So, this is normally the paragraph where I preface the article with something. Whether it’s my familiarity with the genre, the anime’s theme, or some sort of personal experience, this is where that happens. This time, I’ve got nothing.
According to the internet, Dorohedoro is an urban fantasy anime, which makes sense considering the show takes place in urban settings while every component of the show is based in fantasy: There’s magic, hyper violence, and mushrooms – this show is incredibly weird. Beware of spoilers and confusion, anime-niacs.
Dorohedoro takes place in a dilapidated section of an area known as The Hole (get your mind out of the gutter). Not many specific locations are featured in this place, but streets and buildings are quite decrepit. The series opens in the middle of a fight, and one of the protagonists has the body of a human but the head of a lizard. This lizard-man, Caiman, puts the head of his opponent in his mouth, and a small man arises from Caiman’s throat and speaks to the hooligan. Caiman’s friend, Nikaido, is a tough woman who recently found the amnesiac Caiman and is trying to help him regain his memories (sounds like reptile dysfunction). The two know that it was a sorcerer who changed Caiman’s appearance, because only magic could have transformed the man’s head.
Since Caiman bit off her face, the sorcerer, Ebisu, her boss, En, and his gang seek revenge on the man. Sorcerers live outside of The Hole in the Sorcerers’ World and have unique physiology that grants them the power to use magic. Many of them use their abilities to conduct tests on Hole dwellers – hence the lizard head. However, there exists Black Powder, called Smoke, which enhances sorcerer’s powers and is abused like a drug. In fact, Dorohedoro is absolutely about drugs (and might even be on drugs).
En’s crew dress like gangsters and use muscle and magical power to murder rivals. En’s magic is so strong that he has been able to transform an entire city into mushrooms – this is how his power is displayed even on smaller scales. Mushrooms, a lizard head, and there’s even a giant cockroach that behaves like a dog, but the narcotic-induced premise and visuals do not diminish the quality of writing (more like anime performance-enhancers).
Caiman and Nikaido gain allies as they seek out the culprit for Caiman’s condition as backstories illustrate characters’ motivations and personalities. Although the occurrences in the worlds of Dorohedoro are incredibly outlandish, the writer handles each character with such care that it was easy to actively cheer for the protagonists and enjoy the antagonists. Nikaido is a cheerful and caring young woman willing to do anything to help her newfound friend. En is a boisterous, self-centered bastard and it was incredibly entertaining to watch him command each scene. Noi, a member of En’s muscle, is a loyal though slightly dumb woman who deeply cares for her partner and longtime friend, Shin. However weird and funny Dorohedoro can be, there is a clear parallel to human experiments.
Dorohedoro shows the powerful use the poorer class as guinea pigs for experiments and this has certainly occurred throughout history. Black people, hospital patients, and prisoners are just a few examples of groups of people that have been victims. Dorohedoro does not heavily focus on this practice nor is it shown on a massive scale, but I would be remiss without mentioning it – human experimentation is a pretty easy connection to make with this anime.
There is no expository narration, Dorohedoro thrusts the viewer headfirst into action and this was quite jarring. The first episode is incredibly weird and the show initially seems very abstract, but by the end of the second episode, I needed more. The characters, plot and world all make sense as soon as I allowed myself to believe in them (and I do believe in magic in a young lizard’s heart). There are very funny moments, plenty of mystery, and likable characters. I would highly recommend this show to adults, but go into it with an open mind.