Oh, what a plethora of choices for accessing this swashbuckling series by the godfather of manga: you could go with the original 1960s manga series in Japanese, watch the 26-part anime from 1969 or the live-action film (available dubbed in English even!) from 2007, play the video game version titled “Blood Will Tell,” or read it in English translation in three volumes.
Starting tomorrow, you have yet another option: you can pick up this hefty omnibus version of the 2009 Eisner winner for Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Japan. Fair warning – the omnibus isn’t particularly portable being 2.5 inches thick (844 pages!), but it’s definitely the most convenient way to read the classic in a single setting (and you’ll want to, trust me).
Back in the feudal centuries (approximately 15th to 17th) of a Japan run amuck with warring samurai, Lord Daigo Kagemitsu makes an ugly pact with 48 demons: in exchange for complete rule of the land, he’s willing to offer 48 body parts from his about-to-be-born-son. Indeed, his newborn emerges unrecognizable as human – he’s little more than a limbless, blind, mute blob. The evil Lord forces his distraught wife to float the silent mass down river.
A brilliant, caring doctor rescues the partial boy, feeds and nurtures him, and even builds him prosthetic limbs (complete with hidden weapons!). Most importantly, the good doc gives the transformed boy a name, Hyakkimaru (meaning ‘a hundred demons’). When ghouls, ghosts, and goblins start to haunt the good doc’s home rather too frequently, Hyakkimaru realizes it’s time for him to venture out into the brave new world. On his first night alone, he’s warned by a mysterious voice, “you shall encounter forty-eight demons. Your body is missing forty-eight body parts. Vanquish those demons, and your body may return to normal.”
One demon, one body part at a time, Hyakkimaru embarks on his dangerous journey toward full-body reclamation. He’s aided (and occasionally hindered) by Dororo, an adorable orphan with a frightening past, who turns out to be quite a talented thief ["dororo," in Japanese, is a childish pronunciation for dorobō, meaning thief]. In spite of their bickering, the two misfits bond quickly, saving each other from one possessed adventure after another.
In spite of the high cute-factor (including Tezuka’s own signature self-insertions of comic relief), this is not a manga to take lightly. Death and destruction appears on nearly every page. Besides the bad parenting, you’ve got fratricide, countless traitors, careless murderers, not to mention the ungrateful villagers who keep throwing the dynamic duo out as soon as they vanquish their demons. That said, thanks to the original godfather, family dysfunction has never had (and most likely never will have) such exuberant, plucky presentation …
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2008 (United States), 2012 (new omnibus edition)