Reviewby Carlo Santos, Oct 8th 2010
Caiman, the lizard-headed man with a human hidden within his reptilian jaws, still has no clue who he is or who turned him into this bizarre creature. However, with the help of gyoza delivery girl Nikaido, he may be getting closer to the answer. Their search will not be easy, as the manipulative villains known as Sorcerers are up to their usual misdeeds—and even more so on a night when corpses awaken and wreak havoc on the city. After a fight leaves Caiman with his head cut off (but the rest of him still sentient), he hopes that preserving the remains and doing an autospy might yield some clues. The Sorcerers, meanwhile, are doing their own research to figure out the mystery of the human face inside Caiman. And who will come to Nikaido's aid when she gets caught up in a rigged boxing tournament run by a Sorcerer?
Make no mistake: the world of Dorohedoro, with its elements of horror, fantasy, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi, is strange even by manga standards. Yet those who were initially lured in by that strangeness may have been disappointed to find that Volume 1 was a genre hodgepodge that didn't really explain itself. In that respect, Volume 2 is surely an improvement, as Caiman's quest to find out his origins now takes a more coherent form than simply wandering around a near-future dystopia and fighting bad people. But don't think that the storyline is headed down a clear, straight path anytime soon: it still goes on a number of freewheeling tangents, throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. While it may not be completely polished and precise, there's still something about the series' rawness that works.
The first couple of chapters, unfortunately, are a reminder of what doesn't work The zombie invasion that pits Caiman and Nikaidou against the walking dead, and later a squad of Sorcerers, is run-of-the-mill action-adventure at its worst—an utterly typical brawl fought in an utterly typical urban environment. The sight of blunt weapons striking against flesh, blood spurting everywhere, and monsters getting chopped into bits may be a quick thrill, but it is ultimately an empty thrill, a brainless slugfest taking up a lot of space. Then again, with Caiman getting decapitated, it's also brainless in the literal sense.
Things start to get better after the climax of the fight, which also happens to reveal a surprising secret about Nikaido. Unfortunately, this secret goes ignored for the rest of the book, missing an opportunity to expand upon her character. There are other plot developments that still succeed, though: Caiman wanders around for a while with the remnants of his severed head (which is amusing in itself), then decides to have it examined by a doctor to see what he can find out. At the same time, the Sorcerers—having learned a thing or two from their close encounter with Caiman—seem to have found a trail leading to his past. Seeing things from the Sorcerers' perspective not only helps to build upon the story, but also fills out their characters and makes them more than just bad guys who show up every chapter. Amidst all this also lies an undercurrent of light humor, with the characters making subtle one-liners or getting caught in bizarre situations. In fact, the entire boxing chapter might be considered some kind of intentional gag—it doesn't really add anything to the story, but it sure is entertaining, with both Nikaido and Caiman kicking butt in their own way.
With these kind of dark-futuristic action series, one usually expects the artwork to be a strength, and in one sense that's true—Q Hayashida clearly has an eye (and hand) for grimy urban environments, gruesome beasts, and outlandish character designs. If anyone thought Caiman's lizard-man look was neat, just wait until the turkey guy shows up. Just beneath all the sketchy lines and rough textures, however, is a particularly glaring weakness: Hayashida's poor grasp of anatomy. It doesn't happen too often, but when Nikaido suddenly appears with a bizarrely shrunken head, or a grossly misproportioned chest, it just derails the story immersion—like a visual cue screaming "Hey! Someone here doesn't know how to draw!" On the plus side, at least Hayashida knows how to lay out action sequences, with even the most complex combat moves being relatively easy to follow. When working in a dense, sketchy style like this, being able to render the action cleanly is a crucial skill.
However, when the action speaks for itself, that usually means the dialogue is treated as an afterthought, and the first few chapters read almost like mad libs with their incongrous lines of speech. Are the Sorcerers actually discussing important plans, or are they just opening their mouths for the sake of idle conversation? It's anyone's guess! The script does improve in direct correlation with the story in the later chapters, though: as Caiman and the Sorcerers' investigations get more involved, the writing becomes more fluent and meaningful. (Even the boxing match has its share of witty banter.) Translation notes are included in the back, but it's really just an explanation of the Japanese signs seen in the artwork, and those kinds of notes are better placed in the margins between panels. Sound effects are fully reworked in English, erasing any trace of Japanese characters, but the lettering and placement fit smoothly enough into the artwork that most readers won't mind.
Although Dorohedoro's second volume improves upon the first, the latest story events still aren't enough to propel it into sci-fi greatness (and at just over 150 pages, this one is decidedly slim on content). After all, opening with another everyday blood-and-guts fight scene isn't going to get anyone terribly excited—wasn't there enough blood and guts in Volume 1? The middle chapters do show promise, though, with both heroes and villains taking major steps forward in solving the mystery of the lizard-headed man. With the series' visual aspect already fully developed, from dirt-strewn tenements to freakish mutant creatures, it's about time the plot also started building toward that sort of complexity. And yes, it's even okay to have a wacky little boxing tournament along the way, since we could all use some entertainment in a dystopian future. What remains to be seen, though, is whether this series can tie all these elements up into something even bigger and better.
Overall : C+
Story : B-
Art : C
+ Story grows more coherent and moves forward with new clues about the protagonist, all the while maintaining its densely textured visual style.
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