Dororo, Volume 3

Dororo, Volume 3Creator: Osamu Tezuka
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781934287187
Released: August 2008
Original run: 1968-1969
Awards: Eisner Award

Osamu Tezuka was an extraordinarily prolific and influential creator of manga and anime. So far, only a small fraction of his total output has been released in English. Out of those, one of my personal favorites is his short manga series Dororo. With yokai, an accursed swordsman, and the inclusion of historical elements, I can’t help but like Dororo. Although eventually releasing an omnibus containing the entire series, initially Vertical published Dororo in three separate volumes which earned an Eisner Award in 2009. Dororo, Volume 3, released in 2008, contains the portion of the series that was originally serialized in Japan between 1968 and 1969. It was also during that time period that Dororo went on hiatus. Tezuka abandoned the manga for a year, leaving it without an ending, before returning to it when the Dororo anime series began. The manga was then given a proper conclusion, albeit a much shorter one than was first envisioned. The finale admittedly ended up being a bit rushed, but I love Dororo anyway.

Chased by demons and in turn chasing them down, Hyakkimaru is slowly regaining his forty-eight missing body parts one at a time; each demon he defeats brings him closer to becoming whole. Often it’s not the terrifying supernatural beings that Hyakkimaru must really worry about, though. Humans—with all of their failings, greed, and lust for power—can be just as dangerous as any monster. Hyakkimaru’s father, who selfishly sacrificed his own son’s body in exchange for demonic aid, has become an oppressive warlord. Hyakkimaru isn’t the only one suffering because of his father’s ambitions. The country is being torn apart by war and it’s the farmers and commoners who are being forced to support and fight for leaders they didn’t choose. Dororo, Hyakkimaru’s young traveling companion, also has a family legacy left to deal with. The diminutive thief’s late father was a bandit who amassed a significant amount of wealth. The map to the location of his treasure was tattooed upon his child’s back and now Dororo is pursued by those who want the riches for their own corrupt purposes.

Dororo is one of Tezuka’s transitional works as he began to develop more mature, adult-oriented stories in contrast to his more lighthearted manga generally intended for younger audiences. Dororo addresses serious issues like war and discrimination, but it also incorporates charm, humor, and bittersweet joy. One particular bright spot to balance the darker elements of the series is the titular Dororo. The small thief has led a hard life and can empathize with others and their misfortunes, becoming an exuberant and enthusiastic champion for their causes, while somehow remaining optimistic and cheerful in the face of all the unfairness and tragedy. Hyakkimaru, on the other hand, has an even more dire past than Dororo and has grown weary of the injustices in the world. But the time Hyakkimaru has spent with Dororo as they travel across Japan has changed him. Dororo’s positivity has rubbed off on Hyakkimaru and he has come to care for the youngster immensely. Whether Hyakkimaru realizes it or not, he desperately needed someone like Dororo in his otherwise bleak life.

The relationship that develops between Hyakkimaru and Dororo is only one component of many that makes me appreciate what Tezuka is doing with the series, even if it did end up being truncated. I was initially drawn to Dororo because of Hyakkimaru’s horrifying origin story and his fight to regain what he lost, searching for somewhere to belong and wanting nothing more than to live in peace. His specific situation may be unique, but that desire to be accepted by others is nearly universal. I also liked the supernatural elements in Dororo and how Tezuka slowly shifts the focus of the series to issues more firmly based in reality. The demons and monsters never completely disappear from Dororo, but as the manga progresses the historical influences and more realistic aspects of the manga become increasingly prominent. Among other things, Tezuka’s artwork and storytelling in Dororo takes inspiration from traditional legends and tales, samurai films, and events from Japan’s Warring States period, but he also incorporates his own touches and imagination and pulls it all together in a way that only Tezuka can.

Dororo, Volume 2

Creator: Osamu Tezuka
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781934287170
Released: June 2008
Original run: 1967-1968
Awards: Eisner Award

Although I’ve read quite a few of the works by Osamu Tezuka that are available English, Dororo remains one of my personal favorites. Dororo is one of Tezuka’s transitional manga, bridging between his earlier, brighter works and his later, more mature stories. Dororo strikes a great balance between its darker elements and its action-adventure leanings. I particularly enjoy Dororo‘s mix of historical fantasy and legend. The manga was originally serialized in Japan between 1967 and 1968. The English-language edition of Dororo was initially published as three individual volumes in 2008 by Vertical, winning an Eisner Award in 2009. That particular edition is now out of print, but fortunately Vertical re-released the series as a single-volume omnibus in 2012. It makes me very happy that the series is still readily available. I’ve read Dororo several times now and am glad that others will still have the opportunity to do the same.

