Dororo – 16 – Nobody Listens to Dororo

I wish that instead of a large trove of gold that continues to paint a literal target on Dororo’s back, his dad’s “lifelong ambition” could have been something as simple as giving his daughter he raised as a son a safe and comfortable life. That would have meant setting aside larger ambitions like rebelling against the samurai, but it would prevented Dororo from living such a hard life, and from being in his current predicament: captured by his dad’s former No.2, Itachi.

Itachi dug up Dororo’s mother’s remains and found half of the map, and he believes her son has the other half, if not on his back then in his head. To that end, he takes Dororo to the cove where the treasure was stashed, and makes his latest in a long line of mistakes: trusting a crazy-eyed one-armed sole survivor of a village, whose self-proclaimed family consists of two giant sharks. Did I mention he fed them his arm, and has made a habit of feeding him live humans?

Dororo warned Itachi not to trust the kid, and of course, Dororo turns out to be right. One of the two boats carrying half of Itachi’s men is capsized, and its occupants eaten by one of the sharks. He promises to return at sundown to finish off the other half, including Itachi and Dororo, and orders one of the sharks to keep watch.

Itachi—now a brigand again after being double-crossed by the samurai he double-crossed Hibukuro to join—quickly loses hope in getting out of this alive, but Dororo loudly admonishes him, using his own shit life so far as an example of the importance of keeping one’s head up and not giving up even when death seems close. Itachi notes that Dororo sounds like his old man.

If he spoke too many words “for a little runt”, Dororo decides to be the first to take action. He dives fearlessly into the sea to lure the shark guarding them, then leads him to leap up by the side of the boat where Itachi and his men are ready with swords.

It’s an audacious gambit to be sure; not sure quite how Dororo doesn’t get himself killed in six different ways, but hey, I guess that’s why he’s lived so long without parents up to this point: he’s good at surviving. Unfortunately, the sharks are often somewhat poorly drawn and animated, which blunts the impact of the action.

When the shark’s “brother” returns and finds the shark slain on the coast of the cove, he’s caught in an ambush and then viciously beaten. His life is only spared because Dororo insists, but that could prove a bad move if the guy, who is let go and vows revenge, considers Dororo to be one with the brigands who killed half his family.

Meanwhile, Itachi insists Dororo spill the beans about the exact location of the treasure. When Dororo lets slip that even if he knows where it is he doesn’t want to reveal it (believing whatever Itachi does with it beneath his father’s legacy) Itachi has him stripped down and learns that he’s biologically a she. The heat of the fire then reveals the map on Dororo’s back, and Itachi traces it and heads off with his men, leaving Dororo tied up.

Where is Hyakkimaru in all this? While he sees the trail Itachi’s horses made, his makeshift leg slows him considerably. So it’s fortuitous he comes across a stranger who tells him there’s someone around who makes new limbs for those who have lost them. That’s right: Jukai’s back. Assuming Dororo and Hyakkimaru remain separated most if not all of next week, I suspect Hyakkimaru will be reuniting with the man who first gave him a functional life—the closest thing to a father he ever had.

Dororo – 14 – Kids (With or Without Wings) to Feed

The markings on Dororo’s back, which are only visible when his skin is warm (and he’s never had a warm bath before) form half of the map to his father’s “ambition”—a hoard of stolen samurai gold meant to finance a peasant uprising.

In the event of his death, his wife insisted he engrave half of the map upon her so that she’d never be tempted to draw from it, not even to feed herself or Dororo (these guys were zealots to the last). The other half is on Dororo’s back, though his memory of what was on his mom’s can’t be that clear.

And so while Hyakkimaru is cursed with missing limbs he must fight to get back from demons, Dororo is cursed with the legacy of two parents who could have given him a much better life had they had swallowed their honor pride for his sake.

He also now has a choice of what to do next: find the gold and use it as his folks intended, or use it to life a comfortable life. Biwamaru lays out the choices Dororo has, but he’s not leaving Hyakkimaru’s side, and Hyakkimaru is focused on the here and now and the remaining demons.

Hyakkimaru ignores Dororo’s questions about “what comes next”, and is “saved by the bell” in the form of the approach of two bizarre monsters: an emaciated woman and a giant, demanding baby who grabs Dororo. Hyakki takes no action since they’re “not demons,” and they eventually come upon the ruins of a temple that was apparently burned down intentionally (judging from all the oil).

