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.

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Dororo – 15 – Moths to a Flame

The longer Dororo and Hyakkimaru stay at Lord Sabame’s village, the fishier things get. Dororo finds an almost ideal village full of simple but happy folk who have more than enough to eat. But when he questions an old lady about the nuns and children, she wanders off without answering. The villagers are hiding something, and the ghoul they fought last night was a big part of that something—as well as the reason Sabame insists they stay as long as they like.

Hyakkimaru follows Sabame, but isn’t that good at staying hidden. Sabame shows him the best vantage point of the village, which he would do anything to protect. That includes ghouls, as it happens, and if Hyakki is there to kill them, Sabame intends to stop him. As for Dororo, the villagers trap him under a rice storehouse where he’s to be caterpillar food, but the big baby rescues him as thanks for his earlier kindness, and out of the baby’s head sprout the ghosts of the children who were killed in the fire with the nun.

The fire was set intentionally by Sabame and the villagers as a sacrifice to the demon Maimai-onba, whom he took as his wife. In exchange, they have peace, prosperity, and don’t want for anything. But that butts up against Hyakkimaru’s zero tolerance policy on demons and ghouls, and he attacks Maimai-onba. Almost immediately it’s as if the deal struck with Sabame is called off, as the village is engulfed by flames. When Dororo meets up with Hyakkimaru, the latter’s left leg is shattered.

That night Hyakkimaru, with a makeshift peg leg with a bladder of oil, takes a boat out to a lake where Maimai-onba dwells, enticing it to pluck him up with a flame, then shooting the oil bladder at its body, torching it into ash. In exchange, another statue in the Hall of Hell cracks, and Hyakkimaru gets his real spine back, with his body expelling the artificial one.

But unlike previous demon-slayings, Dororo doesn’t feel right about this. It’s true the villagers got their peace and prosperity through ill-gotten means, but it’s not like the children had any say, and they’re the ones who will suffer most in the conflict that immediately flares up once they realize they no longer have enough food.

Hyakkimaru is utterly dismissive of Dororo’s concerns, and has no sympathy for anyone—not Sabame, not his father Daigo—who makes deals with demons. By the time he realizes Dororo isn’t still right behind him, the kid is suddenly in the clutches of Itashi, who already has one half of the map and wants the rest that’s etched on Dororo’s back. Talk about the wrong time to split up.

Suddenly throwing Itashi into the mix at the end of a monster-of-the-week (spread across two weeks with mixed results), basically immediately after Dororo lagged behind Hyakki out of anger, definitely upped the stakes for next week. On the other hand, Itashi’s appearance felt almost too abrupt and coincidental here. We’ll see how next week pans out.

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.