet of the demons as reifications of social transgression, and as such not very interesting–until Gelmer abandons Nagasaki to possess Miki.
On a story level, this is interesting because it raises the question of whether other demons can release those they’ve possessed to move to a new host, and if so, whether they can be forced to do so by Devilman–giving him both a way to defeat demons without the deaths of their hosts, and the moral and emotional crisis of the realization that he could have been doing that all along. But it’s more interesting on a thematic or aesthetic level, because while the Gelmer-possessed Nagasaki is even more of a repulsive, slimy creep, the Gelmer-possessed Miki is assertive, alluring, confident–in a word, she’s sexy. This stands out because, as a general rule, Devilman Crybaby has been very good at depicting extremely unsexy sex, sex that in its own way is more grotesque and unnerving than the monsters.
Compare Akira at Ryo’s apartment earlier in the episode. Under the influence of Amon, he has become–as all the demons seem to–more hedonistic and aggressive, and less mindful of social and personal boundaries and norms. In a sequence tinted with a distinct air of homoeroticism, he first forces food on Ryo, and then throws him into the swimming pool and jumps in after him. This is how the demonic hedonism and disregard for boundaries interacts with Akira’s defining compassion, by becoming aggressive in pushing pleasure onto others. Instead of a vore-and-rape monster, he’s a self-care-and-fun monster.
It increasingly seems like all possessions involve a fusion of personalities. The difference between Devilman and the others is which half forms the conscious will–Akira’s compassion still guides him, and Amon’s hedonistic aggression is channeled through that compassion, while Nagasaki’s sliminess is channeled through Gelmer’s hedonistic aggression. In that light, the difference between Gelmer-as-Miki and Gelmer-as-Nagasaki is that Miki is confident and assertive. That she tries to distract Devilman while the other demon sneaks up to murder him is on Gelmer–the emotional resources drawn upon to accomplish the seduction are Miki’s.
This episode contains one other example of actually sexy sex: Silene’s masturbation scene. Her transformation from lithe woman to horrifying bird monster (almost certainly intended as a reference to the mythological Siren) at the moment of orgasm is a sort of intermediary point between Miki and Nagasaki: where Nagasaki’s sweat and oozing purple drool evoke images of disease and infection, which is to say, the boundaries of the body violated by the extrusion of what should remain within, and Miki is not physically grotesque at all, Silene retains the base template of “sexy woman doing sexy things” but acquires wings and claws, the boundaries of her body violated by the intrusive addition of what should remain separate and without.
Compare to the only other sex scene in the show so far that wasn’t depicted as physically grotesque, Miko’s masturbation scene last episode. While some of the circumstances around that scene are a little creepy, it is basically the one sexual act in the entire show so far that has no violations of the boundaries of the body, neither intrusions nor extrusions.
It is equally difficult not to observe that all three of our examples involve women either merely being sexy rather than actually engaged in sex, or masturbating. Women, in other words, without men. There are two reads on this. One is that it’s simply catering to the male gaze, which it definitely, on a basic cinematographic level, is. But more interesting is the second read, which is not entirely contradicted by the first: that it is masculine sexuality itself which is grotesque. Spurting and oozing sticky fluids, after all, is what a cis man does when he orgasms–that which was inside extrudes beyond the body. For a cis woman, normative heterosexual sex involves the insertion of the body parts of another creature into her own–that which was outside intrudes into the body.
The equation, then, is of demons to both masculine sexuality and hedonistic aggression, implying that both of those are, in turn, the same thing. That’s not exactly a novel positionality: selfish dedication to one’s own pleasure while aggressively ignoring the boundaries of others is a hallmark of toxic masculinity. More interesting is not that equation but its inverse: that feminine sexuality is not as inherently toxic.
This is hardly a new theme in anime. One could make the case, for instance, that the unifying theme of Kunihiko Ikuhara’s work is that toxic masculinity has corrupted all love involving men–the only true romantic love possible under these circumstances is between women (or, presumably, any sufficiently femme non-binary person, which Utena herself is readable as), and even that is rendered supremely difficult by the toxic power structures of the patriarchy.
That Devilman Crybaby is headed down this particular road does seem a bit unlikely, but it may be headed somewhere similar. Early in the episode, Miki’s little brother implies that Akira may be gay, which she initially dismisses but then reconsiders when she remembers him as a small child, crying. In other words, Miki is equating Akira’s crying–which has already been established as rooted in his great power, compassion–with being gay, via the logic that both are “failures” to be masculine. Miki, despite being a woman, is infected by the corrupting influence of toxic masculinity in her evaluations of the men she knows, and it is this disgusting attitude that is reified by the demon that possesses her.
The demons are, thus, readable as not grotesque because they transgress society’s boundaries, but rather because they signify society’s transgression of the boundaries of the self–society’s efforts to contain and suppress identities that do not fit its grand narratives, from assertive and confident women to compassionate men to, perhaps, identities outside of cisheteronormativity entirely.
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