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Review: Dorohedoro (Vol. 01)

Reviewer: Andre

Manga-ka: Q Hayashida
Publisher: Sig Ikki
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: March 2010

Synopsis: “Caiman was not lucky. A sorcerer cursed him with a reptile head and left him with no memory of his life before the transformation. Adding to the mystery, there’s a spectre of a man living inside him. But Caiman has one key advantage: he’s now completely immune to magic. Along with his best friend, Nikaido, Caiman is hunting down sorcerers in the Hole, searching for the one who can undo his curse and killing the rest. But when En, the head Sorcerer, gets word of a lizard-man slaughtering sorcerers, he sends a crew of “cleaners” into the Hole, igniting a war between two worlds.”

A kinetic mix of action, dark comedy and gore, Dorohedoro offers a feast of strangeness as a lizard headed man hunts down the sorcerers who plague his city, cavorts with a deceptively harmless-looking restaurant owner, and enjoys good meals in between all the decapitations.

Dorohedoro doesn’t waste any time with attack names or speeches on manliness or even fan service. Instead, it just runs right along with Caiman’s mission, opening with a fairly visceral depiction of the frequent occurrence of him interrogating a sorcerer. Hayashida doesn’t dwell long on these moments though, balancing them out with cheerful interactions between Caiman and his friend Nikaido, a seemingly cheery restaurant owner. The layout and pacing are similar to domestic comics, with each chapter being fairly self contained and formulaic as Caiman attacks a different sorcerer each chapter. However, a plot does slowly develop as the sorcerers start to react against Caiman’s rebellion against their practices of using the Hole’s citizens for their magical experiments, and Hayashida rebels against the usual expectations of ultra-violent fiction by devoting the manga‘s downtime on another topic entirely – food.

The focus on food is a charming and occasionally unsettling aspect of the series that seems minor at first, but becomes a major part of the characterization and themes of the book. Just about every chapter includes discussion about eating or a moment where Nikaido and Caiman chow down. Caiman’s manner of investigating whether or not the sorcerers had a part in his curse even evokes this. Chowing down on their heads, his teeth scraping along their faces, he spits them out to see what his spectre said to them. In panels that don’t avoid showing the depths of his sharp toothed jaw, it’s a slightly different experience for each sorcerer he snacks on. This is then followed by him happily snacking away on Nikaido’s expertly cooked meals, both agreeing that time is best spent on food, one of the few apparent pleasures one can find in the Hole. They make the best of whatever ingredients they have, which can vary from random rations to dead animals to the results of magic gone awry.

This manga also interested me in the way with characters never being quite what they seem. Noi isn’t at all what you’d expect for leather-clad tough guy looking sorcerer when attending a personal meeting with a head sorcerer. Meanwhile, despite his lizard head, Caiman is one of the more expressive characters in the book, getting angry, gleeful and even comical at times, while his relatively normal companion Nikaido is often quite stoic. While initially he seems to be someone Caiman protects, when Nikaido faces some tough guys on her own, we learn why she and Caiman make such a good team. Always sporting a passive expression, her cooking skills are put to an unusual use, depicting how normal everyday violence is in her world.

Despite all this, violence is never really glorified in Dorohedoro, and rather is presented as an everyday part of the characters’ existence, leading it to be occasionally comical, depicted in a detached, documentary-like manner. This black comedy is where Dorohedoro excels, melding with the strong and unusual art style Hayashida to create an offbeat experience.

Q Hayashida’s artwork recalls the earlier works of Masumune Shirow, a flashback to the days of trashy ultra-violent, anime OVA series. Figure work and use of perspective is solid, as busty women and tough guys pound each other across the pages in elaborate cityscapes, yet avoids becoming overly polished through Hayashida’s extremely sketchy, crosshatch heavy inking style. The artwork avoids being overly dark, yet is brimming with tiny details like large crowd scenes, the bizarre outfits of the wizards, and the towering ruins of the slowly collapsing city, constantly drenched in rain. The Hole is a character on its own, a decaying city that is still alive in a sense, teeming with people making the best out of a horrid existence. It’s best seen in Caiman’s cheery disposition at his part time job at the fairly bleak local hospital where victims of sorcerers go to get treated via assorted unsterile looking futuristic devices.

VIZ’s presentation is the usual extreme shininess I’ve come to expect from SigIkki, a particular highlight of which being the inclusion of a chunk of colour pages in the middle of the volume, showcasing colour comics pages with a painting style that reminded me a lot of indy cartoonist Peter Kuper. VIZ opts to use a larger trim size, thick paper and French flaps. The larger trim really helps bring out the detail in the artwork, and VIZ tops it all off with a short selection of translation notes, though they mostly concern small text that would have been difficult to replace. You won’t find yourself needing to flip back to the notes to understand the story, so their inclusion is merely a delightful bonus after the fact.

I’d recommend Dorohedoro to fans of ultra-violent manga and mildly alternative genre comics – I’ve seen other reviews relate this work to DC’s Vertigo line and it’s fairly apt. Things are handled maturely, and any violence in the book is presented in a fairly detached manner. There’s one scene with fairly mild nudity, but otherwise this book is more about violence, black comedy and food than anything else. Nowhere else will you witness bones getting crushed, and then feel hungry for gyoza dumplings within the span of a few pages.

Review written May 20, 2010 by Andre
Book provided by Viz Media for review purposes

Andre Paploo

About the Author:

André is a long time comics and animation fan who draws assorted webcomics like Jeepers, and designed the mascots for the Maritime provinces' anime convention, Animaritime. He has a scary anime collection including about 900 dvd’s and tapes, and has been reading comics for 15 years. Somewhere in there he got an English degree, but spend most of my time now reading comics and fantasy novels. He's a fan of cheesy anime, Disney, X-men stuff, Transformers, and CLAMP.

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