If you’re a fan of Amazon’s graphically violent live-action The Boys, based on the graphic novels by Garth Ennis, then you know what to expect from an animated series set in the same reality. It’s crass and gory, filled with exploding body parts and scatological humor. Whether any of it is canon, save perhaps for the final episode, doesn’t matter. The Boys Presents: Diabolical — a title longer than any of the vignettes — adds depth to a world where Vought Industries’ Compound V experiments grants superpowers and hideous mutations to babies and terrorists. Whatever happens, it ain’t gonna be pretty.
Diabolical is an 8-part short series with an average length of 14 minutes. Each episode has its own style, from the Looney Tunes inspired “Laser Baby’s Day Out” to the simple, bold lines of Teen Titans. There’s the ugly but effective animation of Rick & Morty (“An Animated Short Where Pissed-Off Supes Kill Their Parents”) and the delicate pencil lines of Akira or a Studio Ghibli production. “I’m Your Pusher” is a faithful recreation of the original graphic novel’s style. Freed from practical effects and “realistic” violence, Diabolical escalates the death and dismemberment in funny, disturbing ways.
Some stories work better than others. “Nubian vs Nubian,” written by and starring Aisha Tyler, is an amusing tale of superfamily struggles. “Boyd in 3D” has a lot to say about social media and dangerous beauty standards. Some are 14-minute poop jokes that fall short (Awkwafina’s “BFFS”); others are a quick but powerful exploration of abandonment and grief. The very best of these, “John and Sun-Hee,” was written by Andy Samberg and chronicles the desperation of a soon-to-be widower willing to try anything to save his beloved wife. It left me speechless and holding back tears for several minutes. Only one story, “One Plus One Equals Two,” has any bearing on The Boys series. Starring Giancarlo Esposito, Elizabeth Shue, and Antony Starr, we learn why Homelander’s quest for heroism was doomed from the start. But it also doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know.
Ultimately, Diabolical is great if you like animation, but you won’t feel lost during The Boys if you skip it. You should still watch “John and Sun-Hee” just because it’s well told and beautifully animated. I for one wouldn’t mind if Amazon continued creating these vignettes, perhaps released en masse again or attached to the beginning of episodes like they used to do at drive-in movies. Diabolical is a gruesome good time.