In Dorohedoro, it’s hard enough to survive, let alone track down a gang of sorcerers that might have turned you into a reptile.
Originally a manga series by Q Hayashida, Netflix’s 2020 adaptation of Dorohedoro is a magical, gory rollercoaster ride from start to finish. This 12 episode dark fantasy anime shows the adventures of Caiman, a man with a lizard head, as he tries to remember his true identity. His friend Nikaido helps him in this quest, and together they hunt sorcerers in an attempt to discover who turned Caiman’s head into a lizard. Unfortunately for them, a group of sorcerers affected by Caiman and Nikaido’s violence are determined to find them.
Dorohedoro drops the viewer into an urban world of humans, sorcerers, and their victims with very little exposition. As the story progresses, viewers must connect the puzzle pieces of Caiman’s past through a constantly growing number of storylines. The world of Dorohedoro is rich and full of character, but certain details are cleverly left out in order to keep the viewer asking questions. The man that appears in Caiman’s mouth is key to uncovering his identity, along with the dreams and flashbacks Caiman experiences. However, these occurrences only prompt more questions, and curiosity draws the viewer in. Much of the experience of Dorohedoro is wondering what exactly is happening, but that drives the desire to find out more.
The characters each have distinct personalities, and it is easy to connect with them. Even intimidating characters have endearing traits, such as high level sorcerer En’s obsessive protection of his pet, Kikurage, Caiman’s intense love for gyoza, and sorcerer bounty hunters Shin and Noi’s constant hunger. The voice acting is spot on and emphasizes the main personality traits of each character without diminishing their emotional range. The backstories of each character are crafted to fuel their motivations, and the impact on their current selves are made abundantly clear. Once the viewer learns a character’s past, their personality clicks even more.
Information about the characters and their surroundings is incorporated into conversation naturally, and point-of-view shifts force the viewer to understand the antagonists and side characters as well as the protagonists. The POV shifts are so powerful, eventually it becomes unclear who is truly the antagonist. It’s unclear if there is even an antagonist at all, as the gray morality of each character makes the viewer root for both sides. This is a common theme throughout the show — every time it appears as though a character’s motivation is justified, their opposition has an equally reasonable thought process. The anime is extremely violent, but the gore is far from out of place. Both sides are in survival mode; it’s only natural that they protect themselves and their own.
Dorohedoro isn’t all dark — it balances seriousness and humor perfectly. Violence, fear, and grief pervade both The Hole (the human world) and the world of the sorcerers, and there are grim moments in which it feels as though hope is lost. Despite this, there are also many moments of comic relief — especially involving young sorcerers Ebisu and Fujita. In a dangerous post-apocalyptic universe, characters still experience joy, success, and friendship fairly often. The lives of each character are not one-dimensional, and the amount of development each of them gets in just around five hours of screen time is remarkable. Although there are clear main characters, everyone is treated with the utmost importance, and side characters have their own unique traits and arcs. I am just as invested in Shin’s story as I am Caiman and Nikaido’s story, and he shows as much emotional range as any main character.
This anime prompts important questions: how are we to determine what is clearly right and wrong, and how do we define our own identities? Despite Caiman’s willingness to commit acts of violence to understand his past, his current identity as Caiman is loved by his friends in The Hole and deemed a worthy opponent by the sorcerers. However, as much as the people around us help form who we are, most of that job is ours alone. The search for identity, along with Fujita’s search for companionship, Nikaido’s longing for normalcy, and En’s fierce determination fueled by regret are reflections of our own human needs.
I was left feeling spectacularly lost after each episode of Dorohedoro, and I am already itching for a second season. I’m tempted to read the manga, but the incredible voice acting, writing, and animation has made me deeply attached to the characters and their surroundings. Even if you aren’t typically a fan of anime, this show is worth watching. My boyfriend has never been particularly interested in anime, but he was hooked the moment we watched the first episode of Dorohedoro together. Now we’re both obsessed, and I’m sure if you watch it, you will be too.