Original Run: January 7, 2019 - June 24, 2019 Number of Episodes: 24 Genre: Action, Historical, Supernatural Based on the Series Created By: Osamu Tezuka
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Dororo. Reader discretion is advised.***
In feudal Japan, an era plagued by war and death, it takes every ounce of will to survive. However, for one child, it would seem fate was even crueler than usual.
To secure the prosperity of his land and people, a regional lord offered up a sacrifice to twelve powerful demons. That sacrifice would turn out to be the lord’s soon to be born son. Upon his birth, the baby had no eyes, skin, or senses. Nevertheless, he was alive when he was abandoned to die.
Many years have since passed, and Japan is still in a constant state of war. Having lost both parents to the violence, young Dororo (voiced by Rio Suzuki) runs into a mysterious swordsman. This wandering warrior has no sense of sight, hearing, and his body appears completely artificial. This man’s name is Hyakkimaru, and he is on a mission to reclaim the humanity that was stolen from him.
Together, Hyakkimaru and Dororo travel the land and face the many demons who seek to prey on the innocent, as well as confront the humans who wish to do the same.
2019’s Dororo is actually the second anime adaptation of its source material. The first Dororo series began its twenty-six episode run back in the spring of 1969. I have not – yet – seen that original show, but having now sat through this one, I am interested.
I could be wrong, but I get the feeling the tone and atmosphere of these two releases will be significantly different from each other. I haven’t a clue what late 60s Japanese television could get away with, but If its anything close to what 2019 is willing to do, that alone has my attention.
Let this be your warning:
This iteration of the Dororo story is not for the faint of heart. It was incredibly violent. There were no qualms about splattering the screen with blood and body parts. For instance, one scene that particularly stood out occurred when main character Hyakkimaru went into a rage. Let me leave it at this. When faced against a samurai sword, a stick of butter and a human face are basically the same things.
If you’re the queasy type, watch this show at your discretion.
That said, do absolutely watch Dororo. Holy hell, this was a ton of fun.
For any twenty-plus episode show, a dip in excitement is to be expected. It’s rare when an anime of this length can fire on all cylinders the entire way through. Dororo, though, did a pretty damn good job of doing precisely that.
I think what I liked best about this series was how grounded it was. Despite being supernatural in nature, the whole thing felt more like a period piece. It’s hard to beat a solid samurai tale, and if you’re in the market for one, look no further.
Although a decent chunk of this show’s action involved fighting demons, there were almost as many human-versus-human battles as well, and I would argue they were even more brutal. Not only that, there was never some ultimate-weapon mechanic. Every obstacle and every victory came down to pure skill and problem-solving abilities. Conflicts were only ever difficult, not impossible. That alone really helped this story stay entertaining.
To give an example, one of my favorite moments was when titular Dororo needed to find a way to escape a giant man-eating shark while stuck on a small boat in the middle of the ocean. I’ve got to hand it to this show, I don’t remember the last time — assuming there was even a last time — I saw an anime do that.
It’s always a positive sign when a twenty-four episode show (typically a twelve-hour sit) feels like it’s over in a quarter of the time.
Now, a series which boasts fun action and clever moments is nice, but a series that does that on top of having an exciting story and likable characters is something special.
Case in point: Dororo.
If we were to change our point of view just a tad, we could easily turn both Hyakkimaru and Dororo into the villains. Change it another way, they become the tragic protagonists. Shift a third way (and this is the one I personally like) Hyakkimaru, Dororo, and everyone else was simply trying to make the best out of a horrible situation.
It wasn’t hard to understand why Hyakkimaru and Dororo did what they did. Hyakkimaru’s body was stolen from him. In turn, Dororo saw a person fight tooth and nail to survive despite being deemed a monster by the very people who were living off Hyakkimaru’s sacrifice. Watching these two overcome their struggles and bond was the soul of this series.
However, the heart came from moral conflictions.
Once Hyakkimaru regained the body that was taken from him, hundreds of people would suddenly be at risk of dying. He may not have had a choice in the matter, but the cruel fate that befell Hyakkimaru allowed many to live in peace, safety, and prosperity. Is it any wonder there would be some who would attempt to stand in Hyakkimaru’s path?
Dororo was one of those stories that didn’t have bad guys. It had antagonist, but those two terms don’t necessarily need to be the same thing. There were occasions in the show when I didn’t want Hyakkimaru to win. Sometimes his goals weren’t in the right, and other times he was on the verge of doing far more harm than good.
In conclusion, this series worked because it had a story which knew how to navigate the moral grey zone. Speaking for myself, those are among my favorite kinds of shows.
There were two elements about Dororo which didn’t sit well with me.
The first one I want to talk about is the final episode.
But before I say anymore, let me make it clear, Dororo ended very satisfyingly. The story came to a complete conclusion. As a viewer, I didn’t need more from this show. Nevertheless, this final episode felt rushed, and given how long the series was, why?
The last climatic fight between Hyakkimaru and (SPOILER) was undoubtedly cool, but it also just came to a stop. Neither combatant was winning nor losing, and yet, the battle was over with an out of nowhere concession of defeat.
I don’t know the reasoning behind why Dororo was twenty-four episodes in length and not longer, but from what I saw, an episode or two more wouldn’t have been a bad idea. With a little bit more time, this conclusion, perhaps, could have been a touch smoother.
The second issue I had with Dororo began in episode fourteen. This was when the series’ technical quality changed.
In the beginning, this show was visually amazing. Then suddenly, something happened. I can’t say the animation became terrible; no, that wasn’t what occurred at all. But it definitely wasn’t as good as it was before. The word “cheap” hadn’t crossed my mind once throughout the first half of the series, but it did pop in there once or twice during the second.
Fortunately, both the story and the characters were more than enough to maintain Dororo’s high level of engagement.
This show was a lot of fun. It’s actually hard to believe it was as long as it was. The time between episode one and episode twenty-four was barely felt.
Set in feudal Japan with a healthy dose of samurai fiction and supernatural battles, this series knew how to keep a person’s attention. There were plenty of fun and neat ideas that kept everything fresh. It was always a treat to see where this story was going to go next.
Even with still more than half of 2019 left to go at the time of this post’s release, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this show again come Highlights season.
Dororo has earned a recommendation.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? What would be your advice concerning Dororo? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.