Dororo – 06 – Not Everyone Can Get It All Back

Anyone who thought things were going to work out with Mio and her group of orphans has not been paying attention: Dororo is about people losing more than they can bear and trying to press on, but not everyone gets to survive. Some, like Mio and the kids, become another loss for our protagonists, who are cursed with the luck of survival, and with bearing witness to those who aren’t so lucky.

Dororo may have stumbled upon what Mio is up to all night, but Take is still blissfully unaware, and Dororo keeps it that way. Take, like Mio, dreams of the day they have the money to plant a rice paddy that will be green in spring and golden in the autumn. It’s what keeps them going, and it no doubt prompts Dororo to wonder what keeps him going.

At Casa de Daigo, Tahomaru urges his father to let him fight in the army. His head is full of steam and dreams of making his parents proud, but both father and mother forbid his demand, because they know all too well how easy it is to lose your life, no matter how good at martial arts one may be.

Tahomaru takes out his frustrations on his mother, who he’s suspected for some time loves and cares about something more than him. He knows he was childish to guilt trip her, but he’s continually vexed by the mystery of who or what dominates his parents’ thoughts. If he and Hyakkimaru ever meet, it’s not going to be cordial.

Dororo and Mio have to watch Hyakkimaru like a hawk from going back to fight the antlion demon while his leg wound is healing. Mio is eager to hear the voice Hyakkimaru gained , but he only wants to hear her song, which she says she sings to forget the pain. She lives with the pain of both everything she’s lost and what she must deal with nightly.

She worries her soul looks “filthy” to Hyakkimaru, but we can see through his eyes and it’s not; she’s being far too harsh on herself. Dororo also admits after his initial reaction that Mio is only doing what she must to survive. He tells her his mother never did what she did, and she died for it.

But unlike Hyakkimaru and Dororo, Mio doesn’t get to survive anyway, despite going to such lengths. Daigo’s soldiers catch her working on both sides of the conflict, which was always a risk too great no matter the reward, and they punish her by killing her, slaughtering the orphans, and burning their temple shelter.

Worse still, Hyakkimaru’s need to finish his fight with the demon draws him away at the worst possible time. He successfully defeats the demon, and the leg it took from him last week is fully restored. But it wasn’t worth it. I will miss Mio terribly; Mizuki Nana really brought warmth and empathy to her role, but she was just too good for this world.

When Hyakkimaru takes out his hatred for the soldiers and anger at himself for not being there when it mattered, it is a terrifying sight to behold, and almost verbatim what Biwamaru had feared: that the beast that emerged from the cave would be a monster. He doesn’t just quickly, cleanly kill the murderous wretches, he evicerates them, ignoring their pleas for mercy.

Dororo manages to stop him from killing the last man, who escapes and will probably report Hyakkimaru to Daigo, officially ending his time in the shadows and putting him squarely in his father’s sights. That may end up being a very bad idea, but Dororo had to stop him from killing everyone, lest the darkness consume him. He shows Hyakkimaru the bag of rice seed Mio finally got for her services.

She was on the cusp of achieving her dreams and those of the orphans, but their idealized future was never going to be safe in this harsh brutal land of warring factions, whether Hyakkimaru stayed to protect them or not. He couldn’t be a hero to Mio and the kids. All he can do is accept his luck, keep surviving, keep fighting the demons both outside and within, with Dororo making sure to serve as a conscientious check when his aniki’s pain threatens to explode.

Dororo – 05 – A Beautiful Soul in an Ugly World

Hyakkimaru may have his hearing back, but at least initially it’s more of a curse than a blessing. Even in an eerily quiet forest he’s assaulted by what he perceives as an intolerable din of creature sounds, not to mention Dororo’s voice. Determining that something has to be done until he gets used to hearing, Dororo wraps his ears in several layers of fabric to lesson the suffering.

When a bird monster suddenly attacks, it’s clear that Hyakkimaru’s newfound hearing is also messing with his ability to fight. He gets a few licks in, but the bird gives as good as it gets, seriously injuring Hyakkimaru. It it isn’t for Biwamaru showing up to finish it off, it probably would have been curtains for Hyakkimaru and Dororo.

Biwamaru fixes him up as best he can, but Hyakkimaru will need medicine to recover properly. He’s also being very stubborn about accepting the fact he can now hear. Biwa compares him to a beast holed up in its cave; he’ll have to come out sooner or later. The boys have run into Biwamaru because the old priest has had to turn around after entering lands in which a war is currently being fought between the Sakai clan and the ally it betrayed.

In the morning, Hyakkimaru hears a sound he’s never heard before: a woman singing a sweet and gentle song. He follows the song and finds its owner, a beautiful young woman, washing her kimono in the river. While some might find the sight of Hyakkimaru frightening, she is concerned…especially when he nearly passes out in her arms.

The songstress, who goes by Mio, invites the three to the ruins of a village where she cares for a group of small war oprhans, most of whom are missing limbs like Hyakkimaru. Dororo meets a lad near his own age in Takebo, who serves as Mio’s second-in-command of the little ‘uns. Takebo also insists Mio get her sleep, as she works all through the night and needs to have her energy. Dororo doesn’t ask Takebo to elaborate.

