Monday, September 5, 2011

Manga Monday: Fighting demons to make himself whole

Osamu Tezuka is a legend in the field of manga for a reason.  Besides having been one of the men who developed the form from the traditional  4-panel comic strip to the graphic novel of today, he is also considered the creator of entire genres of the medium.  He helped get adults reading comics again with titles like Black Jack and Ayako.  He created the fictionalized biography Buddha years before Maus and Persepolis were taught in university classrooms.  He even created the half-boy, half-girl in manga idea with Princess Knight before Rumiko Takahashi began Ranma 1/2.  As he revolutionized shojo manga with Princess Knight, he also helped to create shonen manga with Dororo.

In Dororo Volume 1, Hyakkimaru has had a very unfortunate beginning.  His power-hungry Daimyo father promised a temple of 48 demons each a piece of his unborn son in return for being the ruler of the land.  They made good on their end of the deal, and when his son was born with no eyes, ears, limbs or internal organs.  And yet, his son refuses to die.

When he orders his son done away with, his mother sent him downriver in a basket.  Thankfully, while his father's prayers were answered and he comes into tremendous power in the area, so too do his mothers prayers for his safety.  Doctor Honma found the baby along the river, and was astonished at the the little creature inch its way across the floor to look for food.  Dr. Honma used a combination of medicine and magic to create the pieces that Hyakkimaru lacks, and raised him as a son.

Ever since Dr. Honma found Hyakkimaru, though, demons have been plaguing his house.  Eventually, when Hyakkimaru is old enough to look after himself, Dr. Honma has no choice but to ask him to leave.

Hyakkimaru eventually finds out his origins; a ghostly voice tells him the circumstances surrounding his birth.  And so begins his journey throughout the countryside, destroying the demons he fines to regain all that was taken from him.

Along the way, Hyakkimaru manages to pick up our titular character.  Dororo (babytalk for 'thief') is helped out by Hyakkimaru, and Dororo takes a liking to our hero,  He declares that he is the world's greatest thief, and that he is going to steal Hyakkimaru's sword.  That's going to be quite a bit more difficult than normal, as the sword is part of his arm prosthesis, but that doesn't deter our little sidekick.  Of course it's just a little street kid's excuse to tag along after a big brother figure, but Dororo's so likable that it's hard to mind.

Since this is such an early series, flaws that might be annoying in current manga are more easily forgiven here.  Panels of fight scenes are so cluttered that it's often hard to figure out where our heroes are in them, or what exactly is happening.  While a kid tagging along after the hero has been done over and over again, this might be given a pass the same way Ranma ½ is tolerable as a harem show because it is one of the first.  Also, anyone who has read manga, or any fantasy books at all, should know that something's up when Dororo won't bathe in front of Hyakkimaru.

Even when taken on it's own merit, without the Tezuka name attached, Dororo: Volume 1 is a good read.  As with many good shonen manga stories, there is more depth to it than it initially appears.  Themes of loss and rejection weave their way throughout many of the stories, along with the idea that everyone is flawed in some way.  The world is a hard place, and the heroes don't always get the credit and the credit that they are due.  They keep on, however, for their own reasons, and perhaps together they might both get a bit closer to what they're searching for.

Highs:  Watching Hyakkimaru's joy at regaining pieces of himself

Lows:  Many Americans new to manga might find the Japanese demons off-putting

Verdict:  The epitome of classic shonen, it's also a fun, compelling read

Further Reading;  Ode to KirihitoMoribito

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