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.
Review copyright (c) 2019 by Dennis D. McDonald