When the Dorohedoro anime hit Netflix, it turned a lot of heads. But for fans of the anime and newcomers alike, Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro manga, which has been going since 2002, is an absolute must-read.
In her Dorohedoro manga, Q Hayashida has created a gnarly, nasty, raw, and radical piece of fiction. Dorohedoro is bloody, gruesome, shocking, dark, and surprisingly funny.
With deep and original world-building, an art style reminiscent of Kentaro Miura’s Berserk, and, and very black comedy style of humour, the Dorohedoro manga has a winning formula.
What’s the Dorohedoro manga about?
Dorohedoro is a seinen manga written and drawn by mangaka Q Hayashida; the English translation is handled by AltJapan, a localisation team run by Japan-based writer Matt Alt, (and they’ve done a staggering job with the translation).
Set in a grimy post-apocalyptic future, the Dorohedoro manga shifts between two realms: a human city aptly named The Hole and a second world populated by sorcerers.
When Dorohedoro begins, we meet our main protagonist: a big human man with a lizard head known as Caiman. Caiman has amnesia and is invulnerable to the magic of sorcerers. He knows that he was experimented on by a sorcerer, but that’s all.
With no memory to rely on, Caiman is hunting down sorcerers in a desperate attempt to find the one who turned him into a big lizard man. He is aided in his hunt by Nikaido, a strong martial arts expert who also runs a restaurant.
Nikaido is a fantastic female character; capable, savvy, funny, and the perfect companion to the hard-and-hot-headed Caiman. Together, they will find the sorcerer who did this to him, as well as why they did it and why he is also impervious to their magic.
Caiman is not the only guinea pig in The Hole. Lately, sorcerers have been making a habit of entering The Hole via magic doorways they are able to conjure, and there they frivolously experiment with the lives and bodies of unwitting human residents.
The sorcerers of the Dorohedoro manga are not your typical fair; far from your Gandalfs and Dumbledores, these sorcerers are more like yakuza gangsters. They each wear masks, work for a crime boss, and use their magic primarily for the abuse of power.
As we enter the world of the Dorohedoro manga, Caiman and Nikaido are our eyes and ears, but soon enough we also meet two sorcerers named Noi and Shin: a man and woman pair who work as ‘cleaners’ for the crime boss En.
Like Caiman and Nikaido, Noi and Shin are a fantastic pair. They banter well, have distinct personalities, and their dynamic — both physically and in terms of dialogue — is frankly addictive.
Via these two pairs of protagonists, two from The Hole and two from the sorcerer realm — we experience this gnarly, grimy, nasty, violent world.
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What makes the Dorohedoro manga so punk
Defining a story, novel, or manga as punk can be tricky but the kinds of aspects you’re likely to find are:
- A grim and bleak setting
- Shocking visual/physical elements like blood and body horror
- Taboo subjects covered with abandon
- Use of black comedy
- Political themes and topics explored with confidence and a unique angle
- A sense of anger and catharsis bleeding through the text/images
- Moral and ethical ambiguity
The Dorohedoro features many of these details, at one time or another, as its chapters progress. The grimy and gross setting and the gruesome events are the first things to hit you. Dorohedoro doesn’t hold back on the blood and gore.
We begin with our semi-human protagonist using his lizard head to decapitate another human, and things only become more unsettling from here on.
Dorohedoro also quickly introduces black comedy and irony to offset its violence and brutality. This is necessary for the survival of the reader’s psyche, but it still comes off as jarring. Q Hayashida clearly doesn’t care, though, and that, too, is punk.
The comedy of this seinen manga is, at times, laugh out loud funny. We English readers can thank Matt Alt and his team for that; his translation of Dorohedoro is truly and consistently outstanding.
The black comedy itself comes from the almost unsettling ways in which the manga’s characters, especially Caiman and Nikaido, seem so at east with the world, their situation, and the actions they must take to get what they need.
One early example, while we’re still getting used to what may or may not be considered cannibalism, is when Caiman casually asks his target if he can gnaw on her skull.
Then there’s the ambiguity of the manga’s characters and events. Noi and Shin are bad guys because they’re framed that way, until they aren’t. Likewise, Caiman is our protagonist but he does some irredeemable stuff without a good enough excuse.
And, as we’re doing our best as readers to digest the moral ambiguities of our characters, the out-of-place comedic moments, and the sheer amounts of blood and gore that seems to reach out and splatter us, we have to live in this most grim and nasty world.
The Hole is a disgusting place; dirty and full of danger. Its streets are claustrophobia-inducing; its people are poor and vulnerable, but also desperate and dangerous. It’s an uneasy place to spend time in, but we readers have no choice.
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The art of the Dorohedoro manga
The world and characters of the Dorohedoro manga wouldn’t leave the marks they leave without the specific artistic stylings of mangaka Q Hayashida.
She is one gnarly artist; as punk and daring as the world she has built here, and I for one am very grateful for that.
Here is a creator who not only had the idea for this world and its characters, but also the unique artistic flair to bring it to life in exactly the right way. I cannot imagine Dorohedoro looking any differently to how it does via Q Hayashida’s hand.
Every panel that sets a scene by depicting a street, a skyline, a corridor, or a room does so with staggering, almost dizzying levels of detail.
In fact, dizzying may be the best word for it. There is a lot of rough and raw sketchiness to her work, but Hayashida never scrimps on the details. Trying to take it all in can honestly be quite literally dizzying.
This strange juxtaposition of rough, raw art with the most specific of details really demonstrates the sheer amount of passion Hayashida has for her manga, as well as how thought-out the world of the Dorohedoro manga is.
Then there are her characters. Nikaido is drawn to be strong, stable, capable, and intimidating, but also calm, warm, welcoming, and even sexy. She’s a brilliantly realised character.
Caiman also demonstrates comedy and friendliness in spite of his animalistic features and behaviour; and this is all depicted with the frantic artwork of Q Hayashida.
She has written some of the finest characters, and one of the most absorbing world, in seinen manga, and brought it all to life with an art style that is all her own.
There is no mangaka that can do what Hayashida does and deliver what she manages to deliver with Dorohedoro.
One final note: The Dorohedoro anime has been very well received but, at this time, I have not seen it. I’ll update this article with more thoughts once I have.