by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?
Don't miss the fact that this episode's title is “The Story of Saru,” rather than the story of the demon of the week like usual. It's for the same reason that this show is named Dororo and not Hyakkimaru. This anime-original episode emphasized its love for underdogs and its theme of courage in the face of overwhelming adversity by putting characters' weaknesses on display. A fight scene with mesmerizing kinetic movement makes this episode's animation as enthralling as its art.
When in doubt, sacrifice a young woman to save the village from a mysterious plague. This is the surefire technique employed by a remote village cursed by Nokosaregumo, a centipede-like demon that dwells in a low-hanging cloud. This has apparently worked for ages, but a feral boy named Saru (literally “monkey”) has had enough. He and his non-biological older sister are anime-original characters, but within minutes their bond is apparent—the child rejected from society and the kind girl that accepts him anyway. Her textbook self-sacrifice is so literal that she agrees to become the demon's bride, but not if Saru can do anything about it. It's up to Dororo and Hyakkimaru (mostly Hyakkimaru) to save the day, but when it turns out the cloud is made up of flakes of the centipede's molting skin, Hyakkimaru finds himself fully blinded for the first time in his life as he's entirely enveloped in the red glow of the demon's soul.
This brand new story asks a question the original manga does not: what would Hyakkimaru do if he truly were handicapped? His magical inner eyesight and dexterous sword arms have made him practically bulletproof. In the manga, he was always fully functional; in the anime, regaining his senses has made him increasingly vulnerable. His temporary blindness is the furthest the story has gone in making Dororo a narrative about disability. Seeing Hyakkimaru temporarily hindered makes Dororo and Saru decide to take things into their own hands: they may be small, but at least they can hear and see and speak. Of course, it's still Hyakkimaru (who has developed a creative workaround to see the world through his newest sense, sound) who saves their hides. It's a somewhat clunky message about not underestimating people with differing abilities, but the episode is more concerned with making the fight look awesome (and it does) than with teaching a lesson, and maybe that's for the best. What makes this fight look good is its shift between perspectives—when we're able to experience it through Dororo, Saru, and Hyakkimaru, it makes the action feel more immersive.
Poor Hyakkimaru keeps getting reintroduced to his senses in the worst way possible. When he gets his nerves back, he feels pain. When he gets his hearing back, he hears sobbing. Now the first thing he smells is sulfur! Fortunately, this is evened out with a flower from Big Sis, who has miraculously survived. It's incredible that while the anime is far grittier than the manga ever was, the show is only at its darkest when it faithfully recreates the death toll of the manga. Perhaps it's because this episode is original that Saru and his sister both survive. Expect a lot more anime-original material now that we know Dororo is going to be 24 episodes long. This adaptation may be the most thorough exploration of the story yet.
Dororo is currently streaming on Amazon.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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