Dororo – 03 – Made to Live

The sun sets on a hillside by the sea, and a man is at work crucifying “rebels” with all the passion and intensity of a guy filling a vending machine. There’s a detached, workmanlike quality to his ghoulish work.

He’s finally snapped out of it when a woman arrives, perhaps his wife, pleading for him to stop. She is run through by a soldier and dies right in front of the man.  Whoever she is, he is now awake to the horrors he is committing, and decides to put an end to it, by leaping from the cliff into the sea.

Because this scene was in vivid color and the following scenes in monochrome, there’s some initial confusion as to which scene took place first—especially since he seemed to off himself. Here man, named Jukai, has a young apprentice in Kaname, who is also a recipient of one of his miraculous prostheses. Villagers and out-of-towners alike line up outside his workshop hoping he can help their loved ones live normal lives again.

We learn beyond a doubt the crucifying was a part of Jukai’s past when Kaname hears a rumor from one of the out-of-town beneficiaries of his services that Jukai once served Lord Shiba. Jukai didn’t die in the jump, but was picked up by a foreign ship and taken to their country, where he learned his prosthetic-making craft. He works not for forgiveness or atonement, but simply because he believes his life was spared so he could learn the craft and use it to help as many people as possible.

An honorable a notion that may be, but Kaname’s father was killed by Lord Shiba’s reign of terror. While he wants to kill Jukai for revenge, he lets him finish an arm for a young boy whose only crime was crossing paths with a samurai…then he sheds the artificial leg Jukai made for him and hobbles off, unable to live or work with Jukai anymore.

A bit later, while walking along a riverbank, Jukai, alone again, stumbles and discovers the boat bearing the newborn babe with no eyes, ears, limbs or skin…yet still clinging to life and clearly wanting to live. Jukai finds another reason to keep living himself, and builds all the parts necessary for Hyakkimaru to not just survive, but thrive.

As Jukai raises and trains Hyakkimaru (a name he gave him), Daigo’s healthy second son Tahoumaru is born, and grows into a highly skilled but also arrogant young man, who also rues the deserated diety his mother keeps around as a memento of her firstborn, of whom Tahoumaru probably knows nothing.

Jukai learns that whatever special gift Hyakkimaru possesses that enabled him to survive this long also draws demons to his vicinity. Hyakkimaru can’t feel pain, so he feels no fear, and dispatches each demon to cross his path with relative ease.

But when Hyakkimaru ends one specific demon and his left leg suddenly and miraulously grows back (ironically the same limb Kaname lost), Jukai concludes that someone made a terrible deal with the demons that resulted in Hyakkimaru losing almost everything. He’s seen firsthand that Hyakkimaru can retrieve those parts that were taken from him by fighting, so Jukai trains him to kill, even as he curses himself for doing so.

For while Hyakkimaru, like Jukai, was given the gift of survival under incalculable odds, Jukai laments that the boy is destined to spend that life mired in violence, blood, despair, and loneliness. But he lets him go anyway. He cannot choose for Hyakkimaru how to live the life he was given, nor can he accompany him on his quest without getting in the way.

Back in the present, Hyakkimaru explores his newfound sense of pain by stepping on the fire with his real foot, then stomping it, prompting Dororo to stop him. Pain is clearly so foreign to him that he’s not sure quite how to react to it; fortunately, he has friends in Dororo and Biwamaru to make sure he doesn’t get in too much trouble experimenting. Dororo, meanwhile, won’t soon forgive whatever scoundrel allowed so much to be taken from his friend.

Meanwhile, Jukai, alone once more, continues to ply the battlefields, fitting the living and the dead alike with his handmade prosthetic limbs, unable to go anywhere or do anything else, but still able to do at least this much.

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Dororo – 02 – The Telltale Bell

Try as Dororo might to communicate as he travels with his new companion, it’s pretty clear Hyakkimaru can neither see nor hear, at least not in the conventional sense. Rather, he depends on a different kind of “sight” in which he can see the souls of objects, and lets Dororo stay close because his soul’s color denotes him as non-threatening.

Dororo, in turn, starts a fire for him so he doesn’t have to eat the fish he catches raw. Between his adept fishing skills and ability to slice up demons, Dororo is sticking with this guy because he knows there’s both people to be saved and money made slaying monsters. One such apparent monster lurks in the forest, ringing a bell.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru end up in a village, where Dororo does the talking, claiming they’ll root out the monster that’s harassing them. But something isn’t quite right: the village has too much money to throw around for guests considering they don’t seem to have rice paddies or any other source of such income.

