Dororo – 20 – Red Autumn

Even with its often subdued, earthy palette, Dororo is a looker of a show, its gorgeous, painterly and serene natural environments forming a backdrop for all the grittier, brutish human-on-demon (or human-on-human) interactions. When the autumn season arrives, it provides a burst of colorful splendor that further elevates the setting.

Of course, Dororo points out that red is also the color of demons for Hyakkimaru. The vivid foliage is foreshadowing for the carnage to come, as the two meet a ronin who is hunting a demon who killed his ma. The fall also represents the beginning of the end of prosperity for Daigo and Tahoumaru’s lands.

When our duo meets the beast—a nue or chimera—we learn the ronin is actually helping it by serving up victims, since when others are dying it helps him forget about the gaping void in his heart after the loss of his mother. It’s just that the victims aren’t usually as tough as Hyakkimaru, who only doesn’t defeat the beast because he and Dororo take a spill of a crrumbling stone cliff.

As Daigo ponders his next move now that the deal with the demons seems to be off (remembering his wife mention the one demon who didn’t claim a part of their son’s body), Dororo wakes up from the fall with his arm trapped under rocks, and my thoughts immediately went to the grisly resolution in 127 Hours.

Worse, the spot where he’s stuck is riverbed, and the water starts to rise. Hyakkimaru can’t get any leverage on the rocks with his false arms, and as Dororo’s head slips below the waterline, Hyakkimaru resorts to slamming his head against it in desperation, screaming in desperation. It’s a sickening scenario, even if we know Dororo will somehow survive it.

That’s thanks to Biwamaru, whose continued following of the duo seems to indicate he still has a role to play with regard to Hyakkimaru. Biwa rescues Dororo, but Hyakkimaru is devastated by the fact that Dororo would have died had Biwa not been there, all because Hyakkimaru’s arms were stolen by demons.

He rushes to the nue to take back what’s his, and as the ronin watches him fight we see the truth of his story with his ma: he sought the nue out to defeat it and prove his worth both to his ma and his village. But things went south, and when the nue grabbed his ma, his ma grabbed him.

In a panic, the ronin cut his own mother’s arm off so he could flee. After that, the village ostracized him, but he ended up filling that hole in his chest by either killing them or feeding them one by one to the monster. As he watches Hyakkimaru fight, he sees the samurai he had hoped to be.

Realizing it’s too late for that, or anything else, he offers himself to the nue, which proceeds to heal the face Hyakki maimed and then sprouts wings.

By the time Dororo catches up, the sun is low, turning the surroundings suitably, intensely red. He sees the aftermath of Dororo’s vicious battle with the nue, walking past various parts of the monster sitting in pools of blood. Before Hyakkimaru kills what’s left of him, it dawns on the ronin why this man doesn’t have any fear: because he’s not entirely human.

Hyakkimaru finishes him off, but receives no new body parts in return, leading him to fume and hack at the monster’s body as Dororo tries to calm him down before he goes too far and loses himself. But Hyakkimaru believes he’ll always be lost as long as the demons have the rest of his body.

So he’s heading to the source of it all: back to Daigo, once again opening up the moral can-of-worms in which he is both justified in taking back what was taken, and Daigo is justified in wanting to stave off the destruction of his people.

Surely another clash with Tahoumaru and his retainers is imminent, all with little Dororo in the middle, doing what he can to keep his bro a human with whom he can walk through the gorgeous autumn woods, and who can live with himself and his actions.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 11

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Both Kuromukuro and Kabaneri managed to reignite my passion for watching them in their eleventh episodes. I didn’t really know what to expect after last week cliffhanger would have had us believe Ikoma had been stabbed through the heart and tossed into the sea for dead by a Mumei now lost to him. This week quickly debunks the first assumption and paves the way to debunk the second, even though shit is still hitting the fan, as it were.

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First, Kongokaku: it’s a grand, peaceful, and impressive place when the Kotetsujou arrives at its gate, but we see from the shogun eliminating a messenger with knowledge hat could sow public panic, theirs is clearly an uneasy peace, especially with Kabane lurking right outside those “impregnable” walls.

Biba doesn’t need to besiege his father’s seat, however; he comes in through the front door; a “captive” of Ayame; a role she’s forced to play because he’s holding her people hostage. Of course, going by his script only proves to Biba that’s he’s weak, and it’s become painfully apparent that the weak don’t live long once they meet him.

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To his credit, the shogun immediately knows Biba is up to something; he just doesn’t know what until it’s too late. Biba uses the same fear his father used as an excuse for stabbing him in the dark as a child to destroy his father. The dagger he gave him contains a hidden needle that infects the shogun with the virus, and his own men gun him down in a panic.

Biba need only deal the killing blow with his sword, and just like that Kongokaku is his. The Kabane in his hold are released onto the city to stoke up fear, paranoia, and people killing people, but he simply sits on the throne, not smirking an evil smirk, but remembering a day when he rode a horse with his father. Do I detect a hint of…weakness, AKA love? No matter; there’s no one around to punish Biba for it.

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While all that excitement is going on, Ikoma, having washed up on a shore not in the greatest shape but very much alive, is temporarily incapacitated by the immense weight of the guilt and regret over what went down, including Takumi’s death. He didn’t run, he was tossed out, and he’s right that at the time there was nothing he could do.

Kurusu, who has one of Biba’s scientists captive, finds Ikoma, and is actually patient with him as he goes through various stages of grief. In the end, Kurusu makes Ikoma set aside all the reasons he should simply die, and asks him why he’s still alive in the first place: his chest wound is so precise, Mumei must have intended to miss his heart, meaning she is not totally lost.

Granted, as we cut back to the capital, we see that Mumei is considerably more lost than the time she spared Ikoma. And she’s just as helpless here as Ayame, or as Ikoma was back on the train. Biba controls every aspect of her life, and despite all he’s done she still harbors loyalty to him, because she’d have died long ago (and been “beckoned by the butterflies”) were it not for him.

That combination of coercion-by-obligation, as well as the reality that Biba has kept Mumei weak and unable to oppose him even if she wanted to (and she did try), have led to her simply giving up. She will let the butterflies come, with the small consolation that at least she was able to free Ikoma a similar fate.

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Only thing is, Ikoma hasn’t given up, thanks largely to Kurusu and the captive he has for some reason (I forgot why; sue me). That scientist just happens to have on hand two serums: one is white, and could save Mumei; but to get to her Ikoma knows he needs to be stronger (and apparently, less scruffy) than he is.

So he injects the black serum, an accelerant that indeed causes him to undergo yet another transformation. When we leave him, he seems that much less human, and particularly stable, but fueled by his resolve to stop Biba and save Mumei, odds are he’ll be able to endure. I certainly hope so, because Mumei deserves better than the same fate as Horobi—who also didn’t deserve it.

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(Almost a 9 based solely on the new Aimer ED, “Through My Blood”, which brought it)