Mar 29, 2020
SHOCKING! Despite early concerns of a crappy CGI adaptation of Q Hayashida’s legendary comic, we’ve been blessed with a fantastic adaptation full of heart and passion from the staff involved. If you can wrap your head around the at-times dizzying pace and make peace with the (quite well done in my opinion) CGI main character models, you’re in for chaotic, bloody and quirky trip through the gloriously dingy Hole and a devilishly fantastical world of Sorcerers. This is a series that oozes with style and original ideas, that feels as if Shin himself is taking a hammer to the temple of the current anime landscape. It’s got grit, it’s got heart and it’s got some dang beautiful art. If you’re willing to indulge me in a rather lengthy and extensive review of this fantastic new series by studio Mappa, please read ahead!

Dorohedoro, based on the manga penned by Q Hayashida, for years has constantly been hailed as an example of “a manga that could never be adapted into an anime” in numerous lists/articles and threads online. Her sketchy, densely detailed art style has been compared to manga like Tsutomu Nihei’s Blame! and while less refined than works like Kentaro Miura’s Berserk, falls into a similar category of manga so detailed, some feel it would be impossible to accurately portray frame for frame in animation. Interestingly, both of these properties have received anime adaptations, In Berserks case multiple. Disregarding the Berserk 1997 anime series, both Berserk and Blame’s more recent anime outings were made possible through the use of CGI character varying degrees of success. So why am I going into this long winded break down of two completely different anime in a Dorohedoro review? Well, I think it’s obvious what everyone’s “hot takes” and opinions on this series are inevitably going to bring up the CGI models for the main characters, so I might as well get it out of the way at the top and bring up some cases for you to think about and compare.

There will be people who will go on and on about their disdain for CGI use in anime and that if a show uses it, it’s automatically terrible, makes their eyes bleed and is sending the industry backwards. So, a quick question and answer

Would I have preferred if the main character models were 2D? Yes certainly, of course.

How do the CGI models stack up to other series using them? Definitely above average, and their skill using the CG tools drastically improves as the series progresses. I only might put the CG work below something like an Orange production like Beastars or Houseki no Kuni, but those series benefit from having some entire shots and environments rendered in CG, allowing things to blend more easily. Dorohedoro on the other hand does a great job of blending the CG models with beautiful 2D art and backgrounds on a level I haven’t seen in a Tv anime, and only improves as the series continues.

Last question...Am I happy to get to enjoy an adaptation of the manga that has this level of passion and dedication to the direction, music, sound and art regardless of the sometimes iffy CGI models? ABSOLUTELY! I understand the hate and vitriol aimed at works using CGI, but it’s annoying and disheartening to see so many people completely shut down at the sight of it and make no attempt to judge a work on its other merits or actual use of the CGI. Besides that, I’m just honestly thankful to be able to see a manga I truly love come to life in an actually well executed and competent adaptation and have others be able to learn about and enjoy it.

So, now that THAT’s out of the way (at least for now) let’s get into what makes this series special in its story and characters, and what has been most noticeable as far as the production is concerned.

This story stands out for a lot of reasons and isn’t something I think most anime viewers are used to seeing. This is achieved through a bizarre yet strangely straight forward set-up, set in a very detailed and intriguing world constantly doling out more information. The basic premise is this, ‘A man has had his head turned into a lizard head by a magic user, he wants to find out who did it with the help of his friend.’ Bizarre enough as it stands but how does this man and his friend hope to solve their conundrum? Well, after detaining a potential culprit, he bites down on their head. They then enter a sort of parallel world where they meet another man inside of his head who tells them “you’re not the one”. Once our protagonist asks what the man inside his head says and gets his answer, they precede to mercilessly kill them, usually by slashing them to pieces. This is the opening scene of the show, and perfectly encapsulates what Dorohedoro is all about, both in the types of scenarios and violence to be encountered and also the very carefree attitude at which characters in this series meet these situations.

