by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?
This week on Dororo, I thought we'd be jumping right back into the titular character's unresolved struggles. Instead, it's a Hyakkimaru episode to follow what Dororo's big brother was up to during the events of last week. “The story of questions and answers” lives up to its name, as this week's events solve several minor mysteries. Even the plainer-than-usual art can't take away from the emotion inherent to the central story. By contrasting Hyakkimaru against both his younger brother and the past version of himself that Jukai remembers, it's a nuanced exploration of what it means to be human.
Let's begin at the end, with the best moment of the episode: Hyakkimaru calling Jukai “mama.” This is such an incredible moment because it shows how much of an impact Dororo has had on Hyakkimaru's development. Of course he doesn't say “papa,” because Dororo explained that a "mama" is a person who raises you and takes care of you. Jukai is the only parent Hyakkimaru has ever known, and their reunion is heartbreaking. Jukai's first words that Hyakkimaru is ever able to hear are “how terrifying you are,” expressing Jukai's disbelief and regret that the skills Jukai taught him to defend himself have become so fearsome. The ease with which Hyakkimaru slaughters demons causes Jukai to echo Dororo's concern that if Hyakkimaru continues to kill demons, he will become one himself. This is why Jukai can't bring himself to upgrade Hyakkimaru's leg and aid him in his quest. I do love Hyakkimaru's matter-of-fact reasoning for why he wants his body back: “It's mine.”
Hyakkimaru has become a killer, but there's still hope. First, there's his revelation to Jukai that he isn't alone: he has Dororo. (Though he's surprisingly unbothered by Dororo's absence this episode—perhaps because he knows exactly where his companion is? At the end of the episode he seems to find his way to Dororo's location without being told.) “If there is somebody in your life that is not your enemy, that person may be able to keep you human,” Jukai says. At the same time, it's clear that Hyakkimaru isn't the only person in need of some humanity—Jukai was sleepwalking through life as a man more dead than alive. At the beginning of the episode, when he gives prosthetics to the battlefield dead, we see that the demons don't attack him, because they basically see him as a walking corpse. But after Hyakkimaru calls him “mama,” Jukai regains his own humanity. A harmless remnant of a ghoul gnaws at his ankle, finally recognizing him as a human among the living. I almost forgot that before he found Hyakkimaru, Jukai was a contract killer and has only been living to atone ever since. With Hyakkimaru back in his life, it seems like he finally has something else to live for.
The real concern right now is Tahomaru. From the manga to the '60s anime to the video game, every other portrayal of Hyakkimaru's brother has depicted him as an antagonist. So far Dororo 2019 has shown his kinder side, but no longer. as Tahomaru neglects his sick mom and burns down a house full of baby ghouls without mercy. “Never again will I let my feelings blunt my sword.” Hyakkimaru has allies who feel compelled to criticize his behavior, but Tahomaru only has paid henchmen. Soon he'll be just as much of a threat to Hyakkimaru as Daigo himself. What makes Dororo special is the way it portrays morality in shades of gray, but there's still a classic good vs. evil vibe brewing between these brothers.
In the ending sequence, the image of Dororo as seen through Hyakkimaru's eyes has gotten significantly clearer. I didn't notice it was happening until this week; since last week's episode was so late, I watched these two episodes closer together than usual. It's a hint that maybe Hyakkimaru's vision will be the final thing he regains, as Dororo looks like he might be older in the blurry vision than he is in the show. I'm still dying to know how Dororo gets out of his own situation, but I'm glad this show has been building up such a consistent overarching narrative for both our protagonists.
Dororo is currently streaming on Amazon.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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