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This Week in Anime
Osamu Tezuka's Dororo Gets a New Ending
by Nicholas Dupree & Andy Pfeiffer,
This modern reimagining of the classic supernatural samurai manga Dororo has finally come to a close. This week, Nick and Andy break down their favorite moments from this enthralling and thought-provoking series.
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.
Nick I don't know about you, Andy, but it feels like I've been waiting forever for us to finally talk about one of the most exciting anime of the year. Between its distinct historical setting, thematically rich exploration of violence and vengeance, and its superb character writing, there's just so much to talk about!
Unfortunately, Vinland Saga isn't out yet, but Dororo is a solid second choice.
Andy And here I thought you were going for the Golden Kamuy swerve.
I'd be more than happy to see Sugimoto and Asirpa fight demon sharks.
But yeah, it's been an entire season since we last talked about the lovable adventures of a literal edgelord and his Dickensian street urchin chaperone, and boy has a lot of shit gone down since then.
Last we saw, Hyakkimaru finally met his family and it went pretty badly. His brother sided with his dad, and even his mom asked him to die while trying to off herself in penance. So of course the first thing we do is ignore all that and return to some monster of the week bullshit.
Who loves stealing faces? Buddha loves stealing faces!
Yeah, I get that we needed some separation from all the big plot stuff, but I can't say the whole Evil Buddha Face Stealer episode left much of an impression. Especially when the moral of the story is just:
Hey, I love Face/Off, but this being the key to defeating this shapeshifting demon falls on the laugh track side of the tragedy scale.
It's not a bad episode, but it's the kind of story that would fit better in the first half, when the stakes were just "kill demons, get legs." Though I think it still works better than the straight-up comic relief episode we get in between major tragedies.
I'm completely baffled on the inclusion of that episode. It's not that I didn't enjoy it, because while the tone gave me whiplash following this...
The direction of the comedy was still on point, and we got a lot of good faces!
Maybe if we had a pure comedy episode in the first half it would've landed better, but boy does it feel like too little too late if they wanted to remind us that Tezuka liked to play fast and loose with tone.
I'm a little less sold on the comedy. The moment you figure out the gimmick of everyone saying the opposite of what they mean, it basically becomes a tedious wait until everyone figures it out. But I do appreciate that even in the goof-around episode, they try to stay on-message. I certainly didn't expect a dead serious line like this in the middle of all those hijinks.
And in theory I still support the idea of some low-stakes goofing off, because every other episode this season ranges from heart-wrenching to just plain old depressing.
If there's one complaint I have about the second half of this very good show that I liked a whole bunch, it's that the theme gets repeated directly to the audience far too many times. That's especially annoying when it's phrased in ambiguous arguments that it can't actually support. "Who's the real monster? The people who stole Hyakkimaru's life or him for wanting it back?" isn't very convincing, guys. Especially when it's thrown at us in situations like the monster fucker village.
I can see that. The repetition didn't really bother me, mostly because it's the first thing to really strain Dororo and Hyakkimaru's relationship. My biggest problem in the first cour was that Hyakkimaru didn't get a ton of characterization for a focus character, so seeing him so bitter and dismissive of Dororo's concern is striking.
Plus I can't be too critical when MAPPA roped in one of my favorite directors, Osamu Kobayashi, to direct the episode. It's been years since I heard that dude's sound direction in something new.
While on the subject of sound, I'm gonna take a quick detour to acknowledge the visuals of the second OP, because it is chock full of shit that teenage me would buy CDs for just having on the cover.
It's so rad. And while far from their best track, I'm always up for more Asian Kung-Fu Generation. On the topic of visuals, I understand Kobayashi's episode is a tad controversial, with folks taking issue with his loose and rough approach to character models. And while I understand and respect those criticisms, they're also objectively wrong and I will fight every single person who disagrees. I will do combat in the streets to defend these wonderful drawings.
His style is a thing of beauty.
For real, I think TV anime in general could stand to deliver more stylistic experimentation, and especially in something as episodic as Dororo. Somebody give Kobayashi another TV series dangit.
Productions gotta have break episodes, and if you're gonna have a loose artistic style that my brain still finds amusing and fun, then what's to complain about? Are we really gonna nitpick cute stick figure faces in the episode that has Giant Ugly Baby Ghost That Explodes into a Horde of Cute Baby Ghosts?
Those ghosts are adorable, and so is their giant lumpy soul-tumor body. Plus even for Dororo, an entire basement full of realistically depicted dead children would probably be too much.
Is it? Because I still remember the Chimera episode.
I did specify children. Anyone older than ten is free game for body horror.
We did have Mio and the orphan kids getting killed in the first half, but burning and stabbing is a bit different than being munched by giant silkworms.
So yeah, count me as a fan of Hyakkimaru vs The Monsterfuckers, if for no other reason than it was super cool seeing that moth get burnt up like tissue paper.
