Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 11th 2012
In a dystopian city called the Hole, people live in constant fear of dimension-hopping Sorcerers who use humans as their guinea pigs. Lizard-headed Caiman is a victim of such magical shenanigans, and wants revenge on the Sorcerer who transmutated him. However, Caiman must first rescue his partner Nikaido, who has been captured by Sorcerer ringleader En. Disguised as a pie vendor, Caiman sneaks into enemy territory ... but is it too late to save Nikaido, who appears to have switched her allegiances? Meanwhile, Professor Kasukabe and friends—allies of Caiman and Nikaido—have escaped En's clutches thanks to some friendly connections. Their next step is to get the gang back together, but more dangers await as they explore the Sorcerers' realm. And Risu, a member of the "Cross Eyes" gang that holds the key to Caiman's human origins, is also getting closer to uncovering his past.
Volume 7 of Dorohedoro strikes an ideal balance between the series' many elements—it's got fighting action, personal drama, quirky humor, and science crossed with sorcery, with no particular aspect overshadowing any of the others. Best of all, it mostly avoids the bad habits that have plagued the series in the past: no long-winded detours, not too much emphasis on minor characters, and each chapter has a purpose in advancing the storyline. The gritty, intense artwork also promises that this is, as always, a trip into a world unlike any other.
What better way to prove the series' uniqueness than by beginning the trip with outright comedy? In the first two chapters, we get to see our lizard-man protagonist dress up as a burly woman, then compete in a pie-selling contest at En's mansion. Sure, it looks like random silliness on surface—but it also ties into the master plan to help Caiman rescue Nikaido. So even in moments when the fate of the main characters is at stake, the story deftly steps back and reminds everyone it's okay to have a little fun.
Then come the middle two chapters where things start to get serious. Caiman comes face to face with Nikaido (currently under En's control), and a battle ensues: not just a physical one, with plenty of acrobatic maneuvers and collateral damage, but also a battle of wills, as Caiman tries to remind Nikaido which side she's on. However, the real highlight of this reunion is a flashback about how Caiman and Nikaido first met, followed by a moving reconciliation. Events like these prove that the series is about more than just dystopian action-adventure and battling evil Sorcerers—there's also plenty of heart, particularly in the bond between the two main characters.
After this poignant resolution, however, the series lapses right back into action-adventure mode, and not in a good way. The latter part of the volume bounces awkwardly between different subplots: Professor Kasukabe and company trying to survive the Sorcerer realm and track down Caiman; mid-rank Sorcerers Shin and Noi hunting down magical drug manufacturers; and the most disparate storyline of all, reanimated gangster Risu catching up with old pals. Although each subplot is related to Caiman's quest for revenge, they all seem to be drifting off in their own respective directions (aside from a violent incident where Kasukabe and Shin cross paths in the woods).
Although the plot has trouble keeping itself together, the artwork stays much more unified in concept. Whether the action takes place in the Hole, within En's mansion, or in the wilderness of the Sorcerers' dimension, the scruffy linework (sometimes with pencil marks still faintly showing) and hand-drawn hatching give everything a raw-edged vitality. In the hands of a lesser artist, it might be considered a mess that needs to be cleaned up, but the level of precision and detail in some areas proves that the style is intentional. As expected, the violent fight scenes provide the greatest thrill, although all the flying debris and random clutter can make some scenes hard to follow. Fortunately, the straightforward rectangular panels result in smooth reading the rest of the time, and a few visual gags also add some light humor. (Caiman's cross-dress disguise is delightfully campy, and watch how Johnson the giant cockroach gets defeated later on.)
Humor also comes in the form of the characters' dialogue, where sarcastic remarks and colloquial cursing add spice to the script. Compare this against other mature-themed sci-fi where everyone gets drowned in technobabble and melodramatic speeches, or the main character has the verbal range of a brick wall, and it's clear that Dorohedoro proudly walks its own path as far as writing is concerned. Even in translation, these moments of casual chatter bring out the characters' personalities. However, plot-heavy conversations—the ones where the speakers delve into matters of sorcery, or discuss the motives of other characters—can be tougher to understand. (One expects that vague details will become clearer as the story unfolds.) Sound effects have been edited from the original Japanese into English, but thankfully the altered text doesn't stand out too much—the artwork is busy enough that sound effects typically blend right into the scenery.
Although it's been an inconsistent, up-and-down journey at times, Dorohedoro makes some solid progress in Volume 7. After all, what could be more important than the main characters clashing over the future of their friendship—and recalling a flashback of how they met in the first place? But that's not the only thing to enjoy in this volume: there are moments of unlikely comedy, blood-spilling fight scenes, and a little bit of exploration as side characters venture into parts unknown. What it all adds up to is a well-rounded volume, drawn in an intense, rough-but-vibrant style. The plot doesn't always hold itself together very neatly, and some parts of the story ought to explain themselves better, but a few missteps aren't so bad as long as the adventure looks like it's headed somewhere.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Strikes a good balance of action, drama, and humor, putting the main characters in the spotlight and showing off a unique visual style.
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