Saturday, June 27, 2009
Dororo, vol. 1
The story: The lead protagonist in this tale by Osamu Tezuka is Hyakkimaru, combining "hyakki," or "hundred demons," with "maru," a feudal suffix for boys' names. Hyakkimaru was born with no eyes, arms, legs, ears, etc. because of a deal his father made with 48 demons before his birth. So, Hyakkimaru's various limbs were traded with the demons in order for his biological father to become a powerful ruler within his province. As Haykkimaru travels the countryside, slaying demons in order to gain back his human body, he meets the story's namesake, Dororo. Dororo is a young boy and thief who was abandoned by his parents.
Reaction: This story starts on a terribly sad and dark note, but quickly travels in time to show off Hyakkimaru's perseverance, skill and strength. Despite his disabilities, Hyakkimaru has other overdeveloped senses that compensate for his lack of smell, sight and hearing. And even though Hyakkimaru saves entire villages by slaying the demon attacking them, he's driven out, town after town. However, despite all this, he keeps going. When he meets Dororo, I loved how he thought it would be simple enough to scare the kid off by showing him his disabilities or describing the demons that are constantly following him. Of course, Dororo, being a tough street kid himself, isn't that easy to shake off!
Deep thoughts: It's an interesting concept that Tezuka employs here by sacrificing Hyakkimaru's body parts in order to create a quest of sorts. When Hyakkimaru is sent down the river as a baby, it evokes the biblical story of Moses, who was sent floating down the river and adopted by the Egyptian royal family. However, here, Hyakkimaru is adopted by a doctor who is amazed at the newborn's will to live. Later, the doctor performs surgery on his adopted son, attaching specially made prosthetics. It makes me wonder if there's just some rule that states that babies floating down a river must be adopted by people with an amazing ability to provide for them!
Artwork: Even though this story employs Tezuka's trademark cartoonish style, there are scary character designs, too. Hyakkimaru as a newborn, along with the many demons and ghosts, are frightening in many ways. Dororo, however, serves as comedic relief and plays against type despite his cute appearance. Panels are designed with economy in mind, but are never afraid to explore the gruesome, whether it be a murdered village or a home surrounded by demons.
The verdict: Required reading. This story has all the classic hallmarks of a true hero's tale -- action, comedy, romance and an epic quest. While Hyakkimaru fights to regain his humanity, Dororo and he trudge onward from village to village, fighting whomever or whatever lays in their path. Although slightly grotesque at times, this is a tale that not only excites, but tugs at the heartstrings, too. Dororo is available in the U.S. from Vertical.