Meanwhile, Lord Kagematsu’s wife Nuinokata impresses upon her husband the seriousness of recent unfortunate events that have befallen them, from landslides to drought to the betrayal of the Sakai clan. Tahoumaru overhears, and probably thinks he can do something to ease his father’s troubles. Of course, we know that as long as Hyakkimaru keeps killing the demons who stole pieces of him, the demons will continue to seek reparations from Daigo.

As Biwamaru searches for a safe path along which to continue, Mio goes to work when the sun sets. When she returns in the morning, her kimono slightly askwer, Hyakkimaru is waiting for her. She gets the feeling he can not only see her, but see deeper than most; Dororo tells her she’s right; he can see souls.

In both her selfless actions, charity towards both the orphans and her new guests, and the beauty of the song she sings, Hyakkimaru is now able to ascertain with both sight and sound that Mio is a particularly good soul. He signs that wants to hear her song again, and she obliges.

Seemingly invigorated by the song, Hyakkimaru wastes no time heading off when Biwamaru informs them all that there’s a safe area to which to relocate, provided they can defeat the tough demon that dwells there. But with his wounds still held together with hope and still dealing with his new sense of hearing, Hyakkimaru loses a step. He defeats the demon, but loses his one real leg below the knee. Defeating this demon unlocks his voice, and he uses it to cry out in what must be excruciating pain, while Biwamaru looks at him like he’s already got one foot in the grave.

Later that night, while following Mio to town where she hopes to do business with both sides of the conflict to fund her little group’s relocation, Dororo loses track of her. When he finally finds her, it’s due in part because she’s singing, but the reason she’s singing gives Dororo pause: she’s singing while being raped by three soldiers.

Once again Dororo takes a cold hard look at the casual brutality and injustice of feudal Japan. It takes a particularly dim view of lords and the samurai they wield as tools of terror and death. In this time and place wars can pop up at the drop of an obi, leaving children without their parents or even their very limbs. They are only able to survive because poor Mio sells her body every night.

I would hope that Hyakkimaru, Dororo, and Biwamaru could do something to help them, but with Hyakkimaru’s new horrifying injury, it’s hard to believe he’ll be doing anything anytime soon.

Dororo – 04 – Tears In Rain

Osushi is a merchant who used to be far better off, but her parents died and her brother Tanousuke went off to fight for his lord. She’s prayed for his safe return every day since…for five years. Dororo, not exactly master of tact, tells her that’s…pretty long.

But Dororo is also a master of reading people, and he can immediately tell she came from money despite her tattered clothes. Osushi’s prayers are answered, but the brother who left her to uphold his honor and loyalty is not the same man anymore.

When Hyakkimaru, standing in the rain, “listening” to the drops fall, rushes towards the red sword he sees in the distance, he and Dororo find an entire convoy of people slaughtered. The swordsman tells them his blade thirsts for blood, always.

To Hyakkimaru, it’s just another demon, even if it’s using a human as its instrument. He makes good use of his prostheses by taking having his fake leg run through then tossing it aside, separating it from the man. But when Dororo runs to retrieve the leg (as he always does) and touches the sword, he becomes its new servant.

Like the One Ring, the sword bends its holder to its own twisted will, putting Dororo in a trance when he tries to resist. Back in the village, Osushi has retrieve the sword’s original holder, who turns out to be her brother Tanousuke. While initially elated by his return, he was accompanied by so much blood and death and won’t speak to her, so she knows something’s not right.

Filling out the broad strokes of the cold open, we see Tanousuke’s lord order him to use a dull, rusty sword he’d pulled out of storage to behead a captive. But with each captive he kills, the sword, called Nihiru grows sharper…and thirstier. Eventually Tanousuke turns the blade on his lord (serves the lord right, really) and massacres the entire camp.

Needless to say, if there’s any part of Tanousuke left, that part probably laments still being alive and being used only to quench Nihiru’s thirst. But the part of him the sword twisted into its service only wants Nihiru to return to him, hence his utter ignoring of Osushi’s tearful pleas to stay with her.

Nihiru has Dororo bring the sword to Nihiru, but is intercepted by Hyakkimaru. For a moment, Dororo isn’t sure Hyakkimaru knows he’s not a foe, and attempts to dodge his strikes, but there’s no doubt who’s the superior warrior. Thankfully, Hyakkimaru merely knocks the sword out of Dororo’s hand without harming him.

Unfortunately, Tanousuke is there to pick Nihiru back up, but the sword has taken its toll on his body and mind, and he can’t quite keep up with Hyakkimaru, who kills Tanousuke and breaks Nihiru’s blade. Her brother’s imminently peaceful expression upon dying, as if he’d finally been released from an extended stay in hell, is little consolation for poor Osuhi, who is alone once more.

Nihiru, being one of the demons in the Hall of Hell with which Daigo made a deal, releases another part of Hyakkimaru upon its defeat: his real ears and sense of hearing. The first things he hears in his life are the steady falling of rain and Osushi’s weeping.

Meanwhile, back in the Hall of Hell, Daigo is now aware that someone out there is killing off the demons he made a deal with. Even if the demons haven’t double-crossed him yet (why would they uphold their end of the deal once they got his son’s parts? They’re demons), the good fortune he’s enjoyed is unlikely to last if Hyakkimaru continues knocking them off.

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.

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.