Remember the days when we were convinced Japanese comics were batshit insane? That, on the other side of the world, thereís an entire island of comics creators born deranged and trusted with sharp objects--which they used to draw baby-eating antiheroes, sex-criminal cyborgs, and Dragonball---all of which eventually became cartoons?
Ah, gone are the days when American manga distributors catered to the sex perverts that read western comics. Now that crowd makes shojo money while the mainstream American comics crowd continues being horrified and put off--but for different, stupider reasons.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a manga where the villain interrogates a disembodied head, its spine hanging inches from the floor. Where the opening page is an extreme close-up of a human-sized lizard biting a manís head. Where, in the middle of the book, thereís an inexplicable color section that makes the art look a bit like the grotesquery of Simon Bisley. It's amazing that the premise of Dorohedoro is reasonably conventional.
Sorcerers use innocent people for black magic experiments, and one of their amnesiac victims, Caiman, searches for the sorcerer that magicked his head. In effect, itís a crime revenge comic with a supernatural bent. The sort of plot that is fit for a noir comic where you name your character after your favorite obscure B-movie director.
Filtered through the twisted mind of creator Q Hayashida, Dorohedoro becomes unforgettable. While she (yes, she) draws her human characters conventionally, she renders everything else with scratchy, violent lines that give the world a creepy, post-apocalyptic milieu--with its fetish masks, ruined buildings, and lizard heads.
Being a serialized manga, Dorohedoro is briskly paced in its chapters of twenty-something pages each. While most of the pages have the standard five- to six-panel layouts, Hayashida isnít afraid to play with a 15-panel page here and a 12-panel there for the sake of effect when the situation calls for something that need not be extend over three pages. At one point, she even experiments with diagonal, triangular panels in a fight scene.
Hayashidaís major thematic occupations seem to be masks, transformation, and a dichotomy between beauty and horror. Everyone wears a mask at some point, be it the sort you can conveniently remove or one that has been inflicted on our hero Caimanís face. Even then, he often wears a gas mask. Our lizard-headed hero is paired with a cute girl as a sidekick and the people under the horrifying masks are surprisingly pretty and human.
Dorohedoro is as insane, gory, and strange as its opening page promises. However, like its protagonist, itís full of mystery--at least as far as trajectory is concerned. Will ensuing volumes continue to disturb/delight? Will Dorohedoro coast and draw out its quest for 40 volumes? Or, will Hayashida eventually peel back the scales and reveal something beautiful underneath?
Most of all, Iím looking forward to the masks.
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