I'm so glad he learned to rectify his mistake with that whole spiderwoman fiasco. I am not glad that I had to watch and hear his spine pop apart.
Maybe that's the real reason Hyakkimaru starts getting so angry. Forget fighting demons, the repeated sensation of your own bones growing back must mess you up. More importantly, Hyakkimaru takes it real personally that yet another village is willing to sacrifice him for the sake of good weather, and that ends up urging Dororo to leave him for a while. Unfortunately, they immediately run into this asshole.
Say what you want about Itachi, but he stays true to his "no hard feelings but I'm gonna use you and leave you to die" shtick.
He's an asshole, but at least he's honest about it, which puts him ahead of every other antagonist in this show who will give you a 10-minute speech about how they're justified in murdering orphans.
He's a clear opportunist living in awful times, and he's always ready to change course as soon as a better choice arrives. For what it's worth, he does seem genuinely shocked when he finds out his traitorous ways have made him nothing more than a sacrificial pawn, but all that does is convince him that the samurai gravy train has run out, so it's time to go dig up a corpse.
Again, he's still somehow less despicable than most of the villains in this show—like Sharkboy, who's really lost his way after he and Lava Girl split up.
I get that Dororo is supposed to be the avatar of mercy and goodness, but what the hell was the thought process behind not letting Itachi's group kill this shark-obsessed cannibal who's already murdered an entire village?
It was cute when one of the sharks tried to share food with him though.
Eh, I get it. Dororo's a kid who's seen more killing than almost anyone else in the show—which is really saying something—and they just witnessed their big bro casually dismiss the desolation of a whole village. Even if the dude's dangerous, I can see why Dororo doesn't want to see even more bloodshed.
Also full disclosure that I seriously questioned my life decisions when the gacha game I was playing while watching this episode decided to make this their summer event. Whatever angry god is trying to mess with me, please go away. I live too far from any oceans to start panicking about sharks.
Toilet sharks though...
Brb gotta find a Hyakkimaru to defend me from horrible landsharks.
That may take a while, since Hyakkimaru spends the first half of Shark Island reuniting with his stepdad, resulting in maybe the most heartwarming story in the whole show.
I mean it! It's a complicated reunion where Jukai has to confront his foster son as an adult, and reckon with the fraught life he's led, in part thanks to limbs Jukai built to protect him.
He's always had a martyr complex due to his past, and to say that colors the relationship with his son would be an understatement.
He sees any blood Hyakkimaru sheds in his quest as his own responsibility, and therefore refuses to replace Hyakkimaru's broken prosthetics. He's genuinely worried that he didn't raise a person, but a single-minded killing machine, and he feels further guilt that he still loves Hyakkimaru no matter what he's become.
Thankfully, Hyakkimaru has grown a lot since he left, and not only is he more human than demon, but he has also has a pretty good idea of their relationship.
That scene legit hit me, because you realize Hyakkimaru's ideas about family and love come entirely from Dororo. So to him, "Mama" is the word for someone who loved and protected you the most. I also love the rebuttal he offers to all of Jukai's protests. Hyakkimaru's journey is difficult, bloody, and it might very well destroy him, but it's ultimately a quest for his own autonomy and identity.
I really wish there was more focus on how he desires to reclaim his personhood and less of this:
It makes more sense coming from Dororo's perspective, since Hyakkimaru's transformation could mark an end to their journey together, but it's a great moment when it finally clicks for him.
Yeah I had to balk at that "toy" line, if only because in this instance "toy" means "his right to human existence". But then again, shitty justifications for horrible actions is a running theme in the DAIGO household.
The message that peace and prosperity cannot be built upon the sacrifices of the unwilling is a good message that tragically dooms the entire DAIGO family.
It's telling that Tahomaru says he'll do "anything" to protect his people, yet there's never so much as a whisper about a peace treaty or improved infrastructure. But he'll murder the hell out of Master Splinter to keep the peace for sure!
If only he knew that this rat could've gone on to raise a crime-fighting team that would do so much good for his people! Tahomaru's moral decline being interspliced with cute flashbacks is just criminal.
It's so good! It's a reminder that even though Tahomaru is Hyakkimaru's final opponent, he has sympathetic reasons for what he's doing. Unlike his dad, who's just a big old sack of horse manure.
Even when fully devoting himself to the cause, Tahomaru suffers knowing the cost of what he's doing. He's willing to sacrifice himself and those closest to him for the sake of everyone in their realm. DAIGO on the other hand is willing to sacrifice anyone but himself, which is why he's such an unremarkable ass.
And the thing is, even if he were to kill Hyakkimaru, Tahomaru's doomed to failure because his dad's image of "prosperity" is ultimately just being the most successful warmonger, and the people he's so gung-ho to protect would still be caught in the middle of that.
DAIGO treats his people no differently than the moth-fucker treated orphan children. "If it's Good for DAIGO, it's Good for You" is an incredibly shitty slogan for the people whose lives you control.
