Retroactive Continuity: Devilman: Crybaby Ep 5: “Beautiful Silene”

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Commissioned essay for Shane deNota-Hoffman.

Well, that ended abruptly.

Part of the challenge of writing these entries on Devilman: Crybaby–and other episode-by-episode commissions, like Giant Robo–is that unlike most of my entries, where I’ve seen the whole series before I write about a single episode, for these commissions I haven’t seen anything but what I’ve been commissioned to watch. So I have no idea what’s going to happen past the current episode, and thus sometimes get things wrong: for example, last entry I concluded Miko and Kukun were killed at the end of the episode, but after viewing this episode it appears that Miko was possessed by a demon and Kukun has vanished (presumably killed).

That outcome makes a lot of sense, given Miko’s (nick-)name. I’m not sure how it’s written, so it may be unrelated (Japanese being prone to homophones), but at least in transliteration it appears to be the same as miko, Japanese for “priestess” or “shrine maiden.” That is, Miko is a secondary figure who channels or represents a divine (or diabolic, in this case) entity, presumably whatever demon has possessed her.

This ties in to the abrupt ending I mentioned in the first sentence of this essay–not the ending of the episode, which was much like any other, but the ending of Silene, a character who previous episodes had positioned as a fairly major antagonist. (Though my money’s still on Ryo as the ultimate primary antagonist.)

Instead, she is dead by episode’s end, and quite unsatisfyingly: she has Akira on the ropes, but then he passes out, apparently about to be killed. And then he wakes up, and Silene has died on her feet from injuries earlier in the fight, without any further input from him. His failure just becomes a success without any real explanation–unless we take his question to Ryo, of whether a demon can experience love, as pointing toward such an explanation.

Earlier in the fight, Silene lay defeated and dying, but her sidekick sacrificed his life, apparently out of love of Silene, to give her a second chance at killing Akira, knowing that they will both die soon after. He tears his own head off, and then Silene possesses his dying body much as the demons possess human bodies, merging with him into a single demon, and it is that which shortly thereafter dies on its feet. Silene even cries when she realizes what he’s done and why, suggesting she has feelings for the other demon too–yet Ryo tells Akira that demons are incapable of love, being creatures of pure appetite.

In their fusion, we see a parody of sorts of the demon-human fusion that is Devilman. Here, the fused opposites are male and female,* rather than human and demon, but it is still a gestalt entity that is more powerful than either. However, it differs dramatically from Akira–or, rather, from the Amon/Akira gestalt that Akira has become.

That he is no longer straightforwardly Akira is clear in scenes earlier in the episode, which show him lusting intensely after Miki, to the point of seeming about to attack her. He does not, however, nor does he attack anyone while walking drooling through the red light district later; he has acquired the demonic appetite for sex and violence, an appetite which draws little distinction between the two, but he seems to have it (barely) under control. He is, in other words, a true gestalt, comprised of the totality of both members: he is fully Amon and fully Akira, and the resulting entity thus expresses the desires and tendencies of both, in this case Amon’s demonic appetite and Akira’s human capacity for restraint.

By contrast, the Silene fusion is just that–Silene. Her personality, her being, is dominant; her head and torso replace her companion’s head, and so too does her behavior entirely replace his. She is possessinghim, seizing control, and that is not an act of love but of violence. This is why they cannot survive for long enough to fight Akira, because their very existence as a gestalt entity is violence against a member of that entity, and the whole suffers.

Demons are incapable of love, not because they cannot become attached to one another or even because they’re not capable of sacrifice for one another; demons are incapable of love because they’re incapable of seeing past their own wants. They lack the key quality that enables Akira and Amon to function as one: Akira’s compassion, the quality from which the series derives its subtitle. His ability to feel pain for another means that he recognizes the pain of others; their relationship is stable because they can mediate and negotiate both their wants and preferences, where Silene must dominate the one she possesses and impose her own will. The result is not love, but abuse; not a synergistic fusion, but a self-destructive monstrosity.

Of course, we must tread carefully. Compassion is necessary for genuine love, but love is not necessary for compassion, nor should we confuse empathy and compassion–the former is a capacity, the latter a choice. People who lack empathy can nonetheless choose to be compassionate when they recognize the pain of others, even if that pain is harder for them to recognize; someone who has empathy but chooses not to be compassionate recognizes the pain more easily, but ignores or even revels in it. That, not a lack of empathy, is what leads to abuse and mistreatment, rendering love impossible.

The episode, unfortunately, doesn’t make this distinction. Indeed, by eliding the distinction and positioning empathy/compassion as a defining human trait, it blunders straight into the ableist implication that people who lack empathy aren’t people–which just ends up excusing a lack of compassion toward them. Likewise, by positioning love as a uniquely human trait in contrast to demonic hunger, it implies that people who do not love are not people, again serving only to encourage that lack of compassion. We must tread carefully in this territory; it is in the nature of the grotesque to serve as the boundary of the human, but if we leave people outside that boundary, abjectify them through ableism or a form of acephobia (or for any other reason), we demonize and marginalize our fellow people, exactly the ones we should be showing compassion toward.

Which, of course, is Ryo in a nutshell.

*Which, like human and demon, or practically any other binary you care to name, are not actually opposites. That’s why they can fuse to begin with–true opposites cannot coexist.


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