Dorohedoro – Episode 1

3 weeks ago 6

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I am excited to be embarking on a journey through one of 2020’s most intriguing properties, the long-awaited adaptation of Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro. Dorohedoro’s manga has been beloved for many years, at least among my social circles, and I’ve heard it described as an ultraviolent yet somehow cozy slice of life story in hell-world. I’m a fan of cozy slice of life, but don’t really have any love of ultraviolence, so I’ve held off on checking out the manga – that said, great storytelling can sell pretty much any premise, and Dorohedoro’s reputation is lofty enough for me to be expecting great things here.

As for this adaptation, we’ve got an excellent director in Yuuichirou Hayashi, who has more than demonstrated his ability to realize distinctive aesthetics through works like Garo and Kakegurui, as well as a legendary art director in Shinji Kimura, who’s contributed background art to works like Beautiful Dreamer and Akira. The use of CG character models is certainly a little disappointing, but for a work with designs like this, it’s likely the only way an adaptation could have been realized in the first place. With the stage set and my own experience established, let’s see what we find in the first episode of Dorohedoro!

Episode 1

And we open with… a man seemingly inside a massive gator-like creature’s mouth, with pinprick holes in his forehead dribbling blood over his bandana, which itself appears to be made out of human skin. So yes, I guess there is some violence in Dorohedoro

His name is apparently Natsumura, and this lizard-man is actually holding him pretty gently. These CG models aren’t the most convincing, but I appreciate the scattered dashes of texture and grime they’ve added to their suits; that’s a fine way to somewhat mitigate the inherently distracting, “clean” look of consistent CG models

“There’s someone else inside his mouth!” Already some interesting body horror ideas here, mixed with a neat tinge of surreal comedy. I can actually see how this might work – slice of life and horror definitely have a point of intersection at “slapstick violence,” and are both prone to wild fits of bodily distortion, as characters either playfully or fatally wrestle, as the case may be

The faces are actually a lot more graceful than the bodies; we’re getting some charming expression work here

And yeah, once again, Dorohedoro’s unique combo takes a familiar slapstick gag and supercharges it one step further, by having this lady actually snap the spellcaster’s finger backyards

Caiman is the lizard man. You shouldn’t talk with your mouth full, Caiman

Apparently Caiman is looking for someone, and isn’t actually in direct contact with the man inside himself. Is that man his true, original form then, or something?

Oh wow. And when he learns this guy isn’t the one, he immediately cuts him to pieces. The violence is stylized to the point where it doesn’t really feel gruesome, though – frankly, it seems like body mutilation is basically a given when it comes to life in this place. And I’m already loving this world’s brand of mysterious, organic magic – it feels messy and sacrifice-heavy, the kind of “Old Magic” that perfectly suits a story like this

Oh my god, the whole OP is just the blonde girl cooking a bunch of gyoza. Beginning to see this show’s appeal

Now a bunch of men with gyoza for heads are stomping through a doorway and splattering into paint on the ground. Maybe I should stop trying to get a read on this show quite so soon

There’s a sort of grimy coziness to this indoor environment here; it kind of reminds me of Kunihiko Ikuhara’s consistently lived-in homes

Oh wow, I love this decrepit industrial tunnel on the far side of the magic door. Kimura’s strengths already in attendance here

“Beyond that door is the world of the sorcerers.” And apparently that connects to their city, Hole

Oh my god, the background design of this city is just gorgeous. What a beautiful, intricate, fading world

Welp, the CG approach does allow them to pull off neat shots like this one that pulls back with our leads, and then pans around to behind them. You can’t really do that in traditional animation, at least not if you don’t want it to be one of the most labor-intensive cuts of your production

It seems the sorcerers use the denizens of Hole to practice their magic. So I think I guess what happened to Caiman, then

They pass the alley where he lost his memories, and saw the man that he’s now searching for. Even he doesn’t know if the man in his body is actually the original him

It seems the sorcerer who got away is going down some sort of checklist, checking up on the various partially human monsters he’s created

