by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 24 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?
For an anime I have enjoyed as much as Dororo, I was not as impressed as I'd hoped to be with its conclusion. Sure, it checks all the boxes and ties up all its loose ends. But after all the chips fall, our two protagonists' lives drift into a big question mark. Why did they separate? What did they talk about when they finally reunited? Who are they now? I wish I knew. This 2019 interpretation of a story that's over 50 years old has made a lot of changes to its originally rushed pre-cancellation conclusion. It had a lot of chances to innovate on the themes of the Dororo manga, but it didn't take as many opportunities as I would've hoped.
Before we go into the ending, I have to warn you that I'm going to spoil a few elements of the Dororo manga and the video game Blood Will Tell. Prior to the 2019 anime, Dororo's various conclusions have shared one theme: Hyakkimaru is faced with the decision of whether or not to kill Dororo. In the manga, it's a fake-out—Daigo asks Hyakkimaru to kill Dororo to prove his loyalty, and he pretends he's going to comply. In the video game, Dororo is possessed by the demon that has eaten Hyakkimaru's right arm. Then Hyakki discovers a loophole: he can exorcise the demon inside Dororo so that nobody has to die. In this version of the story, however, Dororo isn't part of Hyakkimaru's grand moral awakening at all, but simply relegated to the sidelines. Dororo doesn't appear until Hyakki is done fighting his brother and reuniting with his “mamas” Nui and Jukai. (It's a shame these two had to die, but I can't deny they've both had a series-long deathwish.) Later, Dororo waits passively in the village while Hyakkimaru “checks something.” Finally, Hyakkimaru goes on a multiyear journey without Dororo, and the reveal of their timeskipped character designs and subsequent reunion doesn't do enough to quell my disappointment that an episode titled “Dororo and Hyakkimaru” is anything but.
What does work about this finale is that the final battle cannot be won through violence. Hyakkimaru wins the fight against his brother when he makes the decision not to kill him. Later, Daigo's continued livelihood presents a moral challenge for Hyakkimaru, and once again his choice to spare a life turns out to be the right one. According to Biwamaru, Hyakkimaru has killed far too many people to be redeemed simply by choosing not to kill two more. Still, the belief that he must undertake this journey alone goes against the message the anime has been repeating all along, that Dororo is Hyakki's conscience, the vital factor that's been keeping him from becoming a demon. I thought for sure the path toward Hyakkimaru's regained humanity would be through Dororo, but instead, it's something he needs to reclaim without his companion.
So let's talk about Dororo's gender. “Dororo is pretty,” is Hyakki's first line upon seeing his friend's face for the first time. It's reminiscent of the Dororo manga when Hyakki regains his sight and realizes for the first time that Dororo is biologically female—though it's an identity that the 1969 version of Dororo repeatedly denies. In the 2019 anime, Dororo's gender has hardly been discussed, except for in moments of extreme trauma when his body is revealed against his will. Because Dororo has only had his biological sex connected to moments of violence and disempowerment, I previously went with the manga's assertion that Dororo identifies as a boy. But when we see an aged-up Dororo presenting visibly female, I have to assume that the anime wasn't interested in making that identity part of this retelling. It's the same way that I hypothesized early on that 2019's Dororo might have something to say about disability, and that simply reclaiming body parts wouldn't make Hyakki whole again. But once again, this is something the anime doesn't touch upon; Hyakkimaru's sight is portrayed as something that completes him, allowing him to finally focus on being a good person. (Though I'm disappointed that the ending sequence didn't get any less fuzzy—I thought when Hyakki got his eyes, the sequence would lose its blurriness altogether!)
Even Mio makes her presence known in this final episode, as Hyakki is seen planting her grains of rice before taking off on his journey. At last, when Dororo and Hyakkimaru are aged up (they both look so much like their mothers!), their reunion takes place in a golden field of rice. Where have Hyakki's travels taken him? What kind of trials has Dororo faced while growing up? Surely they will discuss those topics with one another, but unfortunately, we won't get to see it.
Probably. I'm still holding out hope for an OVA.
Dororo is currently streaming on Amazon.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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