There are works of anime and manga which view feudal Japan with a less than critical eye. Dororo is not one of those works. The original manga by Osamu Tezuka was a work that, while more than a little cartoonish (as this was ’60s Tezuka), looked on the realities of Japan leading into the Warring States period with a critical eye. The 2019 anime adaptation of the work keeps a similar appraisal of the period.
A new nominee for the “Gendo Ikari Award for Worst Parent.”
The series follows Hyakkimaru, the son of a Daimyo whose father, Daigo Kagemitsu, sacrificed him to demons in order to obtain prosperity for his fiefdom. The demons took most of Hyakkimaru’s organs, along with his eyes, limbs, speech, and skin, but did not kill him. Hyakkimaru’s father ordered the baby to be killed, but instead, he was left for dead in a boat.
Instead, the Goddess of Mercy looked favorably on Hyakkimaru, and he was found by an old man, Jukai who made prosthetic limbs, and he created a body for Hyakkimaru. When Hyakkimaru and Jukai discover that if Hyakkimaru slays the demons that had claimed each of his parts, he’ll get them back, Jukai designs special arms with swords concealed within them, that he can use to reclaim what was taken from him. Shortly after starting out on his journey, Hyakkimaru runs into a street urchin named Dororo, who decides to be Hyakkimaru’s helper and man – to help them get work slaying demons to pay their way through their journey and to keep Hyakkimaru from being taken advantage of.
Shades of The Witcher
There’s a lot more complexity to the show than that, which is part of what makes the show work so well. As the demons are slain, the state of Daigo’s domain decreases as well, with the people in-universe wondering who the real bad guy is here – and the show does have the sense to make explicitly clear that no, the guy who tried to sacrifice his son to demons is not really a good guy, and the guy trying to get his parts back wrong for wanting that.
Instead, where Dororo gets into its moral complexity is not in the slaying of monsters, but through the actions of humans. This series is one that makes clear that because the Samurai class of this period generally didn’t view lower classes as people (and it got worse after the start of the Tokugawa Shogunate, not better) – they are in many occasions just as bad as the monsters, and they might even be worse as they drive people to monstrous acts.
In a lot of ways, the world that Hyakkimaru and Dororo travel through is one that, tonally, would be very familiar to fans of The Witcher games. It’s not unreasonable to imagine some warrior passing through the world, carrying two swords like a samurai, but one silvered for slaying demons, and the other steel for the human monsters.
So Much To Discuss, So Hard to Without Spoilers
There is so much more to this as well that is worth talking about – how disability is handled with Hyakkimaru, several members of the supporting cast and how their plots work out, but I also really don’t want to do spoilers just yet – not with the show still being fairly recent. However, you can safely consider this a full-throated recommendation for Dororo.
As of this writing, Dororo is currently available for streaming for Amazon Prime members. That is an affiliate link, so if you’re not a Prime member and get a subscription to watch that and other anime shows through Amazon, that helps to support the site.