Kazuhiro Furuhashi's DORORO (2019 version)
A review by Dennis D. McDonald
First, some words to describe this anime TV series:
Consider that last word “Rainy.” In many of this multi-episode series rainfall is frequent and casts a somber pall over the events that run through this medieval Japanese tale.
The lives, deaths, and redemptions of a handful of wandering characters play out against a background of demonic curses, warring factions of samurai armies, and poverty. One main character, a hideously disfigured young man — Hyakkimaru — who is cursed by demons at birth as a result of his father’s bargaining away his life, grows up blind and wandering. He seeks redemption and revenge against those demons and the truth of his birth. He is befriended by a young thief — Dororo — who sees through his physical deformities and then accompanies him on his wanderings.
Each episode is a self-contained morality tale. Recurring struggles between good and evil are never clear cut. This is not a feel-good series but one where stress and conflict are constant. Suffering is palpable with little joy being expressed.
And yet… It’s beautiful and ultimately humanely serious. For every bloody and nasty action scene or every tragic event there is also growth. People struggle. They also change. Chief among them is the young warrior Hyakkimaru as he tries desperately to claw his way back to normal humanity despite his deformities and tragic a lack of memory.
The animation is impressive. Hand drawn backgrounds replete with trees, forests, mountains, and rice paddies add gorgeous detail even when rendered in muted colors. Realistic character animation of richly costumed main characters contrasts sharply with the young thief who is surprisingly rendered in a “cartoony“ style reminiscent of the original Manga author, Osamu Tezuka. Somehow the contrast of character styles works and helps to emphasize the almost classic appearance of the series’ rural medieval Japanese setting.
Be prepared for an animated adventure that is simultaneously violent, hopeful, at times tragic, and ultimately beautiful.
Addendum (August 6, 2019)
Since writing my original review of the recent series DORORO http://www.ddmcd.com/movies/dororo I finished watching this excellent series. If anything my appreciation has become even deeper and more nuanced.
Character development is key as we witness how Hyakkimaru evolves into a more complex and darker character as the story unfolds. The environment in which the story takes place continues its menacing character as the mix of warring states, evil demons, and resentful siblings accelerate their clashes.
As a metaphor for a troubled time in Japan's history the basic story is straightforward: only the strong survive and they will do whatever is necessary to protect their positions. Demon monsters seem to appear at every turn to threaten the both rich and poor alike. This too can be seen as a metaphor for the dark times in which the story takes place.
Most striking is the transformation of Hyakkimaru as he vanquishes demons to reclaim the missing body parts his father traded away to maintain the prosperity of the family domain. Yes, Hyakkimaru does become more human as this transformation progresses but not in a more humane way. By becoming more wholly human not only does he become more aligned with the harshness of the world he inhabits but he also becomes estranged from his young companion Dororo.
As the series closes we wonder what will happen next. Whatever does happen Hyakkimaru and Dororo might just inhabit a world where reality is just as grim as the demons they have survived.
Reviews copyright (c) 2019 by Dennis D. McDonald