An over-the-top piece of slice-and-dice ultraviolence, Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro (Viz Signature) is set in a dreary city harassed by an amoral clan of sorcerers who see the city’s residents as little more than subjects for their horrific magical experiments. One of these victims, Caiman, has been transformed into a lizard-headed humanoid with a bad case of amnesia and a human head inside his gullet. With his spunky, skateboarding grrl companion Nikaido, he is tracking down the grotesquely masked sorcerers in the hopes of unearthing the one responsible for his transmutation. Whenever the duo happen upon a mage, the lizard man grabs ‘em and forces their head into his mouth, where they come face to face with his judgmental inner head. Once they’re found lacking, Caiman hacks 'em into swirling bloody bits.
This splattery activity draws the attention of En, leader of the sorcerers — especially since it appears that Caiman’s change has somehow made him immune to any other magicks. He dispatches inept would-be sorcerer Fujita (his sorcerer’s mask looks more like something out of Punch and Judy than a visage to inspire fear) to find the one responsible for Caimain’s lizard state. One clue to this could be the young girl sorcerer Ebisu, who the head inside of Caiman seems to recognize before she escapes with half her face gnawed off.
Hayashida is cheerfully unrestrained when it comes to depicting the gory deeds in this shrink-wrapped “Mature”-rated manga. Because the sorcerers cast their spells through their fingers, for instance, their opponents think little of slicing off their fingertips to incapacitate ‘em. But Dorohedoro’s characters are so matter-of-fact deadpan in their grisly actions, the overall effect is more splatter comedy than horror action. Busty heroine Nikaido looks positively Keaton-esque as she nonchalantly lops off the top half of a villain’s skull, catching his brain in his dislodged ball cap. Though we know even less about her (aside from the fact that she’s a good cook) than we do the amnesiac Caiman, by the end of the first volume we definitely wanna learn more.
I was unfamiliar with Hayashida’s work before I read this manga, but I was quickly won over by her aggressive artwork, with its in-your-face action and punkish scratchiness. Her splotchy dystopian landscape looks like something Ralph Steadman might’ve dreamed up in a hadacol-induced nightmare, only more claustrophobic. Mid-book, we even get four pages done in color, though to be honest I’d take more story over unnecessary coloring. Compared to all the other Viz Signature books I’ve read (Biomega, Ooku, What A Wonderful World!), Dorohedoro falls about 40 pages short of material.
Still, what beautifully outlandish material it is: good times for those whose idea of Family Movie Night includes an airing of the full Grindhouse.