Hello everyone, and welcome the heck back. Today I’m eager to continue our exploration of Dorohedoro, one of 2020’s most compelling productions, and the adaptation of a manga that’s been beloved for two decades now. Since watching the first episode, I’ve learned that Dorohedoro creator Q Hayashida actually worked as an assistant for Tsutomu Nihei, which makes perfect sense – Nihei’s vast, crumbling cityscapes are the closest manga touchstone I could think of for Hole’s squalid beauty. But rather than use a setting like that to tell a story of alienation and decay, Hayashida instead has chosen to embrace it as a home; both of them clearly have a great love of grand, intricate architecture, but they employ that fascination in entirely different directions.
All that said, I wouldn’t want to give the impression that Dorohedoro is anything but Q Hayashida’s own invention. She started on this series in her early twenties, and worked on it for eighteen years, refining a cast and world that already seem thoughtfully composed and full of ideas. The gorgeous backgrounds, the alluring, messy systems of magic, the charming bond between Caiman and Nikaido – Dorohedoro is offering a diverse buffet of strengths, and I’m eager to see how it fleshes out its unique world. Let’s get to it!
And once again, we open our episode on a closeup of a face in extreme torment, as some new victim is hammered to death by our mysterious heart-headed man
The violence is turned into a kind of gleeful, saturnalian revel; music plays and colored lights flash as this man spins in place, a geyser of blood erupting from his head. It seems like one of this story’s goals is to find beauty in ostensibly grotesque things: Hole itself, extreme violence, dramatic body transformations, etcetera
His partner, Noi, calls him “Senpai”
Noi seems kinda like Nikaido; her upbeat tone serves as an inherent, goofy contrast with their world and actions
Ooh, beautiful shot from beside their front bumper, peering up and back at the streetlights and gothic architecture behind them. Smart choice to use a traditionally drawn car from this shot; CG cars are convenient for movement, but they tend to result in a very rough composite, making it hard to use them for evocative establishing shots like this
Incidentally, an anime’s “composite” is the process of arranging a frame’s component layers and digital effects into one final frame, thereby combining the backgrounds, character animation, and anything else that appears on screen. If composited well, a shot generally looks like it’s all part of one cohesive, inviting world – if done poorly, it can look like characters walking on top of a flat background, with no sense of visual continuity between the various parts of the frame. Part of the reason Kyoto Animation’s works are so compelling is that their composite team is goddamn fantastic; their shows are able to look not just cohesively convincing, but like you can even feel the mist in the early morning air
These two also seem to be sorcerer-hunters, and are actively aware of En’s presence
The episode title is spelled out in planks of wood on the street outside the diner. I’m generally a fan of diegetic titling, but why would that wood be out there?
Nikaido is feeling under the weather – literally, in this case, because she’s avoiding the rain, which is contaminated by the sorcerers’ black smoke
More gorgeous backgrounds in the rain. Dorohedoro’s art director and “world designer” Shinji Kimura is a genuine industry legend – he’s worked on background art or art design for films ranging from Akira to Beautiful Dreamer to Angel’s Egg to My Neighbor Totoro. Unsurprisingly, in recent years, he also handled AD duties on the similarly squalid-yet-beautiful urban drama, Blood Blockade Battlefront
Caiman merrily singing a work song as he sprays cleaning fluid on dismembered heads
Noi’s “Sensei” seems to have a heart condition or something; he always has trouble breathing after killing a squad of sorcerers
Huh. Apparently these two are actually cleaners for En, possibly wiping out sorcerers who refuse to work for him. They’re sorcerers as well
Meanwhile, Caiman is busy making friends with a mutilated sorcerer he was supposed to throw out with the burnable garbage
This sorcerer begs for death, and is thankful for receiving it. Life is such a strange thing in this world; so easily lost, but still precious
“Why am I so frustrated right now? I just killed a sorcerer, like usual.” Uh oh, Caiman. Did meeting a friendly sorcerer complicate your moral perspective just a little?