The big baby vanishes before a well-dressed man with a very odd stare appears: he introduces himself as Sabame, lord of a village and its surrounding lands. Dororo doesn’t exactly trust those weird eyes, but he’s not turning down the offer of a meal and a roof over his head, now is he?

And what a meal and roof! The pair probably enjoy the most sumptuous meal they’ve ever been served, and they eat in front of a traditional band and synchronized dancers. Lord Sabame, who claims to have never left his own domain, is always eager to hear the stories of travelers, and so is more than happy to give them food and room to stay in exchange.

Sabame begins with the tale of an evil nun who abused, enslaved, and sold off orphans. She was killed when the heavens apparently “saw enough” and burned the temple down with lightning. Neither Dororo nor Hyakki quite believe this story, since they saw evidence of arson.

That night, with a huge room all to themselves, Dororo blames the “draftiness” of the house, and not fear, for his adjusting his futon so he sleeps closer to Hyakkimaru (who sleeps with his eyes open). Then a giant caterpillar with four human arms drops from the rafters, and Hyakki wakes up in a flash, blades drawn.

The caterpillar has silk that momentarily immobilizes Hyakkimaru, but he’s able to do enough damage to force the monster to flee, which it does with the help of a giant, poison mist-spewing moth. Dororo and Hyakki prepare wash themselves off in a nearby bath.

Then we check in with Lord Sabame, who has not only not turned in for the night, but is actually facilitating the moth demon, who takes the form of a woman. The “travelers” Sabame hosts apparently become food for the moth’s children, the survival of whom Sabame places the utmost importance.

While Sabame’s methods are fundamentally immoral, he has made the choice to value the moth and its offspring above the lives of innocent guests, just as Dororo’s parents chose to keep the grand cause alive over their only child’s well-being. Just as Hyakkimaru’s victories will continue to threaten Daigo’s lands and his people, how they chose to deal with Sabame could also have larger-scale consequences. For an imperfect world is full of fragile, imperfect solutions.

Dororo – 13 – Face/Off

Since leaving Daigo’s lands Hyakkimaru has barely slept, as he seeks out any and all demons to kill until all of his parts have been returned, and Dororo is worried about him. He suggests they head to a hot spring for some rest and recovery, but has to lie about there being a monster there to get Hyakkimaru to go along.

Turns out Dororo’s only half-wrong: there is a monster in these parts, but it can be found under a waterfall. A great stone statue possessed by a demon cleanly cleaves the faces off victims. A woman with long black hair is delivering these fools to be de-faced, and she in turn can look and sound like anyone.

When Dororo encounters the statue while collecting firewood, the woman appears as his mama, and the resemblance and sound of her voice are so familiar he can’t help but want to call her Mama, which she allows (her real name is Okaka).

As Hyakkimaru dozes, Okaka tells Dororo the story of the statue, a giant Fudo that was to be a scorned carver’s masterpiece and thumb in the eye of his detractors. But he never completed the face, working himself to death but never satisfied with the results.

As Dororo starts to nod off, Okaka reveals that she drugged the both of them, and that she is in fact the carver, revived by a demon to complete the Fudo’s face. And Okaka thinks she’s finally found the perfect face in Hyakkimaru’s.

When Dororo comes to, he’s just in time to slow Okaka down before she can place Hyakkimaru in the path of the Fudo’s giant sword; that buys enough time for Hyakkimaru to wake up, cut himself free, and start hacking at the Fudo, much to Okaka’s chagrin.

Dororo, whose guileless kindness has clearly had an effect on Okaka to this point, manages to convince the carver of the madness she has wrought. Okaka doesn’t know how her obsession with artistic perfection has turned him into a murderer.

The demon within the Fudo isn’t so contrite, however, and it slashes Okaka nearly in half with its sword. Hyakkimaru finishes it off, and the demon disperses, but before Okaka dies and turns to ash, she asks if she can feel Dororo’s smiling face—like the kind face of the Buddha statues she once carved.

Dororo apologizes to Hyakkimaru for getting tricked by his mama’s face, but Hyakkimaru tells him out loud that he’s fine, and that they should proceed to the hot spring to rest. Once they get there, they find Biwamaru is already there (and he believes they were fated to keep meeting like this).

They also encounter a father and two rugrats who jump into the spring and splash about, disturbing the tranquility. But they also notice something on the annoyed Dororo’s back: an elaborate red tattoo that looks like some kind of map. That just may indicate where they should head next, as they’re currently lacking a set destination.