This is Dorohedoro’s tone, and it’s one of its greatest strength. While many anime series that use this level of violence and gore would simply come off as edgy and shocking for the sake of it, the creativity in the violence the author paints and the lackadaisical attitude most characters take to it pushes Dorohedoro into a sort of campy and fun dark comedy, while also remaining genuinely disturbing. If I could describe Dorohedoro in two words, it would probably be joyfully sinister. The characters constantly joke around and banter with each other, they love talking about eating food (mainly gyoza for Kaiman, our protagonist) and drinking beer, this applies even more so to the “antagonists” of the series. On the flip side they also love slashing people to bits, bashing heads in and murdering others in very graphic and morbid ways, but this also applies to our protagonists! It makes for some very interesting characters that you still root for because it isn’t that they’re “evil people” necessarily. It’s that everyone in this brutal and metal-as-hell world (well two worlds actually) just lives by the status quo which happens to completely revolve around the authors love and celebration of all things horror. These violent yet joyful characters are at the heart of what makes Dorohedoro so enjoyable. All of their designs are distinct and striking with many often wearing creative and freaky masks. Dorohedoro also features a bevy of well realized females, not only in their characterization but also in their more varied than body types than we see to be the norm of most anime.

For a little bit more of an elaboration on the “two worlds” comment and general trajectory of the story, Dorohedoro is mainly concerned with two major groups of characters that resides in said worlds. The world of Hole is a “shit hole” comprised of unfortunate citizens who’ve drawn the short straw in life. It’s a kind of urban/industrial post-apocalyptic setting, filled with an endless number of ruined buildings and factories. Here, people are constantly struggling to get by and also to survive attacks from denizens of the other world...the World of Magic Users. The World of Magic Users is where people who have the ability to produce magical black smoke live. This world is considerably more vibrant and the magic users tend to have it quite a bit better off. This smoke power they use can have any number of interesting effects and properties but many of them transform the target into something. Magic users can also produce doors with their magic that lead to Hole and many of them use these doors to experiment on and torment the citizens of Hole. The first of two groups the bulk of our story revolves around are the previously mentioned Kaiman (who had his head turned into a lizard by a magic user) his best friend Nikaido and a rag tag group of Hole dwellers. They are hunting magic users to find the one who changed Kaiman’s head and quickly find themselves caught up in the business of the second group, the most powerful magic user En and his family of hitmen. From then on, all sorts of chaos and shenanigans ensue. While the story can certainly move at a fast clip at times I also love its ability to slow down and meander at others, building up and showing us various aspects of Hole and The Magic Users World as well as taking time to show us more intimate moments with both the sets of characters. This balance of both forward momentum and relaxed character development and world building is something I think many people find a very endearing aspect of the show.

Compared to the manga, however, while we do have a lot of fun and relaxed moments with characters...some character development and world building is sacrificed in favor of a faster pace, something I have to grin and bear as a viewer but obviously something I DO have to bring up and hold against the adaptation. This first season received a 12 episode run and it seemed obvious heading into the last half/third in and around where they were planning on ending the season. Working on a time constraint and not knowing for sure if you will received a second season unless sales are good certainly leads a director to create what they feel is the most appealing version of a story they can fit into the time they have been granted. As a viewer who has read the manga, I’m left simply thinking to myself as I watch “oh, they made this a bit harder to understand” or “ah they skipped this line of dialogue”. While some of these things might go completely unnoticed by a newcomer, some certainly stood out as odd directorial decisions and some were more egregious cuts we could all agree the show would benefit from having in. An example I can think of for the former was when a certain character is visited in jail. When he explains why he is being sentenced to death he says it was because he was selling Devil Manjuu and is called an idiot. Unfortunately, unlike the manga we are giving no way of understanding why this would be considered a crime and only given a “Devil Manjuu can get you killed” from the “What we learned”. An example of the latter would be during the baseball episode, where Fujita and Ebisu share a moment alone. In this scene Fujita saying how no one cares about his plight of avenging Matsumura, breaking down in tears. We are then shown a somber looking Ebisu looking up at him telling him that she cares. It’s a small scene, but an important one that does a lot for Ebisu’s character (as she’s almost entirely used as comic relief) and also for her and Fujita’s relationship leading up to an arc that begins next episode. Besides cut content, the anime moves at a blistering pace that puts the already fast paced manga to shame. This was something I noticed brought up numerous times in discussions on the series as it aired, and while I can’t necessarily attest to it making the show harder to comprehend, you do have to pay quite a bit of attention to gather all of the information thus far and put it together in your head. Compared to the more relaxed paced manga you can read and flip at your own leisure, with more accompanying notes and explanations to reiterate things already explained in the chapters/volume (the anime does this somewhat with the “what did we learn segments at the end of each episode) It definitely can be difficult to digest at times.

