OP: 「Welcome to Chaos」 by [K]NoW_NAME
As premieres go, this was a big one for me. The season is more or less as expected so far – Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun held serve, and a couple of others have been better than I expected (a couple worse too, but nothing that cuts too deeply). Nevertheless, Dorohedoro was a solid #2 on my expectations list and thus a show I was counting on pretty heavily. It also packed easily the biggest uncertainty factor of any series I care about this season. Not only haven’t I read the manga, but the adaptation carried a boatload of questions with it. I was prepared for this premiere to be great, appalling, or anything in between.
Here’s what I did know. Dorohedoro is a manga with a sterling reputation, to the point where some rank it among the finest seinen in recent decades. It ran for 23 volumes, but the anime is greenlit for only 12 episodes – with a vague mention of more if the series is “successful”. There’s a lot of CGI here – that was evident in the previews, which were otherwise pretty good. That implies that the budget is probably modest, despite the fact that Netflix is a co-producer. And of course, we knew that Dorohedoro was going to be a “Netflix Hell” series – not streaming outside Japan until it had already finished airing.
Given all that, it’s hardly surprising that I find myself unsure just what to make of this show. I feel like I get what people see in it – there’s something intensely intriguing about this setup, and the chemistry between the major characters is already apparent. But there’s not much preamble here – we’re literally dumped straight into a caiman’s jaws – and that makes the plot as a whole a bit difficult to get a handle on. And then there’s the CGI. It’s… not good. MAPPA is not a CGI specialist like Orange or even Polygon, and they’ve gone for a hybrid of CGI and live-action scenes seemingly based on no variable apart from the caiman’s presence.
While it’s nowhere near as heinous, this awkward blend of CGI and drawn animation put me in mind of Kingdom. And that’s not a good association, because more than any series I’ve watched (Berserk never grabbed me) that was one where a great story was hamstrung by the production quality. But I don’t think it’s going to be a problem on the same level with Dorohedoro. Indeed, I’m more concerned with what MAPPA will do with the story itself. This trend of finished beloved manga of yesteryear (at least this one only ended in 2018) getting adaptations is mostly a good thing, but they never seem to get the time to tell the story in full. And with no source material to plug, it’s hard to know what the production committee will use to define success. The track record of seinen anime selling discs is not a good one.
All I can do, then, is take it as it comes. And so far, Dorohedoro is extremely charismatic and a bit of a mess – or at least intentionally frenetic. Lots of characters debut here, but the two key ones seem to be Caiman (Takagi Wataru) and Nikaidou (Kondo Reina). He’s a dude with the head of a caiman (thus the name, though the jaws look too wide to me) and a guy living in his throat, she’s the owner of a divey Chinese restaurant. Together they live in a place called Hole – a name as apt as Caiman’s – and go around killing sorcerers who show up to kidnap people to experiment on.
Why is all this happening? Don’t know, not supposed to yet. But it’s clear that humans and sorcerers (who one might conjecture are not human) are in a state of conflict. And while the sorcerers are the apparent aggressors, Nikaidou and especially Caiman are no angels – they’s clearly very comfortable killing sorcerers. They do a hell of a lot of it in the premiere in fact – and he bites off a face, too. Mind you the sorcerers are turning people into monstrosities (Nikaidou almost gets turned into a bug by a trainee sorcerer played by Shimono Hiro, one of Caiman’s many victims). Angered by the humans fighting back, the chief sorcerer (maybe?), En (Horiuchi Kenyuu), decides he’s going to send enforcers to take out whoever’s doing it.
Oh, and the narrator is Hiroaki Hirata. That can’t be a bad thing.
It’s a lot to take in for 22 minutes, but it’s a heady blend to be sure. And apart from the CGI I quite like the look of Dorohedoro – some of the backgrounds are really gorgeous in an Edward Hopper kind of way (art director Kimura Shinji is probably the biggest name in the staff). I can’t embrace it unreservedly because I just don’t have a handle on what this series is yet – in more ways than one – but I feel as if the potential is definitely unmistakable. Can MAPPA and director Hayashi Yuichiro bring it out in 12 episodes? That’s the one question to rule them all.
ED: 「Who Am I?」 by [K]NoW_NAME