Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review - Dororo

by Ozuma Tezuka
2009 Eisner Winner for Best U.S. Edition of International Material: Japan

Dororo was a huge disappointment for me though not as disappointing as creating an Astroboy animated movie and watching it open sixth in the box office returns last weekend. The first two volumes were pretty good and all of the terrific buildup in them vanished in an abrupt conclusion.

In a vaguely seventeenth century Japan a local lord makes a pact with forty-eight demons to exchange his unborn son for political power. Each of the demons take one body part from the child and it is born horribly malformed. After being abandoned the infant is found by a kindly doctor who cared for him. The child developed abilities to compensate for his missing body parts and the doctor fit him with prosthesis so that he could look normal. Upon reaching adolescence the child started attracting spirits to him and through these spirits he learned that if he killed a demon that held a body part he would recover it. So the doctor outfits his body with weapons and the boy sets out to build himself.

That's both extremely condensed and extremely confusing so let me break it down like this: it's a samurai, steampunk, six million dollar man versus the mythical monsters who stole his body parts. He finds a kid sidekick in the self-proclaimed world's greatest thief Dororo and they wander from village to village having exciting battles and then getting run out of town.

Tezuka's plotting wasn't as straightforward as that. For the first two volumes there's a slow burn building with the demons, the father turned despot who now has a second son, and the secrets that Dororo carries. And then it suddenly ends. There's a sixteen page chapter where Tezuka stuffs as much resolution in as he can and then it's over. I can understand why that happened but it doesn't make the whole product enjoyable to read.

That's a shame since the first two-thirds are pretty good. Dororo features an exploration of some Japanese mythology where nine-tailed foxes drive wars and spirits of wealth lure travelers to hidden treasures. The main character is almost as monstrous as the beings he fights and his slow recovery of his flesh is compelling. I wanted more and I was left on a very bitter note.

The artwork is Tezuka's usualy mix of extremely cartoony figures and detailed backgrounds. It can be offputting when drama is placed on characters who look like they're fresh from a Warner Brothers cartoon though it didn't bother me. The action sequences in Dororo tend to be fast and chaotic and that did throw me briefly since it was hard to follow some of them. This only lasted a page or two and the conclusions returned to Tezuka's exceptional storytelling. In fact the one high point in the third volume is that the action in its first story is better structured visually.

I cannot in good conscience recommend Dororo. It's effectively an unfinished work and if you enjoy the story you will wind up just as disappointed as I was. I honestly did not know about the abrupt conclusion when I started which just made it worse. I do recommend Tezuka's work highly; just go with something like Buddha or Blackjack instead of this and you'll be more satisfied.