Dororo – Anime Review
Synopsis: In Japan’s Warring States period, Lord Daigo Kagemitsu makes a pact with 12 demons, exchanging his unborn son for the prosperity of his lands. The child is born malformed and is set adrift in a river, while Kagemitsu’s lands thrive as promised. Years later, young thief Dororo encounters the mysterious “Hyakkimaru”, a boy whose arms are blades and whose visionless eyes seem able to see monsters. (Official Amazon Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Dororo opened with not only a gripping tale of revenge and struggle, but high quality animation that captured the magic of this gritty retelling of the classic manga by famed ‘father of anime’ artist Osamu Tezuka. Both the story and art start strong, sucking viewers into Hyakkimaru’s quest to regain the body stolen from him by his power hungry father and the demons he made a pact with. But as the series continues, production values flounder, and the story takes a number of disappointing turns that much of the goodwill earned early on is lost. The ending rights itself after missteps both visually and narratively, but by then the damage is done.
Linny: As someone who did a quick read of the original manga’s first few chapters, for comparison sake, I’d like to advise anyone considering picking up the manga for the first time that they should expect a very different tone and art style. The original manga is much more playful and even has a more supernatural approach to the story. For example, Hyakkimaru in the manga is able to communicate early on thanks to being able to telepathically throw his voice…whatever that means and is constantly tossing out playful jibes and one liners as if he’s auditioning for the MCU. The anime plays the story and characters out in a much more sombre and grounded manner, well as much as possible in a story that involves hunting down and slaughtering demonic monsters. The switch between the two mediums could be jarring, like you’re reading two completely different stories. If you were hoping for a faithful adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s work then Dororo 2019 is an outright disappointment.
Tom: The anime’s strength actually comes from the reinvention of the story’s lead characters: Hyakkimaru and Dororo. Hyakkimaru’s stalwart defiance and gradual attainment of his humanity is deeply compelling, making it easy for audiences to take to him right away. Dororo’s more childish, fun, yet honest and loyal characterization makes them a constant ray of hope throughout an otherwise grim series. These characters feel much more at home here, in this version of events, so much more so than Tezuka’s more flippant portrayal of his own characters. Hyakkimaru and Dororo both match up with the dark atmosphere, and tough moral discussions in the one off adventures that make up the majority of the series’ run.
Linny: The initial episodes of the series are a lot more focused on doling out episodic tales of people and demons that Hyakkimaru and Dororo encounter on their journey together. These stories range from touching and dark to formulaic and forgettable. It’s an uneven journey and then once the show decides to put all its attention into telling Hyakkimaru’s story, it becomes a lot more preachy and linear, even making Dororo’s own plot point feel like all but forgotten during the later episodes, despite Dororo being the titular character. The show also shamelessly employs very convenient plot points such as a certain character showing up wherever and whenever the story decides he needs to, making you wonder if he can teleport.
Tom: It starts at the mid season, when Dororo’s ‘message’ begins to rear its ugly head. Shortly after the twelfth episode the anime begins toying with the idea that Hyakkimaru should not be attempting to regain his body from demons. The series comes up with all manner of excuses, even accusing Hyakkimaru of becoming a demon simply for taking back what is his. At best it’s a clumsy attempt to speak to Hyakkimaru’s increasing willingness to slaughter adversaries who aren’t demons. At worst it speaks more to putting down wronged individuals, insisting that for the betterment of society they wallow in anguish, thankful instead that they were not robbed of their lives. Individuals should accept their injustice and be satisfied it only took so much. It’s a borderline abhorrent message as presented, urging those who are unjustly wronged never to rise up and fight back. Oddly, and yet for the better, the final episode pretty much abandons this messaging, opting instead to return to a simpler, more direct ending devoid of grander social commentary. Still, the sting leading up to, what is ultimately a pretty decent ending, remains and sours the series so much that I cared little for what the final episode offered, even if it was what I wanted.
Linny: Dororo sends out extremely mixed messages throughout its run. Despite making it clear that Hyakkimaru has had a terrible life and has clearly been wronged, it doubles down, insisting Hyakkimaru is in the wrong for wanting to restore his body at the price of the downfall of a land. Then in the very last episode, it completely abandons that message again. It makes the series end up feeling fickle and aimless. Even if one were to argue that this was an attempt to present the situation from all points of views, the show hand waves away many serious consequences with a playful and easy solution or doesn’t really bother to follow up on them at all. In the end, Dororo feels like a series that one might watch if they have already read Dororo and wanted it to be more serious and dark. But to a complete newbie, this isn’t the best way to experience Tezuka’s work because of all the drastic changes in style, story and tone. And to someone who wants to try this series regardless of their interest/disinterest in the original work and author , it might be best to go in with muted expectations as the uneven tone and confusing message of the series prove to be a huge downside to enjoying the series’ art and dark story.
Tom: Ultimately the good outweighs the bad, but only just, crafting an up and down experience that averages out to, well, perfectly average. With so many ups and downs, triumphs and tumbles along the way, it becomes a disappointment for anyone hoping for more. This re-imagining of Dororo is incredibly uneven, unsure of exactly what kind of series it wanted to be: a fun ride or one that struggles with a poignant and difficult message. Despite this, if you’re not put off by Dororo’s oddly offensive reasoning for why Hyakkimaru should sit down and take it like a man, Dororo is a generally enjoyable journey, flawed and all. Its late game stumbles keep it from being a stand out, like I had hoped it would be prior to the Spring season.
Dororo is available for streaming via Amazon.