Dorohedoro. It’s been streaming on Netflix worldwide since May 2020 but you probably haven’t seen it yet – and you should.
So, while it’s more newish than new, anecdotal evidence suggests that a shocking number of people have no clue what Dorohedoro means or is (according to the very scientific Instagram poll I conducted while writing this story, 70%). It bears reminding that the last twelve months have been punctuated by multiple lockdowns no matter where you were in the world. So, yeah, Tiger King was epic, but Dorohedoro deserves your time as much as Carole Baaaskin!
Dorohedoro accomplishes something that is very rare these days: it feels fresh and unique as a visual experience – that is unless you were already familiar with the cult manga it is based on. The magnum opus of artist Q Hayashida, Dorohedoro ran for eighteen years as a manga serial across three different magazines, debuting on the now-defunct monthly Ikki in 1999.
Characterised by highly detailed and rough, scratchy ink strokes, Hayashida’s instantly recognisable style has been translated into a 2D-3D hybrid production by Tokyo’s MAPPA studio with overwhelming praise on niche blogs, forums and rating services (the 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is based on only six votes, which gives you an idea of just how underground Dorohedoro still is at the moment).
In a departure from most other female-written seinen mangas (a genre for the 18-to-45 male demographic, as opposed to shounen for teen boys), Dorohedoro is unabashedly violent, dark and dystopian – with a heavy dash of black humour. Melding together influences and aesthetics from punk, fantasy and body horror, the series follows the story of Caiman, a lizard-headed man suffering from amnesia, and his sidekick Nikaido.
The backdrop of Caiman’s story (and the reason he’s cursed with a lizard’s head) is the violence and politics between human residents of The Hole, a decaying urban sprawl that takes many of its visual cues from Hong Kong and the Kowloon Walled City, and the Sorcerer’s world, an Italianate, late-Baroque-inspired utopia. Masked sorcerers wander into The Hole to practice their magic on the largely helpless human population there, though those that fight back do so in spectacular fashion.
Fight sequences are as spellbinding as they are stomach-churning, with flesh, bone and sinew cracked, ripped, twisted, and turned inside out and on full display. Dorohedoro holds nothing back and surprises (as well as blatant psychedelic references) come at every turn as you are dumped without context into a completely idiosyncratic world with its own laws, struggling to get your bearings. You never fully can, which is half the fun.
Dorohedoro will strike a chord with fans of animes like Paprika and Akira, and films like the Matrix, and Blade Runner while being visually refreshing and narratively compelling. Another refreshing element are the strong female characters and I mean that literally: they are strong as fuck and hold their own as fighters with character designs that aren’t overly sexualised, as is so often the case in manga and anime (Q Hayashida is a woman, by the way).
Only one season with twelve episodes has been produced so far, leaving desperate fans trolling subreddits and blogs looking for information on whether there will be a second season (the only search result confirming its second season is, sadly, clickbait). There is some hope, though, with AnimeTV reporting that, “the director has promised that support of the first season will lead to the greenlighting of further production.” So, will Dorohedoro be condemned to a single, cult season? Or will a growing lizard-headed army help get that green light? Only the algorithm will tell…