By Q Hayashida. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Ikki. Released in North America by Viz.
No thrilling escapes for Nikaido after last volume’s cliffhanger ending – she’s captured, and En is determined to make her his new partner. That said, the most fascinating thing about this volume, and indeed Dorohedoro as a whole, is the motivations of the so-called ‘villainous’ characters. In a world where everyone’s a bit of a sadistic murderer, how do you judge who’s really a good person or not? Well, one way might be that they don’t chain you in a dungeon and mind-control you into being a zombie. But on the other hand…
En is on this volume’s cover, and En gets the most attention, as we get a flashback to his own origins. Of course, this particular flashback is a movie directed by En, so there’s a slight question of veracity. But even if it is propaganda, it *sounds* right – we even see him without his mask! (He has thins tiny pencil mustache – I bet he thinks it makes him look cooler, but I was thinking more cute.) The big thing about this flashback, though, is it continues to show that En’s past is tied with the past that Caimahn is trying to discover – and that the current happy-go-lucky lizard head Caiman was probably a very different person when he was a Cross-Eyed.
However, as sympathetic as En seems in the final chapters, it’s balanced by his treatment of Nikaido, which I already alluded to. Forced to sign a partner contract – which in this universe involves literally opening up your chest and sticking it inside your body – Nikaido is then imprisoned for the majority of this volume, and it’s very much the chains and bread and water type of prison. When she’s finally freed, it’s only because the contract – which is shown to be magical in nature, as if opening people’s chests like doors wasn’t a clue enough – is making her passive and accepting. Indeed, at one point she has a bowling ball dropped on her head by a jealous Chota, her reaction is basically “oh”. It’s sad to see, and does not endear En to you, no matter what grand plans he has. (The ‘extra chapter’ is a side story showing us how Nikaido got her restaurant, in case we missed the old chirpy version.
And as always, there’s the world building. This month the Manga Moveable Feast is discussing Viz’s Signature titles, and this is certainly one of them. Indeed, I have trouble imagining this series anywhere but in Ikki, Shogakukan’s experimental seinen line. Hayashida clearly has an ongoing plot, but the series works because she’s given so much time to play everything out – even the action scenes don’t feel rushed. Dorohedoro’s been running since 2000, and Japan is up to Volume 16. While this means it must be selling something, I think it also shows the trust the editors place in her to deliver these sorts of goods. Of course there is *some* pandering to the reader – each volume is filled with gory violence, and one scene showing Noi and Ebisu bathing a struggling Nikaido has our standard gratuitous nudity – but it’s not done in the usual “look, boobs!” way we see in, say, Cage of Eden.
Lastly, what struck me about this volume was the unashamed sentiment it still has in its crapsack world filled with morally ambiguous characters. The ongoing funny-yet-heartwarming relationship between Fujita and Ebisu. The way that Caiman has quickly won Tanba over and is now prepared to reveal things that he really only told Nikaido before. And Johnson and his compatriots escaping En’s prison, not because of a clever and daring escape, but because Johnson saved Shin’s life back in the day and Shin owes him. In a world where hell is literal (and not always filled with the dead, as En can attest) but we’re not so sure about heaven, these little moments are precious. It’s the difference between having a world of villains and having a world full of unlikeable villains. All of Dorohedoro’s cast makes you want to read more of them. Even En. Though I wish he didn’t have to resort to brainwashing.