Dororo
Episode 19

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 19 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?

Before I review this week's Dororo episode, did you notice that the last episode's title translation changed? On Amazon, it's now called “The story of the cape of impermanence.” That certainly changes the way I see the episode—while “the cape of no mercy” feels very black and white, “impermanence” is a better reflection of the episode's critique on the relative starkness of absolutes. It's strange to recall last week's tense and terrible warfare when contrasted with this week's goofy “story of Amanojaku.” Dororo and Hyakkimaru find themselves in the middle of not a gruesome battle, but a series of wacky hijinks involving a trickster god, a marriage-hungry maiden, and a strange but harmless village. It's an abrupt change of pace for the series: a welcome respite, but hardly as impactful as usual.

Hyakkimaru seems to have only two modes. He's either a ruthless demon slayer or a feckless man-child who doesn't understand social norms. In this week's episode, he's written strictly to the latter extreme to the point of ridiculousness. Many of this week's misunderstandings occur because of his tendency to greet everyone he meets by rubbing foreheads with them. This takes away some impact from his reunion with Dororo last week; previously it looked like Hyakkimaru interpreted the gesture as something done between family. Now he'll even rub his forehead on a horse. There's a danger in making Hyakkimaru not only naive but stupid when it doesn't suit the story. Both Dororo and later, Okowa the swordmaker's daughter, warn Hyakkimaru that if he keeps doing this, his head “will go pear-shaped” which is a bizarre statement (and perhaps the result of another strange translation). We talk about situations going pear-shaped, so maybe that's the joke—Hyakkimaru rubbing his head on people will make situations go sideways. Anyway, I don't know enough Japanese to begin to guess what the original line meant. Later, his statements about people “looking happy,” including himself, are childlike wordplay. Hyakkimaru has only recently started speaking, but he's no child. In this episode, it feels like his innocence has been exaggerated in order to set the show up for jokes that don't quite hit their marks.

Hyakkimaru's lines and actions are so outside the norm already that it took me some time to catch on to the fact that something was causing characters to say the opposite of what they meant. There's no reason for Amanojaku (the same trickster god that was the cat in Ghost Stories) to create this village of opposites except for his own entertainment, which seems to be exactly the case. It's nice to have such low stakes when our boys so deserve a break, but it's giving me emotional whiplash after all that emotional intensity. Okawa dragging a reluctant Hyakkimaru to his own wedding feels like something out of Loony Toons. It does help that Okawa herself is surprisingly likable beyond her frivolousness, though she could only exist in this specifically lighthearted episode of Dororo. Meanwhile, her capable swordsmith father Munetsuna and his aspirations to forge a sword that ends wars is the exact kind of paradoxical character that would fit in Dororo's usual landscape of grey moral shades.

With a happy ending and good times ahead (at least in the short term) for Dororo and Hyakkimaru, this is something of a filler episode. It doesn't play into the overarching plot, and the “monster of the week” is hardly a threat. Plus, Hyakkimaru's infantilization makes even the tender character scenes lose some of their payoff. The anime equivalent of Opposite Day offered some mild low-stakes fun, but without the tense ride on the feelings rollercoaster that other episodes of Dororo usually entail.

Rating:

Dororo is currently streaming on Amazon.

Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.


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