The music style of an anime can be one of the most important factors in how enjoyable, impactful, and memorable a show is for its viewers. We all remember Cowboy Bebop and Hellsing’s use of jazz, how JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure integrated classic rock into every aspect of its world, and Initial D’s hilarious obsession with eurobeat that essentially turned the entire show into a meme. Expertly crafted soundtracks like the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood OST are wonderful, but it’s even more impressive when bold music choices like these (which wouldn’t have been anyone’s first thought when scoring these shows) pay off in spectacular ways.
We can thank Kensuke Ushio, who also composed the music for A Silent Voice and the first season of Space Dandy, for the bold and memorable soundtrack of Devilman: Crybaby. He used synthwave tunes incorporated with percussion-heavy orchestral music and ominous choir chanting to accentuate the dread and rage-filled tone of the anime. So, today, let’s take a brief look at the fascinating world of synthwave music and how Ushio used it to create one of the best OSTs in recent memory.
Synthwave, also known as outrun, retrowave, or futuresynth, is a musical genre that has its roots deeply intertwined with internet and nerd culture. It was created in the mid-2000s by online communities who loved ‘80s film and video game soundtracks and wanted to bring that sound into the digital age. They crafted new music out of old clichés like electronic drums, gated reverb (which makes drums sound punchy – think Phil Collins or Duran Duran), and analog synthesizers.
If you listen to Tangerine Dream or the works of John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York, etc.), you’ll get a good feel for the basis of synthwave. It’s a cheesy sound, but definitely gets your blood pumping for a night of dancing or slaying demons – whichever comes first. The video game Hotline Miami used its synthwave soundtrack to create an atmosphere of blind violence and boundless energy, which is pretty much exactly what ‘80s songs like the Halloween theme were going for in the first place. And, with its unique blend of synthwave and bombastic orchestral sounds, Devilman: Crybaby crafts the perfect tone for its tale of a desperate struggle against demons who threaten to destroy the world.
Dread and Berserker Rage
Even though not every scene in Crybaby is explicitly sad or scary, Ushio’s soundtrack keeps a constant feeling of dread running underneath every moment of the show. Ryo’s main theme, “Buddy, Ryo”, sounds like an upbeat nightclub jam on the surface, but it also uses 8-bit tones and reverberated wailing noises to reflect his mysterious personality. “Akira the Wild” has a driving beat that echoes Akira’s determination and positive attitude, and even “School Life” has record scratches and odd grunts underneath its bouncy marimba melody. This OST won’t let you forget for a second that all hell is about to break loose.
As we’ve mentioned, primal rage is one of the biggest emotional motifs in this anime. So when it’s time to make poor life choices or kick some demonic ass, you know the synth is ready to charge right in. The creepy “Beautiful Sirene” changes to its more intense synthwave version, “Night Hawk”, when Akira’s ill-fated sexual venture with Sirene turns into an all-out brawl on the rooftop. “Miki the Witch” swallows up Miki’s cheerful theme with a maelstrom of unsettling audio glitches, minor synth chords, and an almost ritualistic drumbeat that foreshadows her ultimate fate. And, of course, the credits song, “Judgement”, finishes off nearly every episode with a drop so powerful that it just about knocks you out of your seat.
Before we move on, we would be terribly remiss if we didn’t mention Ushio’s remix of the ‘70s tokusatsu Devilman theme “Devilman no Uta”, which is – in our professional opinion – pretty freakin’ lit. It took the heroic charm of the original and enhanced it with the cheesy energy of synthwave, giving us a song catchy enough to stand with the all-time greats.
But Crybaby’s music isn’t all electronic. A few songs like “Behind the Scene” and “Smells Blood” combine choir chanting with synth, but some of the show’s most impactful moments are scored only with classical instruments.
“D.V.M.N.”, which appears during both Akira’s first battle at the Sabbath party and his final war against the demonic army, is a bombastic remix of Akira’s theme that embodies his true power. Similarly, “His Heart” is a muffled piano rendition of the same theme that plays when he’s forced to kill his mother. These orchestral songs give us the sense that something really important is happening, and oftentimes make their associated scenes even more emotional just by being there.
Devilman: Crybaby is a new version of a decades-old property that takes the somewhat cheesy elements from the original and re-envisions them in the modern age. So, in that sense, Ushio made the best possible decision by choosing synthwave for its score! The remixed ‘80s clichés work wonderfully with the intense orchestral swells to create a sound that represents Devilman in just the right way.
Did you enjoy our look at synthwave? What’s your favorite tune from the Devilman: Crybaby OST? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!