Dororo, Volume 2 continues to follow companions Hyakkimaru and Dororo as they travel across Japan. Outcasts of society, they have no choice but to move from one place to another; they are repeatedly driven out of the villages that they happen across along their way. The two travelers don’t have much, but at least they have each other. Although they might be reluctant to admit it, Hyakkimaru and Dororo make a good team as they face the trials and tribulations encountered on their journey across the war-torn country. Ultimately, Hyakkimaru wants to find happiness and a palace where he can live in peace, but his more immediate concern is to hunt and destroy the demons to which his body was sacrificed by his father. Little does he know that this goal will lead him back to the very family which abandoned him as a newborn, only to result in further tragedy.

Although Hyakkimaru and Dororo must repeatedly confront demons, it is often the humans they encounter who are the true monsters of the story. People can be very cruel to one another and war often brings out the worst. Some of the most horrifying acts committed in Dororo, Volume 2 have nothing to do with ghouls and demons and everything to do with individuals who lust for power and people’s propensity towards violence. Some of the most benevolent characters in Dororo, Volume 2 are actually the inhuman creatures. Even the more kindly people simply can’t bring themselves to accept Hyakkimaru, regardless of the fact that he is often the one who has saved them from the spirits and demons that plague them. Hyakkimaru has come to expect this from others, but the younger Dororo is still frustrated by the situation’s inherent unfairness. Dororo is one of the very few people who is able to completely accept Hyakkimaru for who he is.

One of the things that I enjoy the most about Dororo is the relationship between Hyakkimaru and Dororo. Dororo is a bright kid and is surprisingly optimistic despite having a tragic past. Hyakkimaru, who has certainly seen his own fair share of tragedy, is significantly darker and more world-weary. Their personalities balance each other nicely; both Dororo and Hyakkimaru provide something that the other needs. The human companionship they share is important, especially when living in a world that has rejected them. The two outcasts, even though unrelated by blood, are close enough to be siblings. Hyakkimaru and Dororo have grown quite attached to each other. They have their fights and spats and there’s plenty of good-natured teasing, but they truly seem to care for and look out for the other. Even after several rereads Dororo is still a series that I appreciate and enjoy immensely, especially for its lead characters.

Dororo, Volume 1

Creator: Osamu Tezuka
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781934287163
Released: April 2008
Original run: 1967-1968
Awards: Eisner Award

Dororo happens to be one of my favorite manga created by Osamu Tezuka, so it made sense to me to review it for February 2012’s Manga Moveable Feast focusing on Tezuka and his work. Dororo was originally serialized in Japan in Shukan Shonen Sunday between 1967 and 1968. Vertical initially published the series in 2008 in three volumes, winning the 2009 Eisner Award for the best U.S. edition of international material from Japan. The individual volumes are now out of print, but Vertical’s omnibus edition will be released in 2012. In 1969, a twenty-six episode anime series based on the manga was created with an ending that provides a little more closure than the original. Dororo was also the inspiration for the 2004 PlayStation 2 video game Blood Will Tell. A live-action film adaptation of Dororo was released in 2007 and was very well received in Japan.

Thirsting for power, Lord Daigo offers the body of his unborn child as a sacrifice to forty-eight demons in exchange for their aid in conquering the country. The child is born missing forty-eight body parts and is abandoned. Rescued and raised by a kindly doctor, Hyakkimaru must eventually set off on his own, hoping to find happiness and to regain his body. Pursued by demons and dead souls, he is shunned by others, leading a lonely existence until he saves the life of Dororo, a young thief who is similarly reviled. Dororo, like Hyakkimaru, is also hiding a tragic past, but is surprisingly resilient and stubborn. Although Hyakkimaru is initially reluctant, the two being traveling the war-torn countryside together. Moving from village to village and confronting monsters and demons along the way, the two have each other and not much else.

