Welcome again to Say It With Manga, where I take a short look at another three manga series. This week I dip into one of my favorite genres, horror, and one of my favorite current series. Really, there should be a lot more people reading Dorohedoro.
Horror: Dorohedoro – Q Hayashida
I’m a huge fan of horror manga, but few are as strange as Dorohedoro. It is certainly a horror comic, with a desolate urban setting where unsuspecting citizens are mutated into horrible creatures, subject to the whims of magic users who pop in and out of their world through magic doors. One of these victims, an amnesiac named Caiman, had his head turned into an alligator, and he is seeking violent, messy vengeance against any magic user he finds. But he also has a habit of swallowing their heads and asking, “What did the man in my mouth say to you?” And therein lies the true genius of Dorohedoro: it is unspeakably bizarre. Magic users all wear masks that range from hearts to turkeys to straps across their faces. No reason is ever given for this. Characters introduced later include a doctor who is apparently reverse aging and a giant cockroach named Johnson who can only say the word “Shocking!” A world of demons can be accessed by flushing one’s self down the toilet. The main story, Caiman regaining his memories and changing himself back, is secondary to the many amusing tangents and dozens of absurd details included in both the story and art. Hayashida’s art is also incredibly well-suited to the story, with a grungy and very detailed style that rewards the reader for paying close attention.
Romance: Itazura na Kiss – Kaoru Tada
I can’t really explain what it is about Itazura na Kiss that keeps me coming back. There’s just something incredibly charming about the simple story and characters. It’s rather famous, and has unfortunately been ripped off extensively since its debut in 1991, so the story is a familiar one for anyone who has picked up a Japanese girls’ comic in the last 20 or so years. Schoolgirl Kotoko is incredibly devoted to Naoki, a boy whose family she winds up moving in with after making a mortifying confession to him at school. Kotoko is outgoing and… well, not very smart, while Naoki is a super-intelligent jerk. The one-shot-ish chapters cover mundane topics like school festivals, finals, tennis tournaments, possible dates, exchange students, and things like that. Through it all, Naoki rudely and ruthlessly spurns Kotoko’s advances… until he doesn’t anymore. The interesting thing about Itazura na Kiss is that time moves forward in this series, and we follow the characters through high school, college, marriage, and their professional lives. It is infuriating, since a lot of the stories are a bit stereotypical and Naoki is a terrible romantic interest. But again, there’s something terribly charismatic about it, and it is a lot of fun to follow the characters through their entire lives. Each English volume is also an omnibus, containing two regular volumes of story.
Drama: Bakuman – Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
This one is hard to categorize since it is a series about drawing and writing manga. Drama is probably the best fit, but it reads a lot like an action series, too. It does have all the things an action comic has: the main characters improve their skills throughout the run of the series and are striving to be “the best,” they have numerous rivals and competitions, and they meet more and more people to add to their circle of friends throughout. It’s incredibly compelling, and very exciting for a series that’s about drawing comics. I often wonder how it reads to people that aren’t manga geeks, however, since it contains near-pornographic detail about the inner workings of Shounen Jump, the real-life Japanese magazine that serializes this and other popular series like Naruto, One Piece, and Dragon Ball. It softens the information dumps by having the characters apply the knowledge to their craft, making all of it practical and very interesting. The two main characters are… not that great (nor is their reason for creating), but the supporting cast is wonderful, and the side characters and rivals are what make the manga creation process here both exciting and unusually humorous.