Dororo – Mid Series 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)
Mid Series (12 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Dororo is an adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s (Astro Boy fame) original manga that reimagines the series in a more modern visual style. Unlike Tezuka’s most popular work, Dororo is much darker, following the story of Hyakkimaru as he traverses a war torn land, seeking out the demons his father made a pact with, and slaughtering each for the gradual return of his rightful body. This modernizing of Dororo largely holds up episode to episode, although does suffer some fairly significant visual dips, sometimes hanging just above par. Outside of any visual shortcomings the series maintains a deep, melancholic atmosphere that hammers home the brutal and emotional story of Hyakkimaru’s journey to free himself of the curse placed upon him by his father. At least when focused on the main narrative. Whenever the series turns towards more episodic stories, making up around half the series content (depending upon which episodes you feel count as truly furthering the main narrative and not) we’re given more ho-hum affairs that lack the appeal of the main throughline. While still fun, these one offs can feel derivative, lacking originality and emotionally thin by comparison, often in part due to the characters of the week lacking that compelling atmosphere that surrounds both Hyakkimaru and his titular companion, Dororo.
Linny: The reason so many of the one off stories feel unoriginal can be marked down to the fact that Dororo is such an older piece of work that so much of what it contains has then been embraced and adopted by countless successor works that came after. Tezuka is quite well known as the “father of manga,” and perhaps rightly so, as so much of his work has influenced so many authors to come after. So while Dororo may have been novel when first released, thanks to such a late anime adaptation, its numerous one offs come off as tired retellings rather than ground breaking and standard setting. If you’re a seasoned anime veteran, you might find the episodic tales a little predictable. The one off stories are often about highlighting how the common folk suffer at the hands of the corrupted in power, or how humans can be just as cruel as the demons they fear. The morals and messages contained are timeless but that may not be enough to redeem it for everyone.
Tom: Compared to the one-off episodes, Hyakkimaru’s story is compelling, and the strongest argument for sticking through the more ho-hum episodes. His stoic-nature never gets in the way of the small, but important beats of character development dripped throughout the series. But the meat of the series’ characterization comes from Dororo, who forms the emotional core of the series as they encounter new characters week to week, and greater troubles suffered by the locals. These two, and the difficult lives they’ve suffered, hits home far better than other emotional elements, with much of the one-off characters lacking that gripping appeal. Thankfully the series never abandons the main plot for long, and either returns focus to Hyakkimaru and Dororo themselves, or introduces elements that further Hyakkimaru’s gradual reunion with the family that cursed him. This does give an uneven feeling to the series, where one week you get an enjoyable, but average episode, and the next a wealth of developments that pulls you back in.
Linny: Early on, Dororo offers a lot of action as Hyakkimaru engages in brilliant displays of physical feat, facing off against demon after demon. However, as the series progresses, the showdown between Hyakkimaru and demons starts to become less of a highlight, or even priority, and the series becomes more interested in telling the stories of other characters with less action peppered throughout. If you’re in it hoping to see an awesome demon slaying adventure, do be aware that things cool down as the show progresses. And for those worried about how bloody the violence and gore might get, things are somewhat tame with any limb dismemberment or violence often depicted in a restrained matter of fact manner rather than over the top, graphic depiction.
Tom: One thing that impressed me greatly in Dororo’s first episode was how subtle the story-telling was. We never had things spelled out, and often certain elements were left for the audience to pick up themselves through visual hints and clues. But as the series progresses that’s abandoned for more straight exposition, even to the point of a narrator filling us in on aspects to the characters. It’s a little disappointing as that subtle story-telling is what made the first episode stand out so much.
Linny: It doesn’t help either that the show sometimes stumbles back the other way. At the series’ mid point, a very poignant event occurs which then leads to a vague sequence that hearkens back to that subtle storytelling of Episode 1, but feels so much more ill-defined that whatever emotional weight was meant to be here simply isn’t. To be fair, we might get the answer to what all that was supposed to mean in the next episode but it would have been nice if the show was better at balancing its narration with subtle imagery.
Tom: Despite flaws like uneven one-off tales, and a shift towards exposition, Dororo remains one of Winter’s stronger titles and well worth a look in for anyone with Amazon Prime. It’s a darker series, filled with heartache and upset, but one well worth it for fans of subtle character work, action, a slight tinge of gore, and emotional stakes. Its atmosphere really helps to sell all of the above and keep you invested in Hyakkimaru’s quest to regain the humanity stolen from him. With twelve episodes to go I’m crossing my fingers that the series can hold itself to the standard presented, if not improve, because then it may end up as a contender, or at least honorable mention, for Anime of the Year.
Linny: Dororo, the anime adaptation, greatly changes the look of the original manga, choosing to give characters a more standard anime visage rather than the more cartoonish and cutesy art style that Osamu Tezuka employs throughout his works. This might annoy purists but should make the show more appealing to a casual audience who prefers the modern look. Beyond that, if you’re looking for a unique show, Dororo might leave you disappointed. However, for anyone seeking to widen their familiarity with the more classic side of anime and manga, or for anyone happy to watch a mostly compelling and engaging show revolving around the injustice and twisted nature of humanity, Dororo is definitely worth a try. Its two leads will charm you and win your sympathy with their tragic origins and have you rooting for them throughout.
Dororo is available for streaming via Amazon.