Sorry about last week, a serious dizzy spell hit me and I spent practically two days on the couch trying to make the world stop turning so quickly. I’ve currently have a pretty gnarly sore throat which tells me I’m getting sick, AGAIN, but its not so bad that I can’t sit here and throw down some words.
Especially since I watched the 20th episode of Dororo last night and OH BOY.
For those of you wondering ‘Dororo?’ its an anime set in feudal Japan where a baby boy’s entire body was sacrificed to demons to give the land his father rules prosperity. By some great miracle the baby survives and is picked up by a man who builds replacement limbs. Hyakkimaru is giving an entire fake body and, as a teen, sets out to kill all the demons and get his body back. Along the way he meets a little kid, Dororo, who tries to teach him as much as they can whenever Hyakkimaru gets a new limb or sense back (Hearing, smelling, sense of pain ect.)
Visually the anime is stunning (especially in comparison to its older counterpart) and Hyakkimaru ‘s fighting style is beautifully, and at times horrifically rendered. Since he grew up without arms his swords are built right into his fake ones: he can pull off his hands up to the elbows and, suddenly, blades! By episode 20 he only seems to really be missing his arms and his sight (though he can see the colour of souls and thus recognize demons and not good people and, of course, Dororo), which makes a lot of sense because those three aspects are really what set him apart in the style of the anime.
Now the anime can feel a bit ‘Monster of the week’ with the basic plot of Hyakkimaru and Dororo meet person in need, find them to be connected to demon in some way, fight demon, get defeated, rally, kill demon, get body part back. Often times, if Hyakkimaru got a body part, especially one of his senses, back at the end of the last episode at least the very start of the next episode (if not a good deal longer) is spent with him learning to use, deal with, or enjoy said sense (he hates hearing, sound is overwhelming, but smell is enjoyable especially around flowers).
HOWEVER, I’ve never found Dororo to get stale because the greater story line comes crashing in from the get go: interspersed with the adventures of Hyakkimaru and Dororo’s adventures are moments with Hyakkimaru’s father, mother, and younger brother, Tahōmaru. His father chose to sacrifice his son to the demons to keep power, yes, but also to take care of his people who were suffering. In fact, practically all the humans who become associated with demonic creatures or demons do because they too are suffering. Sometimes, the demon isn’t even the bad guy: it’s the humans and, sometimes, the anime makes you wonder if its Hyakkimaru himself.
You see, the kingdom is at war and, every demon Hyakkimaru kills, lessens the protection the land has. People are dying and villages start to starve because he’s fighting to get his body back. There’s an ongoing storyline about whether or not Hyakkimaru can even operate as a human considering how he grew up: always hunted and under attack without any real understanding of why and by whom. He doesn’t know how to talk and sound is so overwhelming that it drives him mad at points. Nor does he seem to feel any sympathy for those who suffer because he fights for his body, something Dororo feels. For him, he fights for his body because ‘It’s mine.’.
His biological family all turn against him because, for them at least, it’s the sacrifice of one for the good of many. Even his surrogate father, who built his false body, eventually refuses to help him because of what pain and suffering its causing.
But that question is always right on the edge: the humans who side with the demons often do so by sacrificing other people to those demons. They are guilty of the exact thing Hyakkimaru’s father is: benefitting from the prosperity of the deal as long as someone else pays the price.
Nor is Hyakkimaru heartless. Throughout his journey he meets several people who really connect with him, especially Dororo, and teach him about his body and his humanity. In fact, a person’s name (big spoilers so I won’t type it out) is Hyakkimaru’s first word and one of his favorite’s more recently is Dororo after they’ve been separated and united again. In fact, Dororo becomes one of his main connecting points with the world, even after he gets many of his senses back: Dororo is his moral compass and someone he really wants to protect.
In episode 20 there’s something of a breaking point. Both Hyakkimaru and Dororo fall of a cliff and while they survive with little injuries, Dororo’s arm is caught under some rocks. While, given time, this wouldn’t be a major concern, the rock slide has opened a spring underneath them, and their crater is fast filling up with water. Hyakkimaru fights to move the rocks but his hands and arms are only prosthetics, and prosthetics hiding swords, and he breaks on arm trying to push the rock. As Dororo’s head goes under Hyakkimaru starts screaming and bashing his head against the rock: his one friend, the one person who has stayed on his side through all of this, is dying and he can’t do anything.
Luckily, a blind travelling priest (a reoccurring character who often talks about Hyakkimaru’s mission and the moral implications of it with Dororo) arrives and uses the blade hidden in his lute to pry the rocks apart and pull Dororo up. Hyakkimaru now feeling wrathful about his missing body parts returns up the cliff and literally dismembers the demon trying to get some part of his body back. It doesn’t work, and Dororo has to beg him to leave the dead body alone.
This rage seems to happen because of Dororo almost dying: Hyakkimaru couldn’t move the rock because he didn’t have real human arms and hands. Hyakkimaru no longer wants his body back because it’s his but also so, just like all the other human characters, he can better take care of his own.
BUT the problem is that Hyakkimaru might be using Dororo as an excuse for still fundamentally wanting his body back because it’s his: HE HAD THE TOOLS TO GET DORORO OUT, HE JUST NEVER THOUGHT TO USE THEM.
The priest uses his blade to get Dororo out, not any brute human strength. He pries the rocks apart and snaps the blade in the process. Hyakkimaru becomes so fixated on using the part of him that hasn’t been returned yet (and thus wanting it back even more) that he completely fails to consider how he could use who and what he is now to solve the situation. In the process he destroys the prosthetic arm but not the blade underneath. In fact, the blades are fast becoming the most symbolic part of him: he uses them to dismember the demon as he was once dismembered. In this moment, he breaks the symbol of his humanity (his hand) and chooses the symbol of his inhumanity (his blade), most likely without even realizing it.
The story seems to be getting to the end game now, and Hyakkimaru’s break here in episode 20 leaves one wondering how he’s feeling going into what is likely the final confrontation coming up.
Man, I love this show.