Dororo returns with a new OP (not as good as the first but still nice), ED (wonderful vocals with somewhat muddled visuals, though that’s probably the point), and demon-of-the-week. We also learn Hyakkimaru’s mom is still alive (though not in good shape) and that Daigo believes his deal with the demons is still in effect, but who knows for how long.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 05

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Yota is stoked. He’s flying high. He’s learned how to command a crowd, the theaters are full, his material is killing. He owes much of this to a lifting of a weight of uncertainty since Yakumo performed “Inokori” for him. Yakumo maintains that mastering that—and in just they way he instructs, by summoning one’s ego—is Yota’s next step.

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But Yakumo is no longer Yota’s sole source of instruction or inspiration. Whether he knows it or not, Yota has also fallen under the influence of Higuchi Eisuke, the outsider who shows Yota the wider world of rakugo, not just the venerable but narrow Yuuakutei canon.

The implication is obvious: like a smattering of gutted clans in days of yore, an alliance must be formed – a new rakugo – in order to survive modern times, and Yakumo’s death.

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Yota seems to rarely leave the open entrance to his home, sitting their first listening to his predecessor Sukeroku, then to all the myriad versions of Inokori provided by Higuchi, no two of them alike. It’s strong enough stuff for him to laugh and react loudly deep into the night. He’s so immersed, Konatsu has to snap him out of it so he can get some sleep for the family performance.

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And it is truly a family performance, as Konatsu will be at the shamisen per her father’s bidding. Of the three family members, she’s by far the most nervous. Performing rakugo for a bunch of kindergartners and a smattering of their parents is one thing: playing pros at the very top of the game in and out to a giant packed theater is another. But Yota (and indirectly, Yakumo) know she’ll be fine.

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Damn…when Yota offered to give Mangetsu an pregame audience with Yakumo and I saw that loooong foreboding hallway, for a few moments I feared for the worst: that Yakumo was keeled over dead in his dressing room, just like that. Blame the seductively creepy OP in which the ghost Sukeroku opens Yakumo’s cloak to reveal nothing but dry bones, and the earlier mention by someone that his voice has lost something.

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Thankfully, Yakumo is fine, but everything I mentioned before still casts a pall on him. Yota’s meeting with him is another great one, as Yota proudly shows what he’s really been up to in the red light districts: getting his carp tattoo finished. This is Yota literally not letting things go unfinished; not apologizing for who he was and who he is.

Yakumo may think rakugo is finished once he dies, but he’s wrong. His rakugo won’t even be finished; it’s not his call, but history’s. So even though he’s pissy about the fact Yota is taking into account other methods for “Inokori” (likely aware this is Higuchi’s influence), you can’t expect someone who claims, and is pretty certain, they don’t have an ego to use that ego.

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Yota warms up the crowd, getting them “laughing like fools”, which might be fine in a solo show, but Yakumo needs to put them in a different, more nuanced mood; Yota’s winding them up makes it tougher. Still, he’s more than up to the challenge, and performs “Hangon-ko” with both musical accompaniment from Konatsu (who he says he’s counting on, and who doesn’t let him down despite her nerves) and an extra prop: streams of incense.

The significance of the titular incense to the story—that it brings back the soul of a dead loved one—is all too apropos for Yakumo’s darkening state of mind as the days ahead of him dwindle. And even though at this part in the story he tells, the widower buys the wrong incense and burns way too much of it, the incense still has the effect of summoning the ghost of Miyokishi before Yakumo, in one of the most chilling and intense moments of the show’s entire run.

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Yakumo manages to finish the story to polite but not raucous applause, and Yota quickly orders the curtains dropped. Yakumo collapses and enters what must seem like the afterlife. Miyokichi is nowhere to be found. Instead there are off-kilter shelves after shelves of countless burning candles – no doubt signifying lives.

Like the end of the deliciously haunting OP, Yakumo’s candle must be burning very low indeed, flickering, and threatening to be snuffed out. Sukeroku also comes before him, as young and vital as the day he was killed. He asked him why he’s there, ignores his questions of whether he’s in paradise or hell, and starts to choke him.

As we ponder what medical malady struck Yakumo on that stage, an attack that will most likely result in the cancelling of the remainder of the family performance, including Yota’s “Inokori”, but more importantly, may mark the commencement of the trial of Yakumo’s soul.

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