Dororo, Osamu Tezuka's classic supernatural samurai adventure manga, hasn't been adapted into animation since the 1960s! This week, Nick and Andy find out how this influential story has held up in Studio MAPPA's ambitious retelling.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.
You can read our weekly coverage of Dororo here!
So Nick, it appears remakes are a pretty popular trend nowadays. Devilman Crybaby just won Anime of the Year, A Star is Born is up for Best Picture, and now Studio MAPPA has thrown in their contribution with their take on 1962's The Miracle Worker.
We really do seem to be blessed with a lot of vibrant, ambitious reboots of classics right now. It's so rare to come across a modern reimagining of a rusty old property that manages to bridge the gap between its older roots and the expectations of a contemporary audience, while also chiseling out its own identity in a way that's totally in line with the spirit of the original.
But enough about Gegege no Kitaro.
Today we're gonna talk about something decidedly less family friendly, which is kind of a weird thing way to describe a Tezuka property now that I think about it.
I dunno about that. I mean, have you seen Unico?
I'm pretty sure Unico doesn't star a literal edgelord.
He's a very hands-off kind of guy.
You can tell by his disarming personality.
Okay, he is a bit detached, but at least he has a compelling reason for that. Tezuka gave us a pretty early entry in the canon of Bad Anime Dads, as Hyakkimaru's dad Daigo manages to sell his unborn son to demons in return for political power and prosperity. Thanks to divine intervention, they don't manage to completely seal the deal, leaving us with this beautiful murder baby.
Revisiting these old stories is always fun, because you get to see the primordial swamp that so much of anime's established tropes and cliches crawled out of decades later. From the evil dad to the cursed child who's given special demon powers, there's a ton of elements in Dororo that would influence so much anime that's made to this day!
I'm saying that Dororo is the Seinfeld of shonen anime.
It's fun but also a bit disappointing, because you'd think more of the imitators would have been able to surpass these base concepts by now. But honestly, MAPPA's current version is blowing many modern anime out of the water with its classic ingredients.
Personally, I'm not quite blown away yet. Straight up, I keep wanting to love Dororo, but nearly every episode since the 4th has had some kind of hiccup that kept me from totally getting on board.
The episode plots themselves do have a basic feel to them, but I appreciate that it all seems to have a purpose. Sure you get your monster of the week, but each one is a very obvious step toward a specific destination.
I really like the Highlander Quickening we're treated to each time Hyakkimaru regains a body part.
But the real gravy comes from how it impacts the rest of the world. Each step he takes toward being more human not only makes each further encounter that much deadlier, but he's also forced to confront the realities of being human in general. In this case, that means undoing the curse that has granted his fellow man prosperity for the past several years. His personal quest is literally draining the land of life and peace.
I'm fine with the episodic structure, especially when each story revolves around a central premise but takes different approaches to its major themes. To me, Dororo is at its most engaging when it's basically a way gorier Mushi-shi, specifically when it's focusing on living through the horrors of war.
The series takes place during the Sengoku period, which according to this show was just an absolute bastard of a time to be living in Japan. And nearly every story so far is about people living with the scars of war in their own ways. Some find healthier means than others to process these feelings...
Hey, don't knock Thunderbolt Fantasy.
But for real, the cursed sword is a pretty solid metaphor for the ways war and bloodshed have changed its wielder Tanosuke, and the show isn't subtle about it.
Despite physically being back home, he never truly returned from the war. It's a well-worn message and Dororo isn't here to sugarcoat it, which is to be expected from a show that opens on "Oh yeah, humans are real monsters too. We know." It's refreshing to see something so open and honest about people's desperation, greed, and most importantly grief.
Along with a healthy dose of a sword boy slashing monsters to pieces.
That's also where I think the show's structure falters a bit. Episode 4 ends on this tragic note with Osushi crying over the death of her only family, and then the next episode we just kinda move on without dwelling on it much. I don't expect Hyakkimaru to be contemplative exactly, but at least seeing Dororo go "wow, what was all that about?" would mean something.
I'm okay with that, as its impact is still pretty direct. The first thing Hyakkimaru ever hears is someone crying over the act of violence he just committed. It's not subtle, but our boy is just too dumb and pure to register any of that.
He spends most of the next episode in a state I completely relate to as someone who gets chronic migraines, which is trying very hard to get the world to just shut the hell up.
