Dorohedoro – Episode 4

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Hello everyone, and welcome once more to Wrong Every Time. Today I come to you in a spirit of contrition, as my motives for this current article could not be more impure. We’re going to be continuing Dorohedoro, largely because I… I… I want to know what happens next.

I know, I know. I’m the one who always says that plot is details, and regularly spends a good third of my articles rambling about layouts, and who generally only addresses narrative events insofar as they’re relevant to character journeys or thematic arguments. But Dorohedoro’s world is just so damn interesting, and pretty much every time it offers an explanation for one of its magic tricks, that explanation blossoms into five new questions demanding an answer. I’m also genuinely invested in the fates of both our humans and our sorcerers, and also simply eager to see more of Hole’s beautiful architecture, as well as Hayashida’s marvelous narrative inventions. Most plots are not so fascinating that they offer much more than a template for genuine craft to shine, but Dorohedoro’s story has me genuinely intrigued, and I’m prepared to follow this alarming instinct where it leads. Let’s check back in with our friends in Dorohedoro!

Episode 4

Well jeez, who’d have expected this episode to open with an absurdly gorgeous pan across a diverse series of steepled buildings, ranging from gothic cathedrals to east asian shrines to industrial revolution-era skyscrapers. It’s almost like Hole is a rapturous, living testament to the entire history of architecture or something

Watching this show does make it hard not to ask “why isn’t every show’s background art unimaginably beautiful”

Ah, it looks like they’re actually on the sorcerer side here. That makes sense; we’ve seen this sort of cross-historical opulence before, in sets like En’s restaurant, whereas Hole itself is more of a combined slum and industrial park

En and Shin are plotting their attack on Caiman

And they meet Turkey, a sorcerer who makes living dolls, and who literally has a turkey for a head. Or worn over his head? It seems the sorcerers have some kind of policy or tradition regarding using masks, as all the ones we’ve seen except for the undercover Nikaido have their own signature face covering

That detail exemplifies Dorohedoro’s refreshing approach to worldbuilding. The show is never so insecure as to actually explain all of its ideas and traditions directly to the audience, and instead lets us simply relish in the strange, evocative lived experience of those ideas playing out in its cast’s day-to-day life. The lack of explanation both serves as a natural hook for the audience, and also results in much more naturalistic, convincing conversations and worldbuilding. Dorohedoro is constructed out of a precise balance of inventive, farcical details and rock-solid fundamentals; this world is delightfully absurd, but it is absurd in a way that still maintains an iron sense of consistency and continuity

Turkey’s home embodies the messy specificity of this world’s systems of magic. Turkey literally bakes his creations in a giant oven

And that sort of whimsical dark fantasy intermingles naturally with the show’s dramatic farce, like Shin getting all flustered by this naked Noi doppelganger

Once again, the title drop is used for a genre homage; this time, Turkey’s work is framed like the introduction to a cooking show

He literally and lovingly prepares a roast duck for the spell. Another thing I like about Dorohedoro: this story is tremendously reverent towards the power of good food

And so they cook up a copy of the man in Caiman’s mouth

Haha, I love Shin and Noi reflecting on how this is a nice change of pace from beating the shit out of people. This cast has such an effortless, casual chemistry; their confidence in their world and relationships makes it easy for the audience to invest in them as well

There’s just such a sense of fun and inherent humor in everything. Shin judging this doppelganger’s taste in clothing is great

The doppel leads them to a part of town where people with little ability to create smoke, or just plain bad magic powers, gather in groups. This “chase” is serving as a convenient tour of the world of the sorcerers, and also letting all four of our sorcerers riff off each other in a casual setting, without the constraints of some specific dramatic task

Ebisu finds a box in what they presume is the doppel’s apartment, prompting an attack by the doppel. Is Ebisu ever going to make it like eight straight minutes without getting mauled or dismembered?

One of the biggest, unavoidable misses of this adaptation is that the fight scenes generally lack the messy, brutal texture that defines this show’s background art, due to the limitations of the CG art. It’s easy to see that this story’s aesthetic elements are all supposed to work in harmony, creating a consistent sense of “beauty in destruction” that is clear in both its drama and its architecture. Sadly, the CG models mean the action’s big moments rarely land with much aesthetic impact

And so they discover the man in Caiman’s mouth’s actual head, locked in a box in this apartment

Dorohedoro delights in weird ritual, understanding that humans will make their own mythologies out of basically anything. With the chase chapter apparently concluded, we now join our team of sorcerers as they attend a party where guests bring their own corpses, and hang them from the ceiling for the flies

