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Dororo Volume 1

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Dororo Volume 1 by Osamu Tezuka, published by Vertical Inc.

Dororo Volume 1

© Tezuka Productions / Vertical Inc.

The Bottom Line

Originally published in 1967, Dororo is the tale of Hyakkimaru, a wandering swordsman who’s on a quest to retrieve his 48 body parts that his father, a feudal warlord sacrificed to demons in exchange for power. This first volume of a three-volume series introduces us to this wildly inventive adventure that amply demonstrates Tezuka’s skill as a master storyteller.

It’s not as grown-up as Ode to Kirihito, nor as iconic as Astro Boy, but Dororo is full of action, drama, humor and heart, and great artwork, making it arguably one of Tezuka’s most accessible and enjoyable stories for contemporary audiences.

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Pros

  • Wildly imaginative, with demons and heroes that go beyond traditional Japanese mythology
  • Masterful, breathtaking visual storytelling that is full of action, heart, humor and drama
  • Absolutely engrossing story that delivers clever plot twists at every turn
  • Doesn’t flinch from conveying the brutal conditions of a feudal society at war
  • Excellent translation and unobtrusive cultural notes make it easy for Western readers to enjoy

Cons

  • Tezuka’s habit of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ with goofy asides seems self-indulgent
  • Lots of blood, dismemberment and a few disturbing death scenes make it unsuitable for young readers

Description

Guide Review - Dororo Volume 1

After publishing several grown-up graphic novels by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical is turning their attention to an earlier, but no less breathtaking work by the Godfather of Manga. Dororo was originally published in 1967, but forty years later, it still stands up as an artistic achievement that’s pure entertainment from cover to cover.

Hyakkimaru is a wandering swordsman with a unique past. His father, a ruthless warlord sacrifices his unborn son’s body parts to 48 demons in exchange for power and riches. Born a barely-alive shell of a human being with no arms, legs or eyes, Hyakkimaru is found by a kindly (and ingenious) doctor who creates an amazing array of prosthetics for his adopted son, including arms that turn into swords and feet that spray acid. These weapons come in handy because Hyakkimaru is constantly encountering demons who he must defeat to get his real body parts back.

If it sounds bizarre, it’s because it is. It’s a testament to Tezuka’s bountiful creativity (and his background as a medical doctor) that he came up with this sci-fi twist on Japanese mythology and samurai stories.

But Dororo is more than eye candy and swordplay. Dororo’s feudal setting gives Tezuka an opportunity to make a statement about the senseless cruelty of war and the injustices served upon the poor, the weak and the young. At times, it’s deep stuff, wrapped up in an exciting (and sometimes gory) fantasy adventure.

My only complaint about Tezuka's style is that he just can’t help but insert quirky pop culture references and a cameo or three of himself, ala Alfred Hitchcock, which feels self-indulgent and distracting.

Sure, it’s not as avant-garde as Ode to Kirihito, nor as iconic as Astro Boy, but Dororo is probably one of Tezuka’s most accessible and enjoyable stories. Pick it up, get swept up and blown away.

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