By Osamu Tezuka
Published by Vertical Publishing
Slugline: The demon version of the game Operation.
It is hard to honestly review Tezuka's titles. His presence looms so large over the history of manga it's hard to separate the work from the creator, something that can be hard to accomplish even on less notable creators. Dororo is from Tezuka's later period, when he was transitioning to more mature works and exists at the juncture of horror and action. The main character, Hyakkimaru , is trying to recover the 48 body parts that his father gave away before his son's birth for power. Born alive, the remnants of the child kept mystically alive without the missing body parts grew up, using prosthetics and other artificial devices to appear human. But the various forms of death stalks him, and the only way he can become whole and get death off his trail is to hunt down the 48 demons, each time killing one having one of his body parts regenerating. The title of the series Dororo comes from the child thief that is following him, determine to steal Hyakkimaru's valuables (but the most valuable bits of him, his very body, has already been stolen) even though it seems to be more of an excuse for Dororo to follow Hyakkimaru's quest.
The other hard part of reviewing Tezuka is the fact that while he uses many genre conventions, that is because he is often creating those conventions. His art has not aged well, being very cartoony by modern standards. But while some of the characters seem thinly sketched, what is going on conveys a world that is terrible and cruel with people with even the best intentions inevitably being get punished. Even the main characters, Hyakkimaru and Dororo cannot afford to trust each other despite their 'friendship', because that is how this world works. I assume that this period is intended to evoke one of the civil war periods in feudal Japan, and at this time the only thing that makes sense is Hyakkimaru's search to reclaim itself. Each piece he reclaims is a gift he appreciates, which in turn reflects on the world around him. So despite the cartoony and simplistic veneer on top of the story, something deeper is going on, about how seeking oneself is more than just a selfish quest.
Dororo, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.