I guess another of this story’s great insights is “the aesthetics and mechanics of horror need not be applied only to horror stories.” We’re persistently running through venues and situations that resemble classic horror scenarios, but instead simply using them as evocative window dressing for sitcom shenanigans or exposition

Ah, and the guest of honor at this party actually revives these corpses, taking the present attached to each one for herself

“There’s a small tumor inside each sorcerer’s head. It’s shaped like a devil, and represents our life to us.” Every episode is brimming with these whimsical, wonderful flourishes of worldbuilding. This story is a testament to the importance of writing down all of your ideas, because you never know where you might find a use for them

Oh my god, a horrible murder-balloon is dangled in front of Ebisu, and she immediately runs off chasing it. Don’t they know they can’t leave her alone at this point!?

The man guiding her has some sort of unique black powder, that seems to greatly enhance the consumer’s magical ability. Aaand now Ebisu’s accidentally killed him

Noi and Shin’s “fusion attack” encapsulates their fearless ferocity, as well as the grotesque body horror that informs so many of this show’s climactic moments. As Shin’s body is torn apart by the opponent’s black powder, Noi regenerates him in real time, growing a skeletal arm back into muscle and skin in time to strike their enemy’s head

The “life-giving sorcerer” is actually a weird little devil-dog the lady was hiding under her shirt. Brutally violent setup, farcically anticlimactic payoff; a combination few stories could pull off

Strong layout for the conclusion of this adventure, as all four of our guests congregate on the far right edge of the screen, emphasizing their familial closeness within this imposing estate. The grandeur around them fades away as they goof on En and fuss with his new pet

Oh wow, they made a tiny devil mask for the pink dog-creature. What a precious monster

“Boss, Ebisu has come up with a list of names for the creature.” Ebisu has her priorities straight

This bass-driven, almost lounge-style jazz track is a perfect fit for the goofy domestic discussions of En and his loyal troops. The intersection of sitcom and body horror continues to be a marvelous place

They raise a point Caiman never would have considered: that Nikaido herself might have been the one who transformed Caiman

He decides to name it Kikurage, after the mushrooms, of course

Meanwhile, Nikaido and Caiman are checking in with the leading researcher of sorcerers

The house appears empty. “I wonder if the doctor has dropped dead somewhere” is Caiman’s immediate response, which at this point seems appropriate. Normally, finding a dead body is a dramatic moment of great shock and significance – here, it’s frequently more surprising if someone doesn’t end up dead

Hm, it seems Caiman still hasn’t realized that Nikaido is a sorcerer

And so they spend the new year at this doctor’s house, raiding his pantry for a feast. Food is one of the places where this show’s diverse interests can intermingle; the preparation of food is a celebration of ritual, while its group consumption celebrates the camaraderie shared by its characters. Additionally, the cycle of food mirrors this story’s preoccupation with the cycle of life itself, as the old is consumed as sustenance for the new, and ultimately jettisoned in the resoundingly unflattering, non-mystical form of feces. Everything this show cares about, from its warm character bonds to its magical ceremonies to its perspective on mortality to its defiantly unromantic view of the world at large, are all in some way embodied by its focus on food

It’s clear Nikaido really does value her friendship with Caiman, and is terribly afraid of his reaction upon learning the truth. There’s no way she inflicted this state on him, at least not intentionally

And at last, Doctor Kasukabe arrives. He’s sixty years old, but was used for practice by a sorcerer, so now has a kid’s body. That’s a pretty good deal, all things considered

Kasukabe vacuuming up magic black smoke with a vacuum cleaner is exactly the sort of cross-genre bullshit this show does best

And Done

Well, that certainly was a sturdy injection of basically all of this show’s principle talents. Having more or less established the show’s initial conflict across its first three episodes, this one was happy to lean off the gas a bit, and illustrate the ongoing shenanigans of its cast through three distinct vignettes, which were presumably each a chapter of the original manga. On both the sorcerer and Hole sides, these vignettes embodied the simultaneous playfulness and horror of Dorohedoro, solidifying the dynamic across En’s main confidants, while also offering a variety of tantalizing worldbuilding flourishes that meaningfully furthered both En and Caiman’s goals.

It’s very rare to find a story that simultaneously feels so freewheeling in terms of its worldbuilding details, yet also so confident in terms of its structure and character work. It feels like Hole was a place that always existed, but which we only lacked the proper storyteller to describe – but of course, the truth of it is simply that Q Hayashida is such a confident, accomplished storyteller that her world already feels like an essential fiction.

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