In the night, the bell-ringing monster appears, but Hyakkimaru won’t budge, which can only mean one thing: whatever that big-headed thing is, it ain’t a threat. The next morning the interim chief introduces them to Bandai, the bedridden chief. Dororo, being a little boy with eyes, is immediately smitten by the woman’s otherworldly beauty.

Hyakkimaru…isn’t. He draws his arm-sword, and Dororo has to hold him back from attacking Bandai. Clearly, she’s the monster, but the villagers are protecting her.

They toss Hyakkimaru and Dororo in a storeroom, where they meet an old blind priest, who explains to Dororo how both he and probably Hyakkimaru “see.” When the lights suddenly go out, Dororo becomes the blind one, while Hyakkimaru goes after a demonic limb that peeks out of a hatch.

The hatch leads outside Bandai’s house, and Hyakkimaru busts in and recommences his attack. Bandai reveals her true form as a giant green demon, whose soul the priest senses as a blood-red; the most dangerous kind.

Hyakkimaru chases Bandai into the bamboo forest, and eventually slices it to pieces and stabs it through the “woman’s” head. The interim chief confesses to having fed Bandai travelers who came to the village so it wouldn’t attack them. The big-headed bell guy turns out to be some kind of youkai that leads Dororo to the gold the village took from their eaten guests. Dororo reprimands them for being worse than monsters for letting one prey on others for profit.

Moving on to their next destination, Hyakkimaru finally introduces himself to Dororo by writing his name in the dirt. Dororo can’t read the characters, but the blind priest can. The priest also recognizes Hyakkimaru as the poor cursed babe he encountered in the river.

With the demise of Bandai, another statue in the Hall of Hell is cleaved in two, and Hyakkimaru gains another part of him that was taken by the demons: his nerves and thus his ability to feel pain. Considering the wounds he sustained in the fight with the demon, he ends up with a lot of pain. But at least he’s not alone; his new friend Dororo will help him in any way he can.

It’s fun watching Dororo learn more about his new friend as we learn beside him, and as he gradually collects more parts of himself. The spunky kid is never not fun to watch. The show aptly balances the friendship-building with quick, brutal action once Hyakkimaru is in Go Mode. It’s also starting to look like with each part he regains, Daigo may lose a bit of the good fortune the demons bestowed upon him. Ah well…that’s why you don’t make deals with demons.

Dororo – 01 (First Impressions) – Oldie but Goldie

If I haven’t seen it, it’s new to me…so said NBC back in 1998. Indeed, through the eyes of new generations, the old can become new again, and draw strength from its venerability.

That certainly seems to be what we have with Winter 2019’s Dororo, a re-imagining of an anime from Spring 1969, based on a Tezuka Osamu manga began in Summer of 1967. That makes the anime a cool fifty years old—golden—and ripe for a good dusting-off by Tezuka Productions and MAPPA.

Impatient and distraught by the withering of his lands and his people, a samurai lord named Kagemitsu Daigo forsakes Buddha and makes a deal with the demons of the Hall of Hell: he’ll get victory, prosperity, and power, and the demons get…whatever they want.

When his first son is born without limbs, facial features, or even skin, Daigo rejoices, for he knows the demons have accepted the deal. A midwife takes pity on the cursed child, placing it in a boat rather than drowning it in the river, but as its father rises in significance, the babe slips into obsurity.

Fast-forward sixteen years, and the young, Aladdin-like boy thief Dororo has swindled a man of burlier frame but punier intellect. Dororo takes his beatings but won’t let anyone tell him what to do. His mark is on the cusp of drowning him when their exchange is interrupted by the appearance of a strange young man with a doll-like face, seemingly looking beyond them.

He’s actually looking at some kind of sludge demon that emerges from the river and starts eating Dororo’s marks, but Dororo himself is saved by the young man’s rather unorthodox fighting with multiple prostheses. It’s pretty obvious who he is by the time jump and false limbs: the child survived, and has become strong enough to handle himself.

This young man, whom we learn is named Hyakkimaru, is still mourned by his mother, the wife of Kagemitsu Daigo, though she now has a healthy, fully-limbed son who is no doubt being groomed to succeed his father. As for Dororo, he just thinks it’s hella cool that Hyakkimaru can do what he does. He also gets to witness something quite unusual (well, more unusual): upon defeating the sludge demon, Hyakkimaru regains his skin.  

And so the stage is set: a lad lacking many body parts, itching to get them back from the demons who took them, and his plucky sidekick who takes shit from no one. It’s a stylish new interpetation of a literally classic pairing. Dororo’s seiyu is solid, the OP is frikkin’ bad-ass, and the action is swift and satisfying. Very encouraging start.