All my impressions on the Anime. Spoiler Free.
Dororo (left) and Hyakkimaru (right)
What?s the Series about?
Dororo (2019) is the third adaptation of the original late-60?s manga series created Osamu Tezuka, and it was licensed to Prime Video streaming services this summer after it?s six month run for Japanese television.
The story revolves around Dororo, a young orphaned thief, and Hyakkimaru, a wandering swordsman who is deprived of his limbs and senses, as his body was sacrificed by his father Lord Kagemitsu Daigo shortly after his birth in order to form an agreement with several demons and securing health and prosperity for his land.
Dororo and Hyakkimaru travel constantly in search of these demons, as every kill returns one body part or sensation back to Hyakkimaru.
However, as Hyakkimaru?s development progresses, the state of Lord Daigo?s land regresses.
This is the main scenario for the series which also wrestles with answers for the morality of utilitarian sacrifice and the meaning of humanity.
What does the series set out to accomplish?
The source material?s premise involved a pact with 48 demons, which has now been simplified to 12. However, with 24 episodes, the primary challenge for the series is to strive for compelling character development as well as consistent entertainment to prevent the demon hunting from feeling repetitive and with its outcomes feeling transactional despite the desire and likelihood that the protagonist will succeed.
Does the series accomplish this?
The first episodes are eerie and mysterious.
The scenario: A skinless, limbless newborn infant cast out onto the river is just sick, but becomes surprising when you discover he survived, and wonder how he managed it.
You cling to Dororo, as he is the only thing guiding us we struggle with the unfortunate detachment from the initially deaf and mute Hyakkimaru.
You lust for the collection of Hyakkimaru?s body parts with suspense, not knowing which one will be awarded next, as well as the intrigue of how his new senses will change his relationship with the world around him. It keeps you hooked onto every episode.
But only for a while.
Less is More
The first twelve episodes of Dororo are absolutely phenomenal for the engaging character elements I described above, as well as its intelligent weaving and pacing for its side characters, daring animated fight scenes, and its incredible robustness for world building.
However, the dream ends at the start of Episode 13, which is ironic because the episode consists of Dororo suffering from a fever dream, in which we learn more about his backstory.
Requiring dramatic set up from the previous episode as a two-parter, and with all the show?s main characters congregating into one point, Episode 12 could have very well been mistaken for the series finale if you had no knowledge otherwise.
Following up a high-octane episode with a flash-back one is the easiest way to absolutely knocks the wind out of show?s sails. To make matters worse, no new main characters or core themes are introduced in the second cour.
In fact, some motifs are painfully retread. Dororo expressed doubt in Hyakkimaru?s motives again, witnessing the collapse of a village after its monster, the source of its prosperity, was slain. But Dororo had the impudence to express this doubt only moments after escaping from a plot that intended to feed him to these very same demons to keep the gravy train going.
Dororo is in the doldrums, and it nearly became unbearable for me at Episode 16, where the characters are actually out at sea and the show LITERALLY JUMPS THE SHARK.
Episode 17 was a change of pace and allowed me to finish the series. If it were a direct continuation of the previous episode, I would have most certainly skipped ahead to the last two episodes to reach the story?s conclusion.
Why was it so bad?
The source of the show?s drop in quality lies within it?s nature as a weekly-episodic series that originally ran on Japanese TV. It wasn?t designed for back-to-back streaming, so all the filler and padding required to sustain a regular audience over six months becomes uncomfortable and painful dead air for those who can finish it in a matter of hours.
Of course, this would all be forgivable if the series at least arrived to a satisfying conclusion, but surprisingly, with all the extra time we?ve spent dillydallying, the finale ends up feeling rushed with our characters seeming out-of-character.
The show?s tone began as very macabre and mysterious, but enjoyed a lightheartedness and clarity as Hyakkimaru?s abilities developed. Therefore, it was very disappointing for the show to conclude on such bleak and vague terms.
Instead of providing definite closure, the finale decides to keep the viewer guessing up until the very last minute. In fact, there?s a scene of two characters talking about another off-screen character, making inferences about him that turned out to be wrong when the character finally shows up. There was no need for this wasted dialogue and unnecessary drama.
The show even ends with its standard ending credits instead of an extended epilogue.
How could the series be better?
Hyakkimaru starts the series with a seemingly incredible handicap, but once he gets started on recovering his body, he never seems to slow down.
This unfortunately never adds any increasing tension to the monster fights, as we know Hyakkimaru is going to win and just want to see which body part he gets next.
The series only briefly plays with the idea of his new limbs and senses either helping or hurting his subsequent fights. The best the series did was have one monster require the use of Dororo?s voice to direct Hyakkimaru in combat. Another interesting scenario had Hyakkimaru actually losing a battle, and a limb.
With only 12 monsters for 24 episodes, I would have enjoyed him returning to fight tougher monsters when he recovered a relevant portion of his body back. Or demonstrating how his lack of sense is a benefit, as in a very smelly monster that no could slay but the noneless Hyakkimaru.
Unfortunately, the series followed a ?monster-of-the-week? formula that never capitalized on this opportunity for ingenuity.
Dororo (2019) gets a 6/10, very close to five as I almost skipped to the end after being so frustrated with it.
The series was not actually concerned with cleaning up and concluding the story on a stronger note than it?s original, which one would assume to be the objective with only 12 demons out there, but instead prolonged it for a commercial run.
Dororo was actually adapted for a live-action film in 2007, and reading through its synopsis, it appears that is the definitive way to tell this story. However, the film itself doesn?t seem so highly rated. But then again, this anime is overrated. I suppose I can take my chances if I get my hands on it.
There are also rumors about a Hollywood version for a film. The chances aren?t great, but it could finally be the one to put this story to bed after fifty years since the manga?s conclusion.
Dororo 2019 started off with so much potential, but it sold its soul for more episodes, and time is a body you don?t get back.