Really, Tahomaru was doomed way before he and his besties decided to renew his dad's deal with the devil. No amount of extra eyes is gonna help him see through his father's bullshit.
It's one thing to prevent your brother from getting his eyes back. It's another entirely to stick them into your forehead. I'm a big fan of body horror, and I'm not generally squeamish, but something about eyes always gets me. I especially did not like when they started searching in different directions.
Also maybe DAIGO should've gone for the extra eyes since he still can't see that he's always wrong.
It's so gross, and it's also the most perfectly literal way to frame the nature of the crime they've committed against Hyakkimaru. They haven't just tried to sacrifice him, they've willingly taken parts of him for their own benefit, and then they have the gall to call him the thief for wanting them back.
Okay, before going too much further into this great final fight, we have to talk about something very important: Horses.
Ah, that's right. Even if they weren't anchored to a broken ideology, DAIGO's boys would be screwed because Hyakkimaru caught himself a Rapidash.
It was one thing to drag a beautiful horse off to war while its foal cries.
But it takes true genius to then turn that horse into a HORSE BOMB and send it off a cliff with Hyakkimaru.
Only to make it SO GOD DAMN ANGRY IN DEATH THAT IT TURNS INTO A VENGEFUL DEMON STEED.
It's bonkers, but it's worth it for the image of a damn fire horse just going to town on everyone. Whipping up fire tornadoes. Biting off heads. KICKING OFF LIMBS. It's metal as all hell.
Do not fuck with this horse.
But besides just being a horrific avatar of death, its existence ties back into Hyakkimaru's story. Sure, murder horse is on a rampage and all those in its path are completely boned, but underneath it all, she's just fighting for love.
If this berserk My Little Pony can still remember its bonds of love in the depths of hell, can't we all? I will say, I'm rather disappointed Dororo didn't charge onto the battlefield on that foal's back. You wasted a prime opportunity, MAPPA.
All stories have their flaws. This one happens to be not letting an orphan child ride an orphan foal into battle.
But Dororo still arrives on the scene, and it's pretty heartwarming that amidst all these morally questionable clashes, at least one person is 100% on Hyakkimaru's side.
I love when all the adults are philosophizing about how being shitty in some way is just what makes you human, so Dororo has to call them out on their lazy shit.
Dororo gets a decidedly quieter character arc than Hyakkimaru, but it's remarkable how far they end up coming in all this. While everyone else is consumed by their personal wars, these two are always there to witness the collateral damage, and they ultimately get the chance to make a bigger change than anyone else.
Old monk explaining to Dororo that money is good because it can buy food sure was something.
For real, it stands out when the 8-year-old is the most forward-thinking person in the show because they're like, "hey maybe we could make money in a way besides looting and pillaging!"
The show does kinda sidestep that the mountain of money originally came from looting and pillaging, and that having it makes you a target before it will lead you to a place of peace, but we needed to go out on a good note.
I mean, it's a good note after the bloody, fiery, eyeball-gouging crescendo.
Why did you have to remind me of the eye-gouging?
To be fair, it's a sentimental eye-gouging! To express brotherly love!
Hyakkimaru's googly eyes being replaced sure was a moment of something.
Jokes aside, it's pretty poetic (and blunt) that Tahomaru and Hyakkimaru's final showdown involves them accidentally burning down the entire castle before killing the demon that literally lives in its foundation.
Tahomaru bragging about the physical things burning around them, while knowing that his mother's love always belonged to Hyakkimaru instead, is very good.
As is Hyakkimaru seeing that for all their differences, both brothers are both missing something important to them. The whole final battle is peak melodrama, but all the thematic and character work the show did up to that point sells it for me.
How can you not feel something as Hyakkimaru finally opens his eyes and sees his mother's face?
In the end though, I think my favorite part is Hyakkimaru's final confrontation with DAIGO. Obviously after all the harping on about not killing people, you know he won't just skewer the guy, but instead of making it about mercy or second chances, it's about Hyakkimaru making the choice on his own that he doesn't want to kill anymore.
I appreciate that even High Lord Asshole DAIGO himself tells the audience that there's no ambiguity to this in the end. The reason the demons only wanted Hyakkimaru and no other sacrifice was because of his strong will to live, and if DAIGO hadn't been so selfish and cowardly, that will could've been the thing to bring prosperity to the land instead of human sacrifice. Sacrificing future generations for your own greed only hurts the world further. "Give them the power to make their own decisions, and then things can change for the better" is a damn good message for 2019.
It's a strong final message for a show that took me by surprise. Despite the inconsistencies between episode plots or its tendency to repeat itself, I really loved what Dororo had to say, and folks should absolutely check it out for more than just swords and gore.
The original manga leaves off in a completely different way, and I appreciated the ending this anime came up with. It's still open-ended to a point, but in a way that leaves a lot of hope for both of our main characters. I pray their eventual reunion is as good as their moment escaping the castle.
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