Dororo 1 by Osamu Tezuka: B

Book description:
Dororo is Tezuka’s classic thriller manga featuring a youth who has been robbed of 48 body parts by devils, and his epic struggle against a host of demons to get them back.

Daigo Kagemitsu, who works for a samurai general in Japan’s Warring States period, promises to offer body parts of his unborn baby to 48 devils in exchange for complete domination of the country. Knowing the child to be deficient, Kagemitsu orders the newborn thrown into the river.

The baby survives. Callling himself Hyakkimaru, he searches the world for the 48 demons. Each time he eliminates one, he retrieves one of his missing parts. Hyakkimaru meets a boy thief named Dororo, and together they travel the countryside, confronting mosters and ghosts again and again.

This was my first time reading Tezuka. Although I have a couple of other things by him, the shounen adventure qualities of Dororo made it seem a more accessible starting point.

While I enjoyed the volume overall, I ended up liking the beginning more than the middle or the end. The setting for Daigo’s bargain was immediately atmospheric and interesting. The second chapter recounted how baby Hyakkimaru (who looked kind of like Jack Skellington) was found by a doctor who raised him and fitted him with snazzy prosthetics.

From that point on, things were a bit more episodic, with varying degrees of success. It was interesting to see how Dororo probably influenced shounen tales to come. For example, a skilled swordsman and his companion(s) must wander around, collecting bits of something from a whole bunch of demons. These demons enjoy terrorizing innocent villagers. Hmm, what does that remind me of? One difference I appreciated was that the villagers in this series actually take part in fighting off the monsters, and they’re also not particularly welcoming of the freakish Hyakkimaru and the thieving Dororo after the battle’s been won.

Much suspension of disbelief is required for this series, and it was kind of weird which things I just accepted and which bugged me. For instance—a baby born missing 48 body parts not only survives but somehow possesses special sensory abilities enabling him to see, hear, and speak telepathically. Okay, fine. His foster dad is able to perform surgery on him and fit weaponry inside his prosthetic limbs (swords in his arms and poison spritzer thingies in his legs). Sure, why not? But then when Hyakkimaru is somehow able to bend the arms with swords inside, my illogic detector went, “Hang on just a minute!”

I’ll definitely be reading the rest of this series; there are only 2 more volumes, anyway. Now that flashbacks and such are out of the way, I hope that we’ll see more of the collection of Hyakkimaru’s missing bits, though I still have no idea what to expect when he’s succeeded in getting them all. He doesn’t seem to have a goal beyond that at this point.

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  1. mark thorpe says

    This is honestly one of the most—I don’t want to say realistic—plausable stories that I’ve read by Tezuka. Tezuka’s other books (Phoenix, Buddha, Ode to Kirihito) can, sometimes, be even more maddening. There’s a story in the third volume of Phoenix, where, for no reason, in the middle of a story about a japanese lord building his own grand tomb, a fight between cowboys an indians breaks out; General Custer is there! (!?!?!?!?!?)

  2. … at the Custer. Yeah, I kind of think Tezuka’s more philosophic endeavors might just elude me. 🙂

    There was some similar randomness in Dororo, but it was mostly confined to art and not storyline. Like, there was one where it was supposed to be warring soldiers, but if you looked closely, two of them were actually snuggling and I think there was a little bespectacled Tezuka on the sidelines looking on.

  3. It’s true, he uses really bizarre visual gags that can be really, really out of place in the adult series. There’s a ton more of them in Astro Boy, but it’s like he started out doing them and then couldn’t help himself afterwards, even when the story was too serious for them. Something I read recently interrupted some sequence (action or dialogue, I can’t remember) with a random panel of Tezuka’s portrait. It was… weird. Was it in Dororo?

    I think my illogic detector blew up when the little baby was found with nothing but a mouth and a little lump of flesh and began eating and communicating telepathically. It’s like Hyakkimaru flew far past ridiculous and came around to hit sane again, and I was in a state of disbelief that none of this was ever questioned in the story, like it was totally acceptable in whatever world it takes place in. I liked that part of it a lot.

  4. I think that might’ve been in Dororo. There was a panel where he got bonked by some rocks.

    Somehow I accepted baby Hyakkimaru’s abilities far better than I accepted that baby Dororo was able to wriggle out of a jail cell and steal the keys. Probably because he wasn’t touted to have any kind of special abilities.


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