But his doubts are resolved by Nikaido inviting him to dinner. And of course, the scenery echoes his change in mood – at last, the rain begins to lift, and sunlight filters in to color the space between them
In this show, a “goofy visual comedy punchline” is Noi accidentally dumping a bag of blood and severed heads on herself
At last, we learn that Sensei’s name is Shin, and that he can slice anyone up while still keeping them alive. Presumably that’s what happened to Caiman’s new friend
Ebisu, the girl who lost her face, doesn’t seem to be doing so great. Fujita’s helping her get ready for dinner with En
She ordered an extremely complicated jigsaw puzzle zipper dress that Fujita has no idea how to put together. This show really does make farce and ultraviolence feel like natural companions; I’ve never seen “this character can’t put on her own dress because she had her face ripped off” before, but it lands perfectly here
Fujita is starstruck by Shin and Noi. Meanwhile, Ebisu’s boob is out
First the show introduces Nikaido, an extremely large and tough lady, and now we’ve got Noi, an even larger and extremely tough lady. Dorohedoro knows its business well
Noi is actually En’s cousin. We’re learning more about this world by the minute, but none of the things we’re learning actually resolve anything, they only invite further questions. That’s good! This world feels larger than our capacity to describe it
Their first course is some kind of mushroom dish. This show is really big into mushrooms – there was a mushroom sign on this door, En has those mushroom devices, and of course Nikaido has a big mushroom in the OP. I doubt it really means anything, though; this world is full of distinctive quirks, and I’d readily believe that Q Hayashida is just a big fungus enthusiast
And now Ebisu is racing around carrying a mushroom-themed cake
Ah, it turns out En only eats mushrooms. That’s how he knew his private restaurant had been compromised. And even his magic is mushroom-themed, as he turns the assassins into a cloud of mushrooms. I love the ineffectual thunking noises they make as they hit the window; it really hammers in how strong En is compared to them, in addition to just being another funny twist on the usual physical comedy routines
God these environments are pretty. Caiman and Nikaido end up driving into a new district of the city, passing beneath a series of decrepit torii gates. Everything here feels so damn lived-in – the graffiti all makes sense, the wear and tear looks convincing, and you can even tell where people briefly tried to make homes on the side of the road. A nice flourish as the team arrive at their “hotel,” which is actually a series of tents with the three letters “H E L” hanging by electric wire, the missing O and T lying on the ground, and an appended L spray-painted on the pillar at the end of the letters. All of these backgrounds tell stories of the people who live here
The club they’re seeking out has a massive buddha or bodhisattva as its centerpiece. That, along with the torii gates of this town, feel like our only gestures towards religious ceremony within this community. But neither of those fixtures seem to be used for their religious purpose at this point; they’re just more strange obelisks of the past, from whenever this city wasn’t so decrepit
The sorcerer they’re looking for, “The Needle,” actually seems like a perfectly charming guy. He barely even takes offense after Caiman announces his intent to kill them. Once again, death is just such a cavalier thing in this world that it all loops around to comedy
Our fascinating exploration of Hole continues! Once again, it was tough to avoid being preoccupied purely with this show’s gorgeous background art, which is genuinely some of the most impressive, evocative work I’ve seen in animation. The tacky-yet-glamorous opulence of En’s restaurant, the wild shifts between gothic and industrial grandeur, the lived-in complexity and mythical flourishes of Caiman and Nikaido’s journey… each new scene in this show offers fresh visual delights, with Hole serving as one of the most convincing examples I’ve seen of a setting itself being one of a story’s principle characters. Additionally, this episode offered some charming beats for pretty much its entire cast, with even the intimidating En proving himself to be a weirdly endearing sorcerer-king. This cast is so likable that I don’t really want any of them to kill each other – but with Shin and Noi on the job, we’re certainly in for a tumultuous third episode!