by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?
The story of Dororo is opening up and closing in at the same time. As Hyakkimaru's world expands through his regained sense of sound, the repercussions of his demon-slaying are beginning to reach his father, who turns out to be disturbingly close by. This adaptation of “The story of the Moriko Song, part 1,” expands so far beyond Osamu Tezuka's manga version that it's anyone's guess how the dramatically reorganized chips will fall now. Dororo maintains its stunning sound and visual design, but an unsurprising plot twist this week misdirects the viewer's attention from what's important.
Hyakkimaru has gained the ability to hear for the first time since lightning struck him right after birth. That was hardly any time to adjust to the concept of sound, and now the overwhelming loudness of the world is his own personal torture session. The irony of Hyakkimaru's life is that with each sense he regains, the weaker he becomes. His new sense of pain has taught him fear, and his new sense of sound distracts from his inner eye, so that he's injured by a birdlike demon that the aged priest defeats no problem. Neither Dororo's stylish accessory nor the priest's tough love is any consolation. Only the song of a young woman, Mio, is able to show Hyakkimaru that sound can be enjoyable too.
Mio takes the travelers to the place she lives with a group of orphans she cares for, by selling her body to the army every night. This is played out as a major surprise, though all the signs are there from our first encounter with her. We know she works only by night, and when Hyakkimaru first finds her, she's washing her lower body in the stream. When Dororo tells Mio that Hyakkimaru can see souls, she tugs at her clothing as if to hide her self-perceived impurity. There's also the old-fashioned Japanese slang term for prostitute, “flower girl,” which is more than apparent in Mio's clothing and song. The not-so-shocking reveal at the end of the episode that leaves Dororo seeing a sight he can't unsee feels inauthentic. We are supposed to be as surprised and horrified as childish Dororo at Mio's actions, instead of seeing it as a self-sacrificing dedication to her orphan charges.
This manufactured shock obscures the true horror of this episode, in the incredibly close forces of evil that threaten our protagonists' lives. The ant lion is the more obvious concern. When it tears off Hyakkimaru's regained limb, we are starkly in anime-only territory, and there's no telling whether he'll get it back or gain his first permanent prosthetic. I think the ant beast is still at large, and Hyakkimaru's cry of pain is actually a delayed reaction from the bird demon's death—you wouldn't know to test out your voice if you've never had a need for it. But the more subtle and sinister threat is Hyakkimaru's family. His father, falling on hard times for the first time since he sacrificed his firstborn, is beginning to suspect something is amiss. And Hyakkimaru's brother, lurking in the shadows, may be even more dangerous. All will be revealed in part two, but this week's time spent with Mio's salacious profession felt distracting.
Dororo is currently streaming on Amazon.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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