The greedy samurai lord Daigo Kagemitsu’s land is dying, and he would do anything for power, even renounce Buddha and make a pact with demons. His prayers are answered by 12 demons who grant him the power he desires by aiding his prefecture's growth, but at a price. When Kagemitsu's first son is born, the boy has no limbs, no nose, no eyes, no ears, nor even skin—yet still, he lives. This child is disposed of in a river and forgotten. But as luck would have it, he is saved by a medicine man who provides him with prosthetics and weapons, allowing for him to survive and fend for himself. The boy lives and grows, and although he cannot see, hear, or feel anything, he must defeat the demons that took him as sacrifice. With the death of each one, he regains a part of himself that is rightfully his. For many years he wanders alone, until one day an orphan boy, Dororo, befriends him. The unlikely pair of castaways now fight for their survival and humanity in an unforgiving, demon-infested world. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
Older classics from the history books getting back to modern times seems to be one of MAPPA’s hobbies in recent years. We’ve had Ushio to Tora from Summer 2015 and more recently Banana Fish from Summer 2018. Dororo’s remake under MAPPA’s umbrella made an outstanding impression and gives more reasons to bring old classics back. What a time to be alive in this timeline.
The original series aired some 50 years ago in the late 1960s. Most of us probably weren’t alive back then to see this older timer. Manga with content revolving around demons seemed like a popular trend among children those days. The brainchild behind this work is Osamu Tezuka, who is regarded as a “the father of manga”. With famous franchises like Black Jack and Astro Boy, he goes down in history is a legendary figure.
Dororo is a dark fantasy adventurous tale with supernatural elements and dealing with characters’ emotional journey of discovery. From its very few episodes, I noticed an old school feeling that blends with modern quality productions. The original series had a much simpler animation style with cartoony character designs and black and white quality. MAPPA and Tezuka Productions decided to take their style to bring these characters to modern standards. Immediately, I felt as if the show had a credible outline for its artwork. Consisting of 24 episodes, the roadmap of the show also gives an easy pacing for new viewers. Do note that I have not read the manga but jumping into this anime isn’t much of a problem. We have two main characters – Hyakkimaru and Dororo traveling together during the Sengoku period. Hyakkimaru is the limbless ronin due to circumstances of his birth while Dororo is the thief who joins as his partner during their journey. The two forges a unique bond despite their contrasting differences. And throughout their journey, they face many obstacles ranging from powerful demons, saving people, and overcoming their own personal struggles.
At the heart of the show, Dororo is known for its moody and dark tones. There’s the theme of revenge born from the beginning. The episodic structure (as some fans dubs it as ‘monster of the week’) is a typical style of storytelling for this show. However, Dororo’s intriguing content comes from character development. This is especially true for Hyakkimaru as he begins to develop human characteristics, feelings, and becoming more of himself. Being accompanied by Dororo, they begin to understand each more and more with each progressing episode. At some point, we even see Hyakkimaru laughing, which is something he’d probably never expected from himself. Dororo is also a character that injects a dose of playful energy into the show. Let’s face it, Dororo is a kid but sometimes shows the mature personality of an adult. As a show about survival in a dark and grim world, the duo relies on each other every step of the way. In the latter half of the show, Hyakkimaru’s mentality contains both of a human and demon. His desire to protect Dororo may also be his greatest weakness as he is forced to rely on his demonic side. It makes the overall show very thrilling as viewers will anticipate the consequences of his actions.
In Dororo, notice how almost every character our duo encounter faces some sort of challenge in their lives. Whether it’s about personal relationships or just to survive, this anime makes it clear that it’s not an easy world to be in. There’s carnage with gory content as the show establishes itself as a dark fantasy. The monsters are characterized with a fusion between classic and modern designs while taking ideas from folklore. There’s also a question to be addressed – what really makes a monster? Is human another word for monster? There’s a sense of grey morality explored in later episodes that will no doubt be controversial. This includes the actions of Kagemitsu Daigo and Tahomaru. For their motives and actions that greatly influenced the show’s plot, they can be viewed as monsters. In other words, if we behave like beasts, we are no better than the beasts themselves.
Nonetheless, I don’t see Dororo as a complicated storyteller. The episodic nature and dark fantasy elements brings together a classic adventure. It holds itself together as a visual masterpiece with its aesthetics. Particularly, I find some episodes with the black and white coloring to fit perfectly. What also amazes me is how Dororo doesn’t make battles feel pointless. There’s action to follow, behaviors to observe, and see how each fight progresses change for characters. Hell, such a show with all this despair even has its happy moments. The show’s humor comes off naturally thanks to Dororo’s personality. It doesn’t play out forcefully with questionable dialogues and character interactions. Instead, the character chemistry between our two main leads is what does the talking. The more you watch this anime, the more you’ll feel attached to our duo. It’s not a question of how but the way they develop together in their journey.
For being an iconic classic, Dororo’s modern adaptation will easily get people into the mood for those who has a taste for dark fantasy. Even if you don’t belong in that category, that’s alright because it’s a chance to experience the artistic creativity of Osamu Tezuka. And I’m so glad to be alive in this timeline to experience it.