What’s it about? Sorcerers stalk the underworld known as the Hole, practicing their magic by transforming unsuspecting victims’ body parts into those of animals. Caiman is one such victim, cursed with a lizard head and a mysterious man inside his throat. He and his friend Nikaido, the owner of the Hungry Bug Diner, hunt down the sorcerers who would victimize their fellow denizens in hopes of finding the one who transformed him.
It’s fair to say Dorohedoro’s reputation has preceded it. I’ve never checked out the manga personally, but I have a number of friends who are fans. I’ve heard plenty about the story’s wit and charm punctuated by graphic ultraviolence, about the ensemble cast and their dynamics, about just how danged good it is.
As of the first episode, it’s hard to say if it lives up to its reputation, but it’s certainly on track to fulfill my expectations.
(I have also heard a lot about the huge and beautiful Noi. She unfortunately didn’t make an appearance until the very end of this episode, but I look forward to falling in love with her as soon as I finish writing this.)
Here is my absolute minimum for ultraviolent action anime like Dorohedoro: no rape imagery. It’s a low bar that a shocking few manage to clear, as they almost always feature women getting their clothes torn off, phallic appendages, and often outright sexual violence. Dorohedoro… doesn’t, actually! Even though Nikaido, one of its principle characters, is a woman! She even gets attacked, and while it’s deeply creepy, it’s not at all sexualized! It’s downright miraculous.
Okay, so Dorohedoro steps over a bar so low it’s subterranean. It hits the absolute barest minimum. But does it treat Nikaido well?
Actually, yeah! It’s not just that Nikaido isn’t subjected to sexualized violence, she’s not sexualized at all. She wears pragmatic coveralls and kneepads, which is good because she likes to get around town via skateboard. She’s a fighter, with a build that would make most professional boxers of any gender jealous. She and Caiman have a wonderful dynamic as friends, supportive and gently antagonistic and turns, with the sense that they will always have one another’s back.
But to be honest, I’m burying the lede here a bit. Nikaido is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but she’s not the most interesting part of the episode, even in a feminist context. The really interesting part of Dorohedoro, judging from this episode alone, is more about power dynamics.
Sorcerers don’t live in the Hole, but come from some outside world to use its residents as magic practice, literally dehumanizing them. They wield their power carelessly against vulnerable populations, without any regard for their victims’ rights or humanity. The impoverished residents of the Hole, meanwhile, try to eke out a living as well as they can.
I love the atmosphere of the Hole. It really does resemble the impoverished neighborhoods around where I grew up, perhaps not one-to-one but there’s a feeling of it, of people doing their best in terrible, dangerous circumstances where they never know if someone who considers their life as lesser will crop up.
The wizards that stalk the Hole aren’t otherworldly or mysterious; they are, by and large, shitty teenage boys in graphic t-shirts and baggy cargo shorts. They regard practice as homework or a chore to get through before they can get dinner. They half-ass things to get it out of the way. They are utterly banal.
That exact banality caught my interest. It’s what makes it feel real, like a reflection of real-world privilege and power dynamics. They, like so many privileged teens, never developed empathy or learned to regard the “other” or those society deems “lesser” as humans with thoughts and feelings and lives of their own. The world is their plaything.
I’ve held off on watching more of Dorohedoro until I finished this review, partially as a reward for myself and partially so I could write this without later plot developments coloring my views. But now I’m done, and I can’t wait to load up the next episode.