Reviewby Carlo Santos, Aug 21st 2011
In a run-down city known as the Hole, citizens live in constant fear of Sorcerers, magic-users who prey upon humans for their experiments. Caiman the lizard-headed man is one such victim, and he's out to get revenge on the Sorcerer who turned him into a monster. Joining Caiman on his quest is Nikaido, a woman with fighting skills and some important connections. Their latest scuffle with the Sorcerers has sent Nikaido to hospital—but they do pick up some valuable clues while staying there. After that, their next Sorcerer encounter happens at an intramural baseball game, which (not surprisingly) ends in chaos. Out of that chaos, however, comes a revelation about the type of magic that transforms people into lizards. Meanwhile, Caiman, takes some time to think, and finally recalls the man that may hold the key to his fragmented past: Risu.
It's an accepted fact of good storytelling that sometimes, to keep things interesting, the readers may not know what's going on. But the problem with Dorohedoro, as it enters its fourth volume, is that even the creator doesn't seem to know what's going on. Q Hayashida seems content to explore the world she has created in this series, but without any sense of purpose. Individual scenes and snippets of plot make for light entertainment, but fail to come together as a whole. For every forward step that the story takes, there are two sidesteps into confusion and distraction, it seems.
Whenever the story does make progress, it's always in fits and starts—Nikaido's brief stay at the hospital, for example, allows time for a flashback of how the animosity between the Sorcerers and the citizens of the Hole got started. But that interlude is barely over before another wild, all-over-the-place action sequence begins. The only other big sign of story development takes place in the last couple of chapters, where the Sorcerers accidentally figure out how lizard-transformation magic works. This comes a major beacon of hope that Caiman's aimless wanderings are finally going somewhere, and that revenge and satisfaction will finally be his. (Indeed, our beleaguered hero makes a big move right at the end of the last chapter.) But even that revelation is interrupted by a poorly placed flashback about Caiman's former acquaintance Risu—is this something happening right now? A little while back? Way in the past?—which upsets the rhythm of the entire narrative.
Then there is the baseball game, that big waste of time in the middle that may be entertaining to some but adds little to the overall story. It doesn't hurt to have a little fun with this genre—dark, dystopian sci-fi can be so gloomy, so why not inject a little humor into the proceedings? The baseball game does work in some pretty amusing gags, like Caiman and Nikaido's team being joined by a giant cockroach and a re-animated Sorcerer's corpse (who ends up being a key figure in later events), not to mention some wild sports bloopers. But this also exemplifies the patchwork storytelling that goes into the series: "Let's have a baseball game just for the sake of having a baseball game!", says the author, without stopping to think how much this will contribute to Caiman's original quest. (Hint: not very much.)
Even the visual style, distinctive as it may be, proves to be a hindrance to the story: it's hard to get a hang of who's who in the Sorcerers' faction when they're all wearing strange masks and outfits that hide their gender, their abilties, even their ranking in the group. Sure, Hayashida knows them by heart after drawing them all the time, but for readers, it's more like seeing random names and faces flash by ("En!" "Ebisu!" "Noi!") then disappear a few pages later after serving their purpose. So, while the characters are creatively designed, their haphazard treatment in the story keeps them from truly coming to life. The scribbly penstrokes also hold the story back, making it hard to pick out who's attacking each other, or even how they are attacking each other, during key action scenes. These are supposed to be the parts that bristle with fast-paced excitement—and instead they're being slowed down by messy, confusing artwork?
At least the background illustrations fare better; when it comes to otherworldly sci-fi environments, Hayashida's detailed yet "dirty" style gives rise to tenements, alleyways, and sewers unlike any other. Monster designs are also a highlight throughout the series, with six-foot-tall cockroaches and human-lizard hybrids proving to be as fascinating as they are grotesque.
With the artwork as striking as it is, re-touching the sound effects to make them fit with the visuals is no easy task. Every sound of a collision or an explosion is edited from Japanese into English in this edition, and while some of the lettering stands out a bit too conspicuously, the various fonts and styles match the art well. The translated dialogue also gets into the spirit of the series, with a few swears and colloquialisms thrown in to add personality to this edgy, post-apocalyptic universe. When the time comes for clarity, though—like the long-winded explanation about lizard magic—the writing shifts styles and makes things easy to follow.
After four volumes, Dorohedoro is indeed starting to show progress, but it continues to be a laborious trek with lots of sidesteps and potholes. We get some big, concrete clues about who and what was responsible for turning Caiman into a lizard-man—but not without having to wade through a messy pile-up of flashbacks, fight scenes, and a local baseball game. There's nothing with throwing "whatever you think is cool" into a series, and having a sense of humor about it, but at some point people still expect a story. Ultimately, that's where Dorohedoro fails to deliver. With all the mad monsters, otherworldly structures, and mysterious masked Sorcerers, this is truly an eye-opening world to explore—but what happens when no one has any sense of direction?
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : B-
+ Amidst a richly illustrated dystopian world, some big clues finally come up in the troubled hero's quest for revenge.
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