I guess I'd just like more followup. At the very least, I'm glad that the next tragedy these kids witness leaves a more lasting impression. Even if I also wish it hadn't happened. Mio deserved better.
Did she ever T___T
I think she spent about 80% of her total screen time singing, so yeah...
It's GARO: The Animation all over again—by which I mean for the first time, since this technically came first. But for real, Mio's story was intriguing. She and her host of wounded orphans are just trying to survive as the world roils with endless war, doing whatever's necessary to eke out a living when everything around them is drowning in blood.
This includes things that shock our titular dickensian street urchin.
These are easily the strongest episodes in terms of pure emotional impact, because not only do they involve the continued growth of sword arms boy, but this deeper dive into survival also sees development for Dororo.
Judgment is reserved for the ignorant here, and damn anyone who would think less of Mio or anyone else in similar circumstances. Especially because those people are already likely to be judging themselves.
It's a remarkably sympathetic treatment of a topic that doesn't usually get it, and I think the show's worth watching for that alone.
That said, I also kinda wish the resolution to the whole thing was a little more graceful than uh...
I appreciate the sentiment, but I really wish she got more of a win than this
That's the hiccup pulling me out of things right as I'm ready to get hooked. Because while Mio's ultimate fate does get some mention in the next episode, it's a pretty hard jump from "meaningless slaughter of the innocent" to "let's fight a spider lady now".
You forgot the part where Hyakkimaru turns humans into gorgeously animated gore with his stabby nubs.
Look, I'm all for some good old-fashioned sword murder, but it's hard to take much enjoyment in it all things considered. It's less catharsis and more a desperate expression of misery, which would be a strong note to end on, but I was just too distracted by all the child corpses to be gripped.
The show had been fairly dark already, but you're right that this was a new level of explicit. I'm not going to fall back on a defense of this being an old story, because it's all about the execution (pardon the pun) rather than the premise. Maybe it's because of how lazy and gross other modern shows are about using devices like this for the sake of titillation or a power fantasy that makes me more keen on this one, plus the fact that the show knows what follows isn't justice. It's literally inhuman.
And that's what makes the next episode's dip into monster-fuckin' really jarring.
Being a not-so-secret furry wasn't enough, I guess. How many fetishes did Tezuka spawn?
What is it with monsterfuckers and spiders. Why is it always spiders. On that note, at least this episode stars This Week In Anime's own Steve Jones.
To be fair, I'm pretty sure a lot of weebs would be dead by the midpoint of this episode, since our Spider-Woman is the absolute worst at disguises but very good at being haughty and eating.
She refers to the dude as "Human" multiple times, makes it painfully clear that human lives have no meaning to her, and then he still has the gall to be shocked when she's revealed as a monster.
The dude just really wanted a goth girlfriend. And sometimes that's enough to make you literally bugfuck crazy.
Apparently, that type of horny checks out with Hyakkimaru's Soul-O-Vision. Either that or he's learned to fear being horny and won't kill her just in case that's the thing he gets back next.
Our boy is just too pure to properly kinkshame. I'm sure one day he'll learn this invaluable part of being human. But for real, there were some neat ideas at play in this episode, humanizing the monsters in this world to complement all the monsterizing of humans. The way Yajiro's charity toward a stranger contrasts with the slave labor of his village leaves a strong impression.
So these are all neat themes that could be explored in a number of ways, but it didn't quite land for me.
The episode does end pretty unresolved. Yes, the couple escape together, but this episode ultimately has the most dangling spider threads. The lord is forcing everyone in town to work themselves to death in a quarry and not only hunting down the smuggler getting some people out, but also willing to kill anyone who's snitched, just to keep his stranglehold...
But in the end, we just got a nice "Hyakkimaru finally learned to laugh!" moment that left all of that other stuff unresolved. It's a pretty bad tonal swap. Sorry, but personally I have more investment in the lives of everyone else in that town than its one deviant.
Would you say that ending..................
left a bad taste in your mouth?
Anyway, I guess that's where I stand with Dororo so far. There's cool ideas, a neat aesthetic, and it's a unique viewing experience, but I also think it's disappointing in some key places. Still, there's plenty of episodes to go, and I'm certainly curious to see Hyakkimaru's eventual conflict with his brother, Prince Nepotism.
Poor guy. Maybe Prince Nepotism's mom would like him more if he'd been born cuter.