Tezuka’s artwork in Dororo is wonderully cinematic and has excellent pacing. The battles and sword fights are varied and exciting; the demons and spirits Hyakkimaru must face are monstrous and terrifying. Although Tezuka’s style is somewhat cartoonish, the art can actually be quite gruesome. Occasionally the action isn’t entirely clear, but the overall effect is very engaging. Tezuka isn’t afraid to use extended moments without dialogue as Hyakkimaru and Dororo wander through the country. More emphasis is given to backgrounds and landscapes than in some of Tezuka’s earlier works, granting Dororo a solid sense of place. Tezuka draws visual cues and plot elements from samurai films and stories as well as from traditional Japanese folklore, legends, and tales. Mixing these elements together with his own ideas and thematic sensibilities, Dororo is a series that is uniquely Tezuka. The two downtrodden leads, carrying on with their lives under adverse and less than ideal circumstances, are very likeable and it is fascinating to watch their relationship develop.

If there is one thing that annoys me about the first volume of Dororo it’s that early on several characters make comments about dump trucks, space aliens, cyborgs and such which really threw me out of the story and setting. In many ways, Dororo can be seen as a transitional series, a bridge between Tezuka’s earlier and later works that expanded his audience and introduced darker themes and darker protagonists. Hyakkimaru, with his fancy prosthetics and gadgets, could be a feudal era Astro Boy but is even more closely related to and serves as a prototype for Tezuka’s later character and fan favorite Black Jack. While this is certainly interesting, personally I love Hyakkimaru for being Hyakkimaru. He is a complex character; cynical and world-weary, he continues to fight on despite persecution from demons and humans alike. I have reread Dororo several times now and I still love the series as much as I did the fist time and maybe even more. Tezuka is a phenomenal storyteller.

My Week in Manga: August 29-September 4, 2011

My News and Reviews

So, I had a bit of an ordeal yesterday. I went on a canoe trip with a small group of people. We were having a great time until we somehow lost the river and ended up in the middle of a cedar bog. We have no idea how that happened or where we were. We ended up being lost in the wetlands for a good four hours where we weren’t so much canoeing as hauling ourselves and boats through extremely difficult terrain. And I was barefoot. And there was a rainstorm. And there was muck that we would sink into up to our thighs. And being northern Michigan it was on the cool side. Fortunately, there weren’t any mosquitoes. But I did bring home a pet leech. Understandably, I’m extremely tired and sore; my feet and legs are an absolute mess and my back hates me. But we did manage to make it out alive and home without having to be rescued. So, what does this have to do with manga? Absolutely nothing. But if I die from gangrene later on and can’t continue this blog, you’ll have a pretty good idea why.

Anyway, back to manga. Last week was one of the expected slow weeks at Experiments in Manga. I posted the August 2011 Bookshelf Overload. Since Borders is going out of business my manga buying habits will have to change significantly. Also, don’t forget about the Joy of Josei giveaway. The winner of a brand new copy of Yumi Unita’s Bunny Drop, Volume 1 will be selected and announced on Wednesday. As always, the contest is open world-wide, so please enter!

Quick Takes

Crown Royale: A Boys’ Love Fairy Tale Anthology by Various. I am so glad I picked up a copy of Crown Royale when it first came out in 2010. Only 250 copies were printed, profits going to the GLBT National Help Center, and they are long gone. And it is a fantastic collection. Crown Royale is an original-English anthology that takes its cue from Japanese dōjinshi. It collects eight comics and three pinups inspired by a variety of fairy tales that have been given a comedic boys’ love twist ranging from quirky, to goofy, to sarcastic. It’s a lot of fun and I highly recommend picking up Crown Royale if you ever see it. I absolutely loved the anthology. (Side note: The cover is much prettier with details in gold foil, my scanner is just crappy.)

Detroit Metal City, Volumes 1-4 by Kiminori Wakasugi. Soichi Negishi, a timid hipster wannabe with dreams of becoming a popstar instead finds himself the lead singer and guitarist for the much more successful evil-core death metal group Detroit Metal City. He tries to keep his alter ego, Johannes Krauser II, a secret when he’s not on stage. Detroit Metal City is an incredibly vulgar manga and I was highly entertained for the first volume or so. For me, Detroit Metal City is probably best in small doses. After reading four volumes straight, I wasn’t convinced that Wakasugi was going anywhere with the story and the humor was dependent on slight variations of the same jokes. They were funny, even hilarious, the first few times, but frankly I was actually starting to get a little bored.