When talking about how it would be near impossible to adapt the extremely detailed art style of Q Hayashida, that might have been true if we were talking about your average anime production and staff. This is where Shinji Kimura comes in as Art Director and we all gasp and say, “Well ... I guess it would be unadaptable WITHOUT someone like him”. There is so much gorgeous background art in this series it could make your head spin, and Kimura san is definitely who we have to thank and who has really put his heart into this project. If you are unaware of who he is, he drew background art for Akira, My Neighbor Totoro, Angel’s Egg, Blood Blockade Battlefront, Tekkonkinkreet and many, many others. He’s one of the best background artist/at directors in the business and has now blessed us by working on Dorohedoro and allowing the shows artistic merits as a whole to totally outweigh the questionable CGI main character models. Whether it’s portraying the ruined cityscapes, dingy alleyways and smog billowing industrial shots or the extremely colourful take on the World of Sorcerers with its crazily detailed gothic architecture, you’re in for wallpaper worthy background shot after wallpaper worthy background shot. Reverence to the creator and many inspirations to the original work can be found hidden throughout various shots and again shows that not only do the staff respect the work, but also that they aree having fun fitting these Easter eggs into the show. Many shots will feature “9”s painted on the walls (a reference to the author, Q Hayashida). A shopping trip reveals Ebisu looking at the original Dorohedoro OST and even reading off track names. Another quick shot during a baseball game features some figures strung up that look suspiciously like a 90s metal band Hayashida references numerous times throughout her series. It’s these sorts of nods that tip this series over-the-top in terms of fan service, creating original shots and scenarios not even seen in the manga that will have any Doroheads head spinning.

You may also be wondering why I keep specifying “main character models” and that’s because there is still also a ton of 2D character art and animation throughout the series. If a character is only appearing in an episode or two they tend to be animated completely in 2D including Asu, Chidamura, Asuka and all of the various 1 off characters. Additionally, flashback scenes which feature characters in different costumes or a slightly different appearance are animated entirely in 2D such as flashbacks of Shin, Noi and En which sometimes take half an episode. Point being, for all the moaning about CG in this series, there is actually a SHOCKING! amount of great 2D material as well, even outside the backgrounds.

In addition Yuichiro Hayashi’s directing does a great job of adapting the original work and many of its more surreal moments that I assumed would be difficult to pull off (such as Kaimans memories or inside his mouth). His shot composition, use of 3D space and even first person perspective shots give the show a very lively feel and show he’s really not half-assing it. A major worry going into this series was if Hayashi would be able to maintain the level of graphic violence and gore the manga is known for and he gets away with a surprising amount. While it’s obviously not on the same level as the comic, he does a commendable job to the point I don’t really see a need for any uncensoring or scene changes come the blu-ray (besides an oddly blacked out brain in episode 2). Between Hayashi’s directing, Kimura’s art and Nomoto’s CGI directing (more on that next paragraph) the series really comes to life and shows what a passionate staff can accomplish, making almost every frame a quality one and every shot competently rendered.

While the choice of CGI models for the main characters is certainly mystifying and a knock against the show I certainly can’t ignore (I mean, I went into pretty great detail off the top of the review) allow me to elaborate a bit further here. Firstly, coming off my extreme praise of the background and 2D art, they certainly clash with them (sometimes more so than others) but they put in a commendable effort to draw over them and try to blend them into the environment. Kaiman in particular is a bit problematic for me, as the sameness in colour of his lizard face definitely makes him look less rugged and gritty than the manga and a little too smooth. I also felt the flap of his mouth when talking really stood out due to the CG (not that I exactly know how they could do it better). On the flip side other shots look surprisingly well good and really stand out as examples of CGI models that have then been coloured over and almost tricked me into thinking I was watching 2D animation. A particular scene of Noi removing her outfit/mask really stood out as some great CG work. They obviously use these CGI models during many of the action scene which can be a bit of a mixed bag. Kaiman’s and Nikaido’s detaining of Ebisu and Kaiman’s short encounter with Shin, for example, seem especially fluid and the camera work is quite good. On the other hand, while passable, scenes like Nikaido’s fight with Noi seem more janky and the use of slow-mo used to convey a “dynamic feeling” not easily conveyed compared to 2D animation sometimes works against it. It’s a mixed bag, but one where I genuinely feel the staff improved their technique with using the models as the series progressed. Just compare that Noi and Nikaido fight with Kaiman and Nikaido's fight in episode 12, it's like night and day! Another less action focused example is a close of shot of Shin’s face in episode 11, leaning in to give an intimidating look to Haze. The way the CGI modeler uses shadow in this shot combined with his vivid and changing facial expression showed a level of skill with the CG tools to create a level of menace not seen earlier in the series. While I don’t want this to come off as some kind of Stockholm syndrome, I actually really started to feel as though the models worked quite well and became accustomed to them fusing with the “style” of the series. While the CGI models are definitely one of the weaker aspects of the series, I can’t help but emphasize one last time how commendable a job the staff working on integrating them into the environments and aesthetic of the show did and how the fact that said environments and aesthetic are so stunning, it sort of “cover-ups” some of the weaker artistic aspects.