I’m glad everyone in this world loves gyoza as much as I do

“Please put the egg in and pray for his resurrection.” God I love how weird this world’s magic is. A lot of modern fantasy prefers quantifiable, systematized magic (and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that), but I adore this style, with its fanciful rituals and unpredictable results. I suppose it fits my interests that I’d rather magic be closer to art than science

Fujita is the sorcerer with the tengu mask. He goes to meet another man, named En

“Where are you going with your funeral shoes still on?” In this world, “funeral shoes” are apparently red-and-white striped clown shoes. All the sorcerers seem to be partially modeled on, like, Killer Klowns from Outer Space

They’re also just very casual in their outfits and affectations. I really like that – it makes this world feel much more real, like these characters have been shirking the expectations of their world for full lifetimes, rather than settling on all their rituals recently

We learn two key facts: a person who’s been magically changed can become immune to other magic, and you can’t cast magic with a broken finger

Caiman takes a part-time job at the hospital where they treat sorcerers’ practice subjects

Goofy domestic slapstick in the foreground, revolting body horror in the background. People were not lying about this one!

Apparently Nikaido’s Hungry Bug Diner is in an area frequented by sorcerers. And wouldn’t you know it, that very same sorcerer has appeared on her stoop – though apparently she can’t recognize him without his tengu nose on

So many characters in this world wear genuinely unflattering, faded, mismatched outfits. It’s a realistic and aesthetically fitting choice that further amplifies this world’s sense of lived-in solidity

Uh oh. Nikaido starts badmouthing his sorcery, and he doesn’t take it well

The pathway to Hole is as characteristically weird as everything else about this show’s architecture – it stands within a wall of similar metal doors, taped over with yellow caution tape, on the wall of a chasm with floating steps leading to each of them. This world design is just marvelous; a perfect blend of surreal fantasy and gritty, industrial utility

A subtle effect of that wall is to emphasize how much larger this world is than this particular story. Hole is just one destination among countless choices

Fujita’s actual mission is to find the sorcerer who transformed Caiman. Apparently there’s something special about him

Guns are apparently distasteful to sorcerers, beneath them

Nikaido’s already been partially insectified, but Caiman doesn’t seem terribly concerned

Ah, apparently killing the sorcerer dispels their magic. Well that’s convenient. Goodbye, Fujita!

For a story like this to work, you really need to establish a tone of indifference or even frivolity towards death, and Dorohedoro is certainly accomplishing that

En gave Fujita… a datapad with teeth and little mushrooms in it? This show’s every minor detail is so inventive and weird

Fujita is looking for Ebisu, a girl connected with the sorcerers who has a skull for a head

Holy shit, this vanity painting of En flexing in a toga. This show is really good

Ebisu’s skull-head is actually a mask, which frankly surprised me. She’s actually very cute! A shame they chopped all her fingers off

OH MY GOD NOW THEY RIPPED HER FACE OFF. WHAT IS THIS SHOW

Also Fujita’s alive? I’m a little uncertain on the chronology here, or the frequency of resurrection

Terrific direction for this sequence of Caiman’s internal human erupting graphically from his mouth. The CG wouldn’t be able to convey this whole process convincingly, and it would look revolting even if it did, so instead we get this morphing shadow on the wall, a traditionally animated shape that implies all the horrifying violence going on behind the camera’s frame

But it’s a dream. Caiman’s pillow getting stuck in his quills is excellent

And Done

What a fascinating first episode! I can’t remember the last time I watched a show with worldbuilding so different, so unique in its influences and overall structure, and yet still so confident and cohesive. Every panning shot of either Hole or the sorcerers’ home was an absolute treat, revealing new details and hideaways and architectural feats, while the core fantastical mechanics of this world feel fresh and inventive, yet so mundane to the characters themselves that it’s easy to get caught up in their journey. And while I was worried the violence might put me off, the show is so over-the-top in its gore that it ends up feeling like an extension of its comedy, a cartoonish yet fitting element of its overall friendly, inviting atmosphere. I already want to see more of all of these characters, and I can’t wait to see more of this world!

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