Dorohedoro, Vol. 19

By Q Hayashida. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hibana. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by AltJapan Co., Ltd. (Hiroko Yoda + Matt Alt).

I’ve missed Caiman. Yes, there’s a question as to who the real Caiman actually is, but I don’t care, I’ve missed THIS Caiman, the big goofy guy with the lizard head. Nikaido clearly has as well, even though she’s a lot more wary about his appearance than I am, even losing her perpetual happy face for a bit as she tries to work out what happened. Admittedly, what happened it not exactly clear to the reader either: it’s very fitting that when she explains to Caiman everything that’s happened to him for the past year, and asks if he understood, his response is an immediate “No”. I feel you, Caiman. We’ve all been there.

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After the last volume, I was hoping for a bit less blood and guys, and to a certain extent that’s true, as we exchange it for a lot of scenes of people walking around trying to figure things out or avoid figuring other things out. In addition to Nikaido and Caiman, we have Dr. Kasukabe and Haru, who are trying to outthink our main devil leader and failing rather badly; the decapitated remains of En’s gang, who are having trouble doing much of anything at all, though ironically they may achieve more than the rest of the cast here; and Ebisu and her amnesiac slave, who are just trying to get En’s body back to the rest but are unfortunate enough to be the latest ones to run into Zombie Shin. Hope that goes better for them than it did the last group.

The big fight here is between Haru and Nikaido/Caiman, and it goes very badly very fast. So badly that Dr. Kasukabe is actually killed, and when I saw that I knew what was coming next. Sure enough, after Haru went berserk and annihilated Caiman (who must be getting tired of having his head killed in so many ways… melted this time), Nikaido breaks out her sorcerer’s magic and reverses time so she can stop the fight. This is always a dangerous narrative thing to do. Fans seem to have no issues with resurrecting people from a head in a jar, or a literal hell with devils, or all sorts of other kinds of magic, but time travel to rewrite the past still seems somewhat taboo. Still, we’ve seen Nikaido use it before, and I’m sure we will again, as she has two chances let.

This definitely now has the feel of a storyline that’s building to an ending, though it’s not quite over yet in Japan. I am hoping that the En half of Dorohedoro’s cast herd stops being a pile of body parts and gets to do something soon, and it would be nice to see Shin snap out of whatever zombie funk he’s in. And I’m not sure I want Nikaido being a devil either. With most stories you yearn for the characters to grow and change as the story comes to an end, but I have to admit, I just want my goofy gyoza lovers and violence-happy sorcerers back, please.

By the way, best joke of the volume has to be Caiman getting disgusted by a severed hand on the Store Knife, not realizing that it’s his OWN hand from the aborted future. A joke you can only pull off with Nikaido around.

Dorohedoro, Vol. 18

By Q Hayashida. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hibana. Released in North America by Viz.

Well, I said last time that I thought Dorohedoro might get a little more gory in the next volume, and I was not wrong. Dorohedoro is something of a horror-fantasy-comedy, and frequently the horror elements take precedence, as they do in this volume big time. It mostly plays out with the fates of Shin and Noi. Noi’s love for Shin has seemed a bit one-sided at times, but we no know that he does want to protect her, even if it means slicing her brain open and inserting Sho’s ‘thingy’ into her head. (I’m sure the sexual implications are intentional.) Of course, he should maybe think about protecting himself, as somehow (as always, it can be difficult to follow chains of events without a reread) Shim ends up in a corpse factory, and seemingly killed and turned into a murderous zombie. Whoops.

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Not that things are any better with the other groups. Fujita’s invisibility has worn off, and he’s forced to make an uneasy peace with the cross-eyed guy, though we hear both of them ;planning to double cross each other later. (Fujita is good at being idealistic and self-sacrificing, less good at scheming.) Of course, given they run into zombie Shin, neither plan is really going to come off. Noi, once she recovers from Shin’s lobotomy, ends up finding a trail of body parts, Hansel-and-Gretel style. And Nikaido’s group is torn up as well, as the department store is going to hell – possibly literally – and Risu and Asu both end up getting taken out over the course of the volume. This may not, admittedly, matter much to Nikaido, who is getting more like a Devil than ever, and spends most of the volume with a giant :D expression on her face.

In between all this gore, there is still something of a plot, most of it taking place with Kasukabe, who through a wacky set of circumstances ends up inside his wife Haru’s devil body, as the devils attempt to figure out what the hell is going on with Ai. Your guess is as good as mine, but we do see that Ai and company apparently have a revolving set of heads, although some are already dead. Whatever it is, it leads to a cliffhanger that I wasn’t expecting, as Nikaido discovers Caiman – with his lizard head, and seemingly with his regular old gyoza-lovin’ memories. The reunion will have to wait for next time, though. Oh yes, as an added bonus, we see what’s happening with En in hell, and it’s not pretty, though it is pretty funny.

I’ve often said Dorohedoro is not for the squeamish, and this volume proves that more than ever. But if you don’t mind blood, gore and dismemberment in graphic detail, it’s hard to think of a title out there with more style than this one. Which, as anyone will tell you, is far more important than pesky things like a coherent plot.

Dorohedoro, Vol. 17

By Q Hayashida. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hibana. Released in North America by Viz.

Despite all its violence and loving depictions of chopped-up corpses, Dorohedoro has always had a loose relationship with actually killing characters off, given that there are several deus ex machinas in this universe able to resurrect someone from the dead given enough time and materials. No one really doubts En is eventually going to be back, for example, and even though Fujita lay at death’s door and lost an arm in the last volume, he’s fully healed early on here. This is why when we do see genuine death it has an impact, even if there’s something in the back of our heads saying “are they reeeeeaaallly dead?”.

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Natsuki’s death in Vol. 13 was such a death, and it gets confirmed here in the worst way, as Ton, the one most dedicated to finding her true fate, ends up sharing it. This is actually sort of sweet and touching in a horrible way, as Ton comes across her body, now strangely mute, but can’t escape where he thinks they are. There’s even a ‘going into the light’ cliche to show off that yes, they are indeed dead. The same can’t be said for the rest of the cross-eyes, though, as even though the majority of them are horrible butchered by their boss, who they’ve finally decided is not worthy of following, we could still see them come back, as we were able to save the corpses’ heads. It’s that kind of series.

Meanwhile, En’s party is also discussing death. Sure, they have Noi, and Judas’ Ear, but there’s still some kinds of lethal blows that you just can’t fix. Luckily, there’s an operation that makes a person virtually unkillable, even if they get their brains blown out. Admittedly, the operation is almost always lethal, but that’s why you do it on someone like Noi, who already has amazing resurrection powers. I love that Noi hates this, and regards it as a safety measure because she’s too weak – something Ebisu is quick to point out is basically correct. When you have the ability to heal anyone from certain death, you get coddled a bit, whereas Noi just wants to keep punching people till their bodies are piles of goo.

And then there’s Nikaido, whose motives are becoming more and more questionable as she gains more and more of her devil powers – her usually expressive eyes get narrowed to pinpricks, and the gyoza she made in a devil-induced flurry last time seem to be dangerously addictive. It’s a bit difficult to talk about morality in a series like Dorohedoro, where even the nice and sweet people happily go around butchering passersby. But you get the sense that something here is off, that Nikaido is heading down a dangerous road. This is not helped by the absence of Caiman – Risu just does not have the same ability to restrain her weirder impulses. In the meantime, we’ve now gathered the entire cast at the department store setting, and Fujita has managed to find En’s tumor, so I suspect the next volume may contain even more gore than this one, if that is strictly possible. Assuming you can get past the gore, highly recommended as always.