March 30, 2010

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Dororo Volume 2

Written by Osamu Tezuka
Illustrated by Osamu Tezuka
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Hyakkimaru's wanderings continue in this second volume, as his somewhat unwelcome companion Dororo tags along in the hopes of gathering up some good loot (and to prevent having to deal with his own troubled past).

Fated to fight the demons who have his body parts, Hyakkimaru wanders right back to where it all began. Even if he kills the demons, they will exact an awful revenge.

Meanwhile, Dororo's legacy awaits him as well, if he's willing to face it. Will he run away rather than try to avenge the death of his family?

As we swing into the second third of this trilogy, the dual nature of the quest story Tezuka presents to the reader shows itself here, as we learn that Dororo, too, has a mission. Unlike Hyakkimaru, however, he is far less inclined to travel down that road, preferring just to be a thief than the starter of a revolution. It seems that both our characters are more willing to point out the other's path rather than follow their own.

There is a large amount of emotion on display in this part of the story, as Hyakkimaru tries to deal with being reunited with his family, Dororo tries to deny the connection to his parents and their goals, and two of the demon-keepers we meet are wracked with guilt about their deeds. Even Dororo's horrible father shows he has a heart.

When Hyakkimaru encounters a demon, it's often preying upon a group of human in some way. These aren't just random battles to thrill the reader; they serve to show the cruelty of man against man, disguised in the supernatural. For example, the foxes who keep a war going almost certainly are a stand in for the people who profit from conflict and our fake Buddha might be representative of those who scam via religion. I bet you could find others if you looked.

The ability to bring what feels like real human emotion to a boy's adventure story is no mean feat, and Tezuka does a great job pacing the battles while also giving even the side characters quite a bit of depth and range. Despite the fantastical setting and wild demons flitting through the pages, there is quite an emotional story going on underneath it all. Faced with rejection on all sides, our two characters must carry on alone, with only each other for company. Their inability to even rest for more than a day or two not only drives the plot, but also makes the reader want to reach out and comfort them.

Lest you think that the manga is all about being serious and reflecting, let's keep in mind that we're dealing with a story where Dororo picks a skull out of his butt, asks the artist not to portray embarrassing moments, and often gets himself in the most comical trouble possible. This lighthearted attitude keeps things from getting too deep.

The mood is also altered by Tezuka's artistic style. I've mentioned in other reviews of Tezuka's work that he reminds me of older Warner Brothers or Tex Avery animation, and that's in full display here. Dororo gets fast feet like a cartoon character in one scene, and often has the exaggerated poses common to animated shorts prior to World War II.

When you mix this style with horrible demons that range in type from fox to moth to giant Buddha and dramatic scenes with Hyakkimaru trying to deal with his tragic meeting with his family, you get a rather odd combination. In any given set of pages, there is comedy, drama, and monsters. It's like reading Scooby Doo as written by Ibsen and drawn by Chuck Jones. Because Tezuka manages to keep the balance between all of the elements just about right, this combination manages to work a lot better than you'd think it might.

Dororo is really unlike anything else I've ever read. It's far deeper than it appears on first blush, and is one of those rare comics where I really don't know what's going to happen next. Fans of fantasy adventures with deep themes will enjoy this a lot, and anyone who likes Tezuka definitely needs to check it out. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the conclusion soon!