Dojin Work, Volumes 1-4 by Hiroyuki. Dojin Work (man, it makes me cringe that the title’s not transliterated properly) is a four-panel manga focusing on a small group of dōjinshi creators, many of which specialize in hentai manga. Najimi’s mostly in it for the money, although she comes to enjoy the work; unfortunately she’s terrible at drawing. But that doesn’t stop her from gaining some fans. Her friends are much more successful and less concerned with profit. It’s such a delightfully dirty, dirty manga with near constant sexual innuendos and gags. I probably won’t need to read Dojin Work again (technically there were two more volumes released in Japanese), but I was greatly amused by the series.

Dororo, Volumes 1-3 by Osamu Tezuka. Every time I read a work by Osamu Tezuka, I am always struck by what a skilled storyteller he is. This was my first time to read Dororo but I liked it so well that I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to it again. It has a great story with likeable characters, plenty of demons, and exciting sword fights. Tezuka’s art style tends toward the cartoonish, but he still manages to pull off some genuinely creepy imagery. Hyakkimaru travels the countryside hunting demons in order to earn back the body his father sacrificed to them, in the process gaining the companionship of a young thief named Dororo. Dororo was originally published by Vertical in three volumes but there will be an omnibus edition released in 2012. Buy it!

Fullmetal Alchemist: Season 1, Part 1 (Episodes 1-16) directed by Seiji Mizushima. I really enjoy Fullmetal Alchemist. I haven’t read the manga series yet to know how it compares, but I hear it’s pretty great, too. What I like about the anime is that there are so many layers going on. There’s the Elric brothers’ personal journey, the clash between science and religion, the debate about what science should be used for and the perils associated with it, as well as a few things that haven’t been fully revealed yet. I like just about every character introduced. Although Alphonse does seem awfully mature for how old he is supposed to be, I appreciate his relationship with his brother.

Manga Giveaway: Mushishi Madness Winner

And the winner of my second manga giveaway is…Brent P. Newhall of Otaku, No Video!

As the winner of Mushishi Madness, Brent will be receiving a copy of Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi, Volume 6.

I was a little worried this time around because there wasn’t a single entry for the giveaway until two days ago. Thank you to everyone who helped get the word out and thank you to everyone who entered. It makes me happy to spread the manga love, so make sure to look out for next month’s contest!

For this giveaway, I had people tell me a bit about their favorite supernatural or creepy manga. Here’s brief summary of those mentioned, but make sure to check out the Mushishi Madness comments, too:

First up is Matsuri Akino’s Pet Shop of Horrors, a ten volume horror manga which features the androgynous and enigmatic Count D, proprietor of the pet shop in question. Like Mushishi, the series is primarily episodic. I haven’t read this manga myself yet, but I have been meaning to ever since reading Jason Thompson’s 365 Days of Manga post about it’s sequel, Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo.

Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo was released in English in three volumes and won Vertical an Eisner in 2009 for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Japan. The manga is a historical adventure fantasy with plenty of monsters, literal and figurative, and the protagonist has one of the most horrifying origin stories I know. This series also made Katherine Dacey’s My Favorite Spooky Manga list.

Berserk by Kentaro Miura is a dark fantasy manga of epic proportions that started publication in 1990. So far, it’s up to thirty-five volumes (thirty-four currently in English translation) and although it’s published somewhat irregularly, I’m not sure Miura has any intention of stopping any time soon. For some reason I seem to be hearing a lot about Berserk recently and I know of quite a few people who love this series. I guess it’s about time I pick it up myself.

Hideyuki Kikuchi, probably best known for Vampire Hunter D, is paired up with manhwa artist Shin Yong-Gwan to create the super-creepy supernatural horror manga Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist. This is another series I don’t know much about personally, but I’ve heard very good things—the art in particular is supposed to be fantastic. Yet another manga I’ll need to check out.

Finally, we have CLAMP’s Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle. It’s another lengthy series at twenty-eight volumes that just finished up in Japan last October. I really enjoy most of CLAMP’s work, and Tsubasa is no exception—I particularly love the characters. Parts of the manga’s story can been seen from a different perspective in another of CLAMP’s series, xxxHolic, which is still ongoing.