MANGA REVIEW: DOROHEDORO
Dorohedoro (translated Mud to Mud) is one of those cult classic manga that maybe you stumble across one night clicking through fan forums or manga threads— it’s rarely discussed, but when it is, it’s always discussed with enthusiasm. It’s gorey, dirty, offbeat, with a convoluted narrative that includes time-travel and resurrection, a mix of high weird and grittiness that is unique to the author and nobody else. With the series finale in 2018, and the author, Q Hayashida, starting her new series Dai Dark just March 12th, 2019, I want to give the series a good send off.
Dorohedoro starts with Kaiman, a lizard-human hybrid, chomping down on a wizard’s head. Why? Kaiman has a man inside him, and the man was killed by a wizard. The man asks the wizard, “What did the guy inside of me say to you?” If the wizard replies, “He said you’re not the one,” Kaiman kills them.
Kaiman and his best friend Nikaido live in Hole, a rainy, grimy city adjacent to them a magic world where wizards come from. Wizards like to take excursions to test their powers on the non-magic. Kaiman suspects that’s why he’s part lizard, but without memories of his past, he has little idea about where to start. Strange events pinball Kaiman and Nikaido between Hole and the world of magic users as he fights to understand who— or what— he is.
Dorohedoro’s strong points are the world, the magic system, and the characters.
There’s Hole: a downtrodden urban place drenched with rain polluted with magic, with Nikaido’s gyoza restaurant and the hospital for magic user victims. Magic users from the world of magic cross into Hole to test their powers on the citizens of Hole, but it’s nigh impossible to cross into the world of magic users unless you know a magic user. The Magic User’s world seems vastly better, though there’s a clear segregation between strong and weak magic users. The world is drawn with an extreme emphasis on physical detail. Body parts are severed, disfigured, warped, and transfigured and returned to normal every chapter. Exposed pipes, seedy tunnels, dive bars, drug dens, gang wars, a mixture of mad scientist digs, yakuza underbelly, and the occult. The author’s sketch-like drawing style supports the dirtiness of the world.
The magic in Dorohedoro is smoke produced from organs within the magic user’s body and emitted through the mouth or fingertips. The type and amount of smoke produced determines social standing. Humans can’t produce smoke, meaning that magic users use them as guinea pigs or practice. Barely above humans, magic users who can’t produce smoke, or who produce little or who have useless abilities. Then there are the average magic users and above them are the elite, such as En’s family. At the tiptop are the devils, led by Chidaruma, who are all-powerful, all-knowing, and capricious. Straddling the social spectrum are the Cross-Eyes, a gang of weak magic users who sell black smoke that will enhance magic power. Whether they are champions of the weak or a new gang that’s looking to make some dough depends on who you ask.
Each character has something to love and something to hate about them. They also share the same tendency towards violence, though Hayashida takes the sting out of these big bad people by giving them quirks and personalities.
For example, En, head of the En family, a wielder of the flexible and powerful mushroom magic, is always starting new ventures and participating in strange events. En’s search for a powerful magic partner is a subplot in the series. He wants a partner who can use time magic. Early on, he finds a magician that can raise the dead. He goes to the party where she is rumored to be, kills her partner, and kidnaps her. It turns out the magic is really from the cat-like animal hidden under her dress. En partners with it, and he cares for it personally throughout the series, naming it Kikurage.
Dorohedoro has the feel of an underground comic. It doesn’t have the polished look of contemporary manga— the author doesn’t seem to use screentones— but that adds to its creepy atmosphere. The *holds up le spork* randomness seems to have penetrated the collective unconsciousness of Dorohedoro. Inconsistency, irrelevancy, twists, and gotcha moments, are high, but every chapter reveals something new and awesome and makes for a dangerous, silly, mysterious, darkly comedic world.
Dorohedoro’s major weakness is that the story is so convoluted that it becomes difficult to follow what’s going on. The author stated in the interview that she draws whatever she wants in the moment. Certainly I’d be the last person to stop her, but I wish she had paid more attention to making the story clear.
For example, when Kaiman and Nikaido go off to find Doctor Kasuabe (for X reason). They end up trapped in his house, which is haunted by the black smoke of the wizards the doctor has been salvaging. So what do Kaiman and Nikaido do when they can’t get out? They make a meal and sit under the table to watch the snowfall on New Years. The doctor ventures out to eat and nonchalantly shows them the portal he’s made out of the murdered magic users’ skins.
And Kaiman and Nikaido are like, Groovy! And Dr. Kasukabe joins the cast of friends.
I mentioned this in my pan of The Violence Action: even death and injury loses its power when it’s shrugged off. In Dorohedoro’s case, there is a magic user who can heal any injury and another who can bring a magic user back to life. When blood becomes as common as water, life-threatening injuries become nothing, and death becomes merely an inconvenience, it becomes difficult to believe the characters were ever in danger.
The author’s segues into cute and irrelevant scenes feels like she’s writing fanfic of her own story and fleshing out the world. For example, there’s a baseball game between some magic users in disguise (Fujita and Ebisu) and Kaiman and friends. It’s hard to see how the game mattered, as fun as it was to read. Fujita was there to avenge his friend, but it turned out that the doctor had turned Fujita’s friend into a sort of Frankenstein monster to make up for a player who hadn’t shown up. The game ends with Fujita killing another player accidentally-on-purpose and escaping with parts of his friend, hoping to revive him. Unfortunately his friend’s body was so rotten it was beyond saving. BUT a body’s state of decay and completeness hasn’t stopped the revival magician before. Not only was the baseball game beside the point, the consequences reveal an inconsistency in how the story treats magic.
‘Just Because” reasons power some of Dorohedoro’s elements. This might have to do with the devils, who are ultra-powerful wizards who take a test to turn into demi-gods. Side effects of this apotheosis include near-invincibility, powerful magic, mania resulting in euphoria, creative impulses, apathy to others, casual ultra-violence, and a… devil-may-care attitude.
‘Just Because’ seems to be the heart of Dorohedoro— it’s impossible to predict what will happen. Everything happens nonstop and all at once. Reading it the first time with lose you; rereading is more rewarding, as you can follow the plot lines and characters as Kaiman tries to find out what the hell happened to him.
The best way to take in Dorohedoro is simply to enjoy the ride.