Manga-ka: Osamu Tezuka
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: April 2009
Synopsis: “A surprisingly bleak contrast to Tezuka’s better known Astro Boy, this first of three volumes relates the horrific origin of Hyakkimaru, a teenage hero whose father sacrifices his newborn son’s bodily components to 48 demons in exchange for unstoppable military power. What remained of the child is found by a doctor who fashions him artificial limbs, including prosthetic arms that house hidden swords, and when Hyakkimaru comes of age, he embarks on a mission to kill the demons, thus reclaiming his flesh-and-blood body parts.”
Found on a river’s edge as a blind and deaf enfant with no limbs, there still managed to be something so endearing about the cursed child, easy to both pity and root for his little caterpillar-form. Through logic that I’ve only ever seen Osamu Tezuka pull off with such unapologetic grace, the child develops his own means of psychic communication and senses, ones that give his savior faith in the boy’s potential future.
Thus, in turn, fake body parts are built for Hyakkimaru that allow him to look like a regular person, and through training, he eventually masters the use of them. This also includes the use of the many contraptions that his ‘father’ implanted his body with, from swords for arms to poison stored in his legs. My favorite part of the whole book would undoubtedly be these initial chapters where Hyakkimaru’s ‘childhood’ is followed through.
Though the scenes were short and few, I really liked the moments where Hyakki gets some of missing body parts back, which is accomplished by killing demons responsible for their initial loss. Theses moments are not handled in depth, but enough so that I enjoyed seeing his reaction at experiencing something that most of us take for granted.
Dororo, the story’s namesake, is a young cheeky thief who attaches himself to Hyakkimaru. Dororo’s impatience and impetitous nature gets the two in more than their share of trouble and Dororo more than his share of bruises. An orphaning past, though not as physically-damning as Hyakki’s, is firmly established soon after their introduction so readers get a better idea of what makes the little scamp as reckless as he is. Honestly I found Dororo on the annoying side, a near-constant distraction from Hyakki whose cool attitude, and determinedly worked-through disabilities, always proved the most interesting portions of the story. That said however, there’s still obviously some things about Dororo that have yet to come to exposure and I found Dororo tolerable enough to look forward to some inevitable occurrences.
Osamu Tezuka’s art style is what I’ve come to expect of it from reading his other works: cartoonish in appearance and loose on realism. It’s a style that takes a little getting used to for the more mainstream manga reader, but it works well in the context of his storytelling. Some moments, however, do lose much of their impact when rendered the way they are. An example from this volume is where, upon being captured, Dororo is hung and beaten, and despite the severity of the scene, it was hard to feel much for the cartoony figure.
While I did enjoy this first volume of Dororo, the name leaves me worried that the thief of the same name could move to center stage in place of Hyakki. If this becomes true, I don’t how much of my interest the book will manage to hold. However, if a name is but a name and the rest of the series remains diligent in its chronicles of Hyakkimaru’s tragic life with Dororo has a sidekick over lead, then count me in. I can’t wait to see what kind of bizarre creatures the duo will find themselves up against in order to defeat the remaining 48 and reclaim Hyakki’s missing body parts.