by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 23 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?
In this penultimate episode that puts Hyakkimaru in the midst of the action, it's more important than ever to reflect on why the show is named after Dororo instead. With a front-row seat at the battle for Hyakkimaru's soul, only Dororo is free from the moral quandary of “Hyakki's justice vs. everyone else's life”. To this child who remains optimistic despite everything that's happened, there could still be a happy ending on the horizon even when this chaotic battlefield has literally gone up in flames. Though I didn't appreciate various characters' attempts to verbally state the themes, small moments of visual symbolism easily picked up the slack. With striking backdrops to contextualize each stage of Tahomaru and Hyakkimaru's final battle, I'm both excited and trepidatious to see how it all concludes.
"The story of demons" refers to not only the 12 supernatural monsters in the Hall of Hell, but also Hyogo, Mutsu, and Tahomaru, who have each taken on demonic qualities. Daigo's aide calls the fighting “unnatural,” while the traveling priest Biwamaru notes that neither they nor Hyakkimaru are “themselves” anymore. “I don't think he would recognize you right now,” the priest says to Dororo, suggesting that Hyakki has fallen into a state between human and demon. This battle with his brother isn't simply a fight over body parts, but an internal struggle within each brother for his own humanity. Tahomaru's new eyes have given him supernatural sight, but even that couldn't save his companions. (Notably, only his human eye shed tears over their deaths, and the demon who gave the three of them body parts was represented by a sculpture with three heads.) As usual, regaining physical body parts has done nothing for Hyakki and has arguably made him worse as he grasps his prosthetic blades with his bare bleeding hands. (Hyakki, there's a katana right there in your belt.) The dramatic backdrops for this ever-evolving battle are fantastic—both the rice field and the burning castle feel like scenes from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The shrill flute that plays on the soundtrack also adds era-appropriate drama and tension to this pivotal fight.
Even the characters who haven't taken on demonic aspects are struggling to find a justification for this whole mess. I suspect there's a Buddhist interpretation to be made for this scene, but since I only studied western philosophy, to me it smacks of utilitarianism—the idea that the best way to govern is to consider which outcome offers the maximum value for the maximum number of people. The major downside falls to those who aren't part of that majority. To victims like Hyakki, this system would simply appear to be mob rule, and he's willing to fight everyone in that mob for what rightfully belongs to him. Dororo seems to be the only person not caught up in this logical fallacy. Fists flying, he immediately attacks the first villager to suggest that Hyakkimaru's life is a necessary sacrifice so that everyone else can live. Nui chimes in while petting the foal that lost his mother, serving as a motherly surrogate herself, saying that even in this equation the common people are simply fed a false peace—another version of “The story of Sabame” from episode 14, in which peace is built on a deadly foundation. The villagers realize that Hyakki may be getting his hands dirty over it, but at least he's fighting for what he believes instead of waiting for things to be granted to him. A debate ensues, sapping the immediacy out of this otherwise high-tension penultimate episode.
It's perhaps the show's wordiest installment yet, but all of its verbal posturing pales in comparison to the show's more emotional moments: Dororo's moment of fury, Hyakki's pathetic attempt to hide his bloody swords from Nui, the foal crying out to the sky and mourning its parent. As Dororo runs toward the burning castle, it's apparent that the final episode, titled “Dororo and Hyakkimaru,” won't necessarily allow Hyakkimaru a happy ending to illustrate its themes, and that makes me nervous. Since Tezuka's original Dororo manga never truly concluded, we're all going to have to wait for next week to discover this duo's fate.
Dororo is currently streaming on Amazon.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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