While we’re still fairly early in the story and the characters haven’t necessarily had to perform a large breadth of acting quite yet, they’ve all done a commendable job thus far. Wataru Takagi as lovable dopy/whiny Kaiman has been great (I especially loved his girly voice as Pie-man) and relative newcomer Reina Konda has done well realizing the lovable Nikaido. Episode 12 was likely their greatest challenge from an emotional standpoint and they did a great job pulling off their tender scenes together. Some other stand outs are the boisterous Noi, performed by Yu Kobayashi and the always hilarious and ridiculous Ebisu performed by Miyu Tomita. From reading the manga I think Kaiman and Ebisu were two characters that people were going to be watching if they got right and I believe they’ve nailed both. Besides them, En is his stern and powerful self, Shin is wild and intimidating. One character who I imagined a bit different in my head is Chota. While his voice is growing on me I always imagined him coming off a bit more aggressive and yelling more. It will take further story progression and events to see how well these actors perform more serious and emotionally charged scenes, but only time will tell. For now they’ve all been performing their characters to great effect.

Finally I’ll briefly touch on the music which is....what do you know.... also great! The manga of Dorohedoro actually had a companion OST commissioned by Hayashida, featuring various artists from six different countries. It’s very dark, industrial and grungy, and the perfect fit for Dorohedoro. The TV animes soundtrack doesn’t use these tracks, but almost all of the songs on that OST seem to be emulated in some shape or form in th TV anime OST. Standouts include the Drum and Bass tracks similar in style to VOODOOMs track from the manga OST and a song extremely reminiscent of Candie Hank’s Zombie Slushie that plays during an action sequence when Chidamura is introduced. Others like the horrifying track that plays when entering Kaiman’s mouth and confronting the man inside with terrifying screeches and squeals was a particular stand out along with the awesome call out to the song Transformations (Im sorry my ability to critique music isn’t great so I’ll save you me trying to make up words to describe them). The lighter tracks that play during the more comedic moments with En and the family perfectly encapsulate the goofy carefree vibe of the room and seemed like the most original to the Tv anime, not reminding me of anything off of the manga OST but still working as great additions. On top of the OST, the opening and multiple ending tracks are all great, and the accompanying animation for the OP of Nikaido cooking gyoza as opposed to your usual anime opening of character shots and story scenes is very refreshing. It shows the staff knows how to convey the unique vibe of the series as well as how important gyoza are to our main duo! They even manage to squeeze in a little anime original Jonson backstory which is a cute and welcome touch. The fact we received a new ending song and animation almost every 2 episodes was an unexpected and welcome treat. While some were weaker than others (such as Seconds Fly) the variety and fact we had a nice surprise to look forward to every 2 weeks was great.

All in all, Dorohedoro is about as enjoyable an adaptation anyone could have asked for. When the anime project was initially reveal, I think almost all fans tightened up with a fear of what was to come. When the early PVs were showcased revealing the CGI models for the main characters, many were disappointed, but at the same time, most expected as much. For those being attentive to the PVs however, they likely noticed the beautiful art and 2D animation and were then holding their breath in hope that the project didn’t drop the ball. I think with the shows release, all but the most cynical fans and 2D-animation-only purists were pleasantly surprised with the product we ended up receiving. Hayashida’s world is so unique in its rich lore, character and setting and the staff involved have given the tender loving care to take this “unadaptable manga series” and given a *GASP* commendable and well realized adaptation complete with actually well realized and ever improving CGI. Now, if you’re a fan, let’s try to support this series the best we can and get more seasons!! So......

What did we learn this time??

1. Don’t always base a book by it’s cover! When done right, you can actually become accustomed to even liberal uses of CGI.

2. Shinji Kimura is a godly artist.

3. Dorohedoro has single handedly reinvigorated my passion for anime and of buying tons of merch.

What will we from season 2? That is still a mystery

That is...

Reviewer’s Rating: 9
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