by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?
Dororo continues to be a visual masterpiece that's curiously further removed from its source material each week. Osamu Tezuka's manga version of "the story of the cursed sword" wove goofy elements into its gruesome tale of bloodshed. This 2019 anime cuts out characters and dialogue to pare the story down to its core emotional beats. It forgoes a rigid interpretation of Tezuka's work in order to convey its spirit. In the end, this is less a supernatural story than a somber examination of how people can justify doing bad things. This certainly isn't a faithful retelling of the original, but a darker exposure of the murderer next door.
In the 1967 manga, the cursed sword Nihiru speaks directly to Dororo, like a person: “I want blood.” Dororo's eyes widen. “Who said that?” he asks, looking straight ahead. “Was it you, reader?” This breaking of the fourth wall is just one of the goofy elements in the original telling. At one point, the bloodthirsty sword-wielder Tannosuke likens Dororo to “100,000 Horsepower Astro Boy.” You won't find any of this silliness in the modern Dororo, which exchanges its jokes for a stripped-down, action-heavy remake. Much like the limited color palette, this episode removes everything that isn't essential. Tannosuke and Osushi's parents have been killed off to better emphasize Osushi's desperation to retain her brother, her only living relative, even if he isn't the same person she said goodbye to five years ago. Since Hyakkimaru can't speak or hear in this version, Tannosuke's excuses or justifications for his misdeeds don't matter. We know through the sight of Hyakkimaru's inner eye that despite what Osushi would prefer, Tannosuke can't go back to being who he was.
What would you do if you were ordered to kill somebody you believed to be innocent? Very few of us will ever have to make the choice Tannosuke did. Still, was it a choice? It seemed as if Tannosuke planned to take the sword to kill himself, but that the sword had another idea. That doesn't mean Tannosuke can go back to normal minus the sword; as he says himself, Nihiru always finds its way back to him, and that's why Hyakkimaru is able to simply wrestle the sword out of Dororo's hand, but must kill Tannosuke to break its spell. It's an unpleasantly dark worldview to say that once trauma lays its hand on a person, they can never be free—I'd prefer to believe that's not the case. People do have the ability to change, and the problem here seems to be that Tannosuke wasn't interested in moving on. What he was made to do during the war wasn't a tragic memory he'd rather forget, but something he engraved into his personality until he and the sword were inseparable. There were many facets to Tannosuke, with Osushi sharing the more positive aspects, but he was unwilling to let go of his dark side.
After the demon in the sword is slain, Hyakkimaru regains his hearing. The first thing he ever hears is the sound of crying in the rain. Even louder than her wailing, a difficult question resonates: would Hyakkimaru have spared Tannosuke if only he could have heard Osushi's pleas? Hyakkimaru's inner eye has been his only contact with the outside world, making the morality of his world as starkly black-and-white as its color palette. Now that Hyakkimaru can be swayed by sound, the story is about to get a lot more complicated. It's just one of the ways this modern adaptation has upped the ante, and nothing in the original manga can prepare us for what's coming next.
Dororo is currently streaming on Amazon.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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