Episode 20

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 20 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?

The line between human and demon is fine indeed. This week, Dororo takes a turn for the darkly twisted with “The story of the Nue,” a cautionary tale about feeling powerlessness in the face of loss. After last week's lighthearted comedy of errors, the pendulum swings starkly in the other direction when Dororo and Hyakkimaru face a formidable chimera and his even more dangerous human companion. However, it's not the monster in front of him but the monster within that poses the biggest threat to Hyakkimaru's life—and his soul. This masterful episode tackles the painful moment in which cruel circumstances can disfigure people into a state that seems beyond humanity.

Red is the accent color of this episode and a hallmark in its most striking scenes, beginning with the autumn panorama that frames Dororo's travels with his bro. While Tahomaru and Daigo stress about the state of their domain, our heroes are removed from the central conflict as they chat and eat fruit while hunting down their latest demon. If only that could continue forever, but fellow “demon hunter” Saburota has other plans. In terms of characterization, Saburota is most similar to Shiranui, a fellow human who has partnered with a demon familiar. And the parallels don't end there, since both of these antagonists literally feed their bodies to their monster companion. But Saburota's reasoning is far more sinister than Shiranui's simpler loneliness. In his panic to escape the formidable Nue, he frantically swung his katana and sliced off his mother's arm. In the most horrific moment of the episode, he returns to town with her fingers still grasping at his shirt, the truest definition of a death grip. Over the years, Saburota took an “if you can't beat 'em, join 'em” approach to the chimera, having convinced himself that he's not so weak or powerless, because no human could possibly face the Nue. When Hyakkimaru fearlessly tackles the beast twice his size, Saburota imagines himself making the kill instead. “I wanted to be like you,” he admits in a rain-soaked, blood-streaked struggle, finally giving up on lying to himself. In the most literal metaphor of the episode yet, Saburota allows the chimera to consume him and replenish its strength, finally giving in to the monster within.

As Saburota deals with these painful feelings, Hyakkimaru undergoes an internal struggle of his own. When he and his Dororo fall off the cliff, his companion gets his arm stuck under the rubble, and with the water level rising, the clock is ticking on his chance of survival. (Did anyone else wonder if Hyakki was going to cut off Dororo's arm, paralleling the arm that Saburota's mother lost?) Dororo tries to calm an increasingly agitated Hyakkimaru, but Hyakki is too fixated on the body parts he doesn't have to focus on the solution right in front of him. He cracks his arms trying to lift the rock, but as a conveniently passing Biwamaru proves, it's not brute strength that Hyakkimaru needs to save Dororo, but the sword he already has attached to his shoulder. Hyakkimaru is so obsessed with getting his body back that he risks losing what he does have: Dororo. Biwamaru's earlier caution to Dororo about Hyakkimaru's humanity being in peril hits especially close to home when Dororo hunts for his bro by following a trail of grisly animal parts and blood. The red glow that Biwamaru sees within Hyakkimaru's chest is not a good sign.

What's so enraging to Hyakkimaru is that the body parts he “earned” through demon slaughter are being denied—even as the statue of Nue splits at the Hall of Hell, the arm (or arms?) he ought to receive travel through a blue glow toward a central demon instead. The final battle is imminent, and there's no reason to believe Hyakkimaru won't win the day. The question that this episode poses in the cautionary tale of Saburota—and Hyakki's parallel near-loss of Dororo—is whether he'll lose himself in the process.


Dororo is currently streaming on Amazon.

Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.

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