Dororo Collection (Cert 15)
3 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 607 minutes approx.
The things people will do for power is staggering, and sadly, this isn’t something that has abated over the centuries. Intentions may be noble at first but you know what they say about power and its corruptive qualities. Even then, there are some deals made which are unforgiveable and downright shocking.
In Sengoku Era Japan, daimyo Kagemitsu Daigo makes a deal with 12 demons to give them anything they want of his in exchange for prosperity for his impoverished village. At that very moment Kagemitsu’s wife, Nuinokata gives birth to their son – except he has no limbs, skin, sight, hearing, voice, or a face. Kagemitsu orders the baby to be killed but Nuinokata has a maid cast him free in a small basket on the river.
Years later, the baby is now a teenager named Hyakkimaru, having been found by Jukai, a doctor who makes prosthetics for injured soldiers. He wanders the land searching for the 12 demons to regain his body parts, using the blades he has instead of arms. Whilst confronting one demon, Hyakkimaru meets Dororo, an orphan bandit child hustling to survive, offering to accompany Hyakkimaru and be his eyes and ears.
Dororo is the creation of the God of Manga, Osamu Tezuka. Originally published in 1967, it was a short-lived saga but did still earn an anime adaptation in 1969 and a live action film in 2007. Studio MAPPA resurrected the anime 30 years later, giving it a modern makeover along with a few minor adjustments to story to bring one of Tezuka’s lesser known works to new audiences.
A prolific creator, Tezuka is known for his family friendly works like the perennial Astro Boy, though Dororo is very much the opposite, featuring gruesome violence, unsettling acts of horror, and characters of dubious morality. Its historical fantasy approach should make this a palatable title for those who enjoy isekai and samurai shows, which it can be argued were quite possibly derived from Tezuka’s vision in the first place.
Hyakkimaru may not be able to see, hear, or communicate but he is alive and mobile thanks to the work of Jukai. However, Hyakkimaru can see the souls of people thus can differentiate between human and demon, represented by red in his patchy visions. When Hyakkimaru meets Dororo, he has just made his first kill, regaining his skin, causing the mask to fall from his face before Dororo’s eyes.
Quickly getting over this shock, Dororo initially sees Hyakkimaru as protection due to his fