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The 3DCG in Dorohedoro: Yay or Nay?

by Kim Morrissy,

There seems to be a pattern lately when it comes to prestige manga titles getting anime adaptations. The fans are delighted when they hear the news... until they find out that it's going to be a 3DCG production, at which point the expectations become way more reserved. After what happened to Berserk, I think it's quite reasonable to keep one's expectations for 3D anime in check.

When Dorohedoro was announced to be a 3D anime, my first thought was, "It figures." For years, Q Hayashida's manga was called "unadaptable" due to its elaborate drawings, its long-form storytelling, and its over-the-top violence. Even if the series were to get an anime, it would take way too much time and manpower to convey the majesty of it all with hand-drawn animation. Caiman, a man who possesses a lizard head, would have posed a particular problem for animators.

And even beyond that, each panel of the manga feels like a painting, encouraging readers to slow down and experience the world at their own pace. Capturing that appeal in animation feels nigh impossible, even with the acclaimed art director Shinji Kimura (best known for his work on Tekkonkinkreet) working on the backgrounds. So the bigger surprise was Dorohedoro getting an anime at all rather than the format it ultimately took.

What was a surprise, at least for me, was discovering just how much of the 3D animation was done in-house at MAPPA, a 2D anime studio that has never done a 3D project on this scale before.

Normally when it comes to these 2D-3D hybrid anime like Berserk and Hi Score Girl, the 2D anime studio handles the main creative decisions while the actual 3D modelling and animation work gets outsourced to a different company, but not so in Dorohedoro's case. According to an interview with the CGWorld magazine, the 2D and 3D staff at MAPPA worked closely together throughout all stages of production, a workflow that just isn't common at all in this outsourcing-heavy industry.

This might be one of the biggest reasons why Dorohedoro looks a lot better than a number of fans were fearing. Although they are obviously 3D creations, the characters move more or less the same way as a hand-animated character would move, so it doesn't come across as uncanny as other 2D-3D hybrids tend to be.

At the same time, I couldn't help but feel ambivalent as I watched this anime, as if there was something missing about it. It clicked for me when I read the CGWorld interview: in it, the staff said that they explicitly went out of their way to avoid 3D camerawork. So there are none of the ambitious sweeping 3D shots that you'd see in, say, a ufotable anime. In fact, a typical modern 2D anime has more ambitious 3D camerawork than Dorohedoro.

As for the animation itself, the problem is not in how the characters move, but in how they don't move. The character animation in Dorohedoro is remarkably wooden, even from the most charitable point of view. Characters don't move except to accomplish the bare minimum of what's necessary for the scene. As a result, it's hard to get a feel for who these characters even are, especially when you're an anime-only viewer and don't have much context about them. If this were a 2D anime, the characters would probably come across just as underwhelming if they moved this little.

I do want to point out that Noi has a fantastic design, and that Yū Kobayashi nails the voice for her, though.

All of this adds up to my overall impression of the anime: confusion over why the staff chose to use CG to convey this story - besides the purely pragmatic reasons, I mean. I have no bone to pick with 3D anime in general, nor am I opposed to the idea of complex objects and designs being animated in 3D primarily to get things done on time. In fact, great art is often born out of limitations; the style of "limited animation" that we know and love in Japanese anime was developed out of the constraints of television production schedules. But that desire to create something new from the limitations has to be there; you can't just submit yourself to the limitations and call it a day.

Love them or hate them, 2D-3D anime hybrids have been pushing the boundaries for anime and expanding its possibilities of an art form, especially when it comes incorporating 3D camerawork and animation techniques. You could also argue that certain genres like mecha can continue to have a place in anime because of the work of 3D animators. Studio Orange's output is one of the best examples of this. When they worked on Land of the Lustrous, they animated the characters in 3D while getting a 2D animator to draw the facial expressions, so they could capture the best of both styles of animation. It's one of many valid ways to approach 2D-3D hybrids, but that's the kind of creative approach that I admire in those kinds of works.

Meanwhile, Dorohedoro is... "fine." All things said and done, it's less likely to prompt that instinctual rejection of 3D among anime fans who have a very specific expectation of how an anime should look. I'm sure there will even be fans who will praise the animation as an example of how best to do unobtrusive 3D characters. But once I noticed the lack of ambition in Dorohedoro's visual direction, I couldn't unsee it. Moments that were particularly shocking and impactful in the manga pass by like a blip in the anime, even though it's a technically faithful adaptation.

Not even the breathtaking background art makes up for it, sadly.

So, personally, I'm going to give a thumbs down to Dorohedoro's 3D animation. But how about you, readers? How do you feel about the animation?

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