Also known as どろろ (Dororo)
Tezuka's signature samurai series, Dororo was originally published in Weekly Shōnen Sunday (週刊少年サンデー) from August 1967 to July 1968. After a hiatus the manga series concluded its run in King Adventure (冒険王) in 1969 to coincide with the release of the animated television show.
What it's about
The story begins with the daimyo Daigo Kagemitsu forging a pact with 48 demons - promising each of them a piece of his unborn son in exchange for power to rule over the land. As such, his son is born a malformed, limbless, faceless creature. Aghast at the monstrosity, Kagemitsu orders the child destroyed and his mother sets the child adrift on a river where it is eventually found and raised by the kindly Dr. Honma, a rural doctor. Using his healing arts, Dr. Honma replaces the child's missing body parts with prosthetics crafted out of wood and ceramics.
As the seasons come and go, and the child eventually grows into a young man, the doctor begins to notice that the boy holds a strange attraction for demonic spirits - to the point where his house is becoming overrun with them. As such, Dr. Honma decides it is time for him to strike out on his own, to travel the world in search of acceptance. However, before he leaves, Dr. Honman gave his surrogate son two gifts - the first is to perform an operation grafting a special blade onto his left arm, and the second is to finally give him the name Hyakkimaru (百鬼丸), literally meaning "One Hundred Demons".
Soon after leaving home Hyakkimaru, learns that by killing the demons responsible for his condition, he can reclaim his missing body parts and thus restore his humanity. And so, one by one, Hyakkimaru began to hunt down the demons. Along the way he crosses paths with a young orphaned thief named Dororo. Despite Dororo's fearless "devil may care" attitude, the two establish a strong bond and travel side by side across the war-torn countryside in search of adventure.
What you should know
Set during the warring-states period of Japan, Dororo is Tezuka's contribution to the yōkai genre of storytelling that, epitomized by the works of Mizuki Shigeru, enjoyed a sudden peak of popularity in the mid-1960's.
By combining supernatural monster designs influenced by traditional Japanese prints and theatre, and more mature, and detailed natural background scenes than in most of his earlier work, with a creative use of Japanese folklore and ghost stories, Dororo has become a major work in Tezuka's corpus - setting the standard for many samurai adventure stories.
Much like Vampires (1966-69), Dororo is part of Tezuka's storytelling transition. Although the bright child thief Dororo was originally intended to be the star of the manga, the dark, vengeful anti-hero Hyakkimaru proved even more popular. It was this display of his fans' willingness to accept adults as the stars of their manga instead of the traditional boy heroes that opened the door for Tezuka's more mature later works.
According to Tezuka, in the postscript to the Osamu Tezuka Complete Manga Works edition (MT-150), Dororo is a "story of karma, that is to say the repercussions and consequences assumed by a character for a crime committed by a member of his family before his birth." (1981, p. 237). As such, Tezuka began the story with a lot of interest in the project. However, as the series went on, and Tezuka began to show the the suffering of the oppressed peasant class during the warring states period, it became darker and darker in tone. Just as Tezuka felt the realism was becoming too much for a shonen periodical, the opportunity to start the more ambitious sci-fi series, Prince Norman (1968), came up with a different publisher, and Tezuka's enthusiasm dropped substantially. Ultimately, at the request of the editor he suspended publication of Dororo, leaving the series with no ending.
Luckily, when the Dororo animated television show began airing in 1969, and with Prince Norman (1968) having already concluded, Tezuka felt the need to finsish up the series. Although he had originally intended the story to show Hyakkimaru recovering his body parts one by one, Tezuka decided to warp the series up early in one big finale. As such, the Dororo manga concluded its run in King Adventure (冒険王) from July to October, 1969.
Although some readers will be frustrated by the obviously rushed ending of the manga, most will still find themselves deeply engaged in the gradual development of the relationship between the Dororo and Hyakkimaru, both reluctant to open up to anyone after their dark pasts, as well as the touching experiences of Hyakkimaru gradually obtaining sight, hearing and other abilities most people take for granted.
Where you can get it
Luckily, for English-speaking fans, Dororo was published by Vertical Inc. in 2008. Originally released as three separate paperback volumes, in 2012, Vertical Inc. republished Dororo as an all-in-one-omnibus edition.
What else you should check out