Manga-ka: Q Hayashida
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: August 2010
Synopsis: “Once a year, hordes of the dead rise and roam the streets of the Hole, hungry for live flesh. And every year, Caiman and Nikaido sign up for the local zombie-killing contest! Whoever sends the most zombies back into the ground will win some fantastic prizes. But the fun ends quickly when En’s cleaners finally track down Caiman and Nikaido. Somebody’s going to lose their head. Literally.”
Continuing on the violence and food focused buffet of the previous instalment, Dorohedoro volume two offers us more helpings of this charming ultra-violent manga. While continuing with its constant food references and cheerful, chummy cast of vigilantes and villains, it amps up its stark visuals and draws us further along the plot and the origins of Caiman’s unusual, lizard-headed appearance while also shedding more light onto Nikaido’s mysterious past.
It’s hard for a manga to go wrong when it kicks off with a zombie-killing Festival. Some might worry that this would be played for gore, but Hayashida instead plays it comedically to a degree, as this is apparently an annual event in the Hole, caused by magic waste seeping into graveyards and raising the dead. To ensure they‘re killed, local Buddhist monks enlist bounty hunters like Caiman and Nikaido, and offer prizes for those who can re-kill the most zombies. Appropriately, our heroes gun for the meat grinder, so Nikaido can better prepare her delicious Gyoza dumplings for a hungry, hungry Caiman. Showing how separated the societies of the Wizards and the residents of the holes are, the Wizards arrive with a newly repaired, shortly-to-be-mangled Ebisu to investigate the mysterious lizard man, entirely unaware that they will encounter a ravenous zombie horde.
Hayashida subsequently builds off this hilarious opening chapter and it’s shocking conclusion with a fairly spooky chapter to shed more light on Caiman’s cursed nature. We discover just how attached (or unattached) he is to his Lizard head, and find out more details about Nikaido. This cheerful chef seems to be the neighbourhood sweetheart, but her bounty hunter skills are her least surprising secret, and Hayashida opts to reveal more of her past to readers (even if Caiman’s a little slow to pick up on the clues himself). The final chapter shows just how dedicated Nikaido is to her restaurant, as she and Caiman take on a dangerous underground boxer to save it. This boxing chapter provides another detour in the series sensibilities, adding sports manga to the elements of ultra violence and art manga. This brief chapter showcases the eclectic nature of Dorohedoro, as it balances both gentle and dark comedic moments.
The visuals are extremely inventive, notably in an early sequence wherein Noi uses her magic to restore Ebisu‘s previously damaged face and brain tissue by chewing on it in a page crammed with panels showing the progression in detail. Another fun moment comes from the title page for Chapter 9, “Dancing with Lizards” where a series of small illustrations of Caiman instruct you on how to do a little jig. The volume even kicks off with a short colour story that gives readers a basic understanding of the series concept as Caiman and Nikaido hunt down a sorcerer, depicted in vivid, painterly mixed media fashion without digital materials on brown paper. The excellence of the artwork goes well with VIZ’s better than usual production values, throwing in a large chunk of colour pages, French flaps and translation notes, most of which are dedicated to the names of the restaurants that decorate Dorohedoro’s background art.
Food continues to serve as a strong visual metaphor, an ever present part of human survival, but also a comfort and a luxury. It’s an everyday necessity, something the living need to continue, yet occasionally indulgent or wasteful, and at one time alive and in search of food itself, echoed in the opening with the Zombie horde. As the zombies hunger for their flesh, the cast waxes nostalgically of delicious home cooked meals, balancing the grim and the fanciful.
Food works it’s way into every chapter and significant event, even as a surprising reveal comes about as Caiman chows down on hospital food. Later, the bumbling foursome of Wizards hunting down Caiman head to a doll-maker wizard who wears a cooked turkey for his mask, and creates dolls with souls. Using elaborate recipes one would normally expect to make a multi-course gourmet meal, he instead creates doubles of people with vestiges of their memories. Masks are another thematic part of the visual narrative of the series, from Caiman’s lizard head to the use of masks in the wizarding world, to the beheading the publishes synopsis teases us with. Each member of the cast wears a mask of some form, whether it’s a lizards head, a spell to change their appearance or the a double life they keep away from friends.
Dorohedoro has built up a compelling narrative around charming, friendly characters with a dual dark nature that even endears the antagonists to you as a zombified Ebisu hungers for your brains or the wizard Shin slightly inappropriate thoughts conjuring up a slightly sexier doll of his burly partner, the blond bombshell Noi, who towers over the rest of the cast and defies expectations as the lead badgirl of the book. Moments like these pepper Dorohedoro as it defies stereotypes and goes against its genre standards, and when combined with the mystery of his origins and the creative world building of both the Hole and the Wizard’s realm, makes for a fascinating, must read for fans of comics and manga.