Episodes 1-3

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Dororo (TV 2019) ?

In 1969, the black-and-white anime Dororo, inspired by Osamu Tezuka's manga of the same name, first aired. Fifty years later, Studio Mappa has created an elegant adaptation that takes modern viewers' preferences into consideration. And it's no exaggeration to say that this tribute is already a contender for 2019's anime of the year after just three episodes. Its gruesome content is not for everyone, but this classic story from the “God of Manga” has thoughtful updates to its look, feel, and sound that make it accessible to a new generation of anime fans.

The original manga and anime had a cartoonish, almost Disney-esque look to its characters, but the material could be difficult to watch, Now it's been made more visceral than ever before. From the stomach-turning (a skinless and featureless baby) to the atrocious (a man who orders his firstborn killed, grown men attempting to drown a child thief), this action-packed thriller follows the horror movie protocol, grossing you out when it can't outright terrify you. In my opinion, the worst part is how much of this is based on reality: Japanese crucifixion was indeed a thing, as was the samurai practice of tsujigiri—testing out a new sword on a random passerby.

Far from sugarcoating the story, this modern take on Dororo dials up the emotional side of the narrative. Episode three, “The Story of Jukai,” is largely original material; Tezuka never explored the past of the kindly doctor who gave Hyakkimaru artificial limbs. Perhaps the biggest change for this adaptation is Hyakkimaru himself. In the manga and 1969 anime, Hyakkimaru was telepathic, so it didn't matter if he could speak or hear. (Check out Dororo Motion Magazine on Crunchyroll, and you'll see he originally had quite a mouth on him.) In the 2019 adaptation, Hyakkimaru inhabits a silent inner world, and his only communication comes through sensing the glowing life forces around him. It makes him difficult to know, for both the characters and the audience, so it's like telling the story on hard mode. It's only in fleeting moments that we can appreciate his character development. Dororo introduces himself to Hyakkimaru by putting his prosthetic hand on his face, and later Hyakkimaru mimics the same gesture to show that he understands. This show has already begun an underlying dialogue about disability, and I'm interested to see how the message will shift as Hyakkimaru regains more of his senses.

This early in the story, the strongest aspect of the show is still its artistic merit. It's rare that I can't decide whether I like a show's opening or ending song better, and in between, the limited color palette conveys the boundaries of Hyakkimaru's world. Soft watercolor washes evoke the art style of the Warring States period of Japan. It's possible too that the frequent monochrome or sepia palettes are a reference to the manga and the 1969 anime's black-and-white storytelling. Dororo is nothing if not hyper-aware of its status as an adaptation, which many viewers may be actively comparing to the original material. Each alteration is a carefully calculated risk. With the story of the doctor, the show expands significantly on the source; with Hyakkimaru's limitations, it veers toward a more visual style of expression. The most enduring element so far is the charming thief Dororo, who is just as Disney-esque as he's always been. It's a promising beginning to this highly anticipated adaptation of Tezuka's classic story.

Rating: B+

Dororo is currently streaming on Amazon.

Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.

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