Dorohedoro is set in a world where amoral sorcerers use normal people as “test subjects” for their mutilating magic and vicious murders are so commonplace that they’re hardly worth remarking upon. Our protagonist Caiman’s stated goal is to track down and kill whoever transformed him into a lizard man, and his best friend Nikaido barely manages to keep her diner open in the crime-ridden corridors of the decrepit “Hole” they call home. And yet, somehow, this show is a comedy.
Gallows humor is the kind of comedy that comes from making fun of a horrible situation, and Dorohedoro excels at it. After all, when the world is falling apart and there’s no hope left for salvation, sometimes all you can do is laugh! Here’s how this deeply strange anime manages to take a grimy cyberpunk dystopia and make it hilarious.
Sure, This is Normal
One of our favorite scenes from Dorohedoro comes from episode 7, when our heroes (if you can call them that) are playing baseball with an opposing team that two enemy sorcerers have secretly infiltrated. It’s just like any normal sporting event, except for the home runs strong enough to eviscerate the strung up corpses of Hole’s enemies, a pile of quicksand between the bases, and let’s not forget the giant cockroach monster and a zombified former comrade of one of the sorcerers filling out the batting roster. It’s a bona fide ridiculous scene on every level, but at its core, it represents a dose of normalcy for characters who have to fight for their lives on a regular basis.
Despite its insane setting and style, this anime’s plot is actually pretty simple and achingly relatable—everyone just wants a normal life. Caiman wants to look like a human again, Nikaido wants to escape her past and run her diner in peace, and the sorcerer holiday Blue Night is all about choosing a partner who will help you accomplish what you want in life. En is looking for a sorcerer who can control time for an unknown reason, but considering that he’s so protective of his pet Kikurage who can resurrect the dead, it might have something to do with saving a lost loved one...
You Let Your Guard Down
Besides using humor to create a sense of normalcy in the midst of death and despair, Dorohedoro also keeps a light tone to throw viewers off from discovering elements of its mystery plot too early. The biggest example is Ebisu, a young sorcerer who suffered brain damage after getting chomped by Caiman and spends most of the rest of the show as a walking meme. She’s constantly getting herself into funny situations in the background of more serious scenes—turning into a zombie, dancing around in a shark costume, playing with the fake boobs on her Blue Night costume, you name it. But then, the anime drops the bomb that she’s actually a key player in Caiman’s past!
Even after that cliffhanger, though, she’s relegated back to comic relief for the next few episodes. Caiman keeps searching for the truth, but we know that it’s only a matter of time before he discovers Ebisu’s secret and all hell breaks loose. Instead of playing up the tension, this show chooses to push that element into the background and focus on other parts of the mystery so that when the heroes and sorcerers finally clash, we have no idea what will happen. It’s a risky strategy, since it runs the risk of confusing the viewers about what they should be paying attention to and making them apathetic about the whole thing as a result, but we think the constant subversion of expectations is part of what makes Dorohedoro so trippy and fantastic.
Dorohedoro is a deeply strange show, due in no small part to its stubborn insistence on dark comedy in a setting that’s basically Blade Runner meets I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. However, its clever use of gallows humor makes its characters more relatable and also keeps its mystery elements from feeling predictable, so it actually works surprisingly well!
What did you think of our overview? Have you seen Dorohedoro yet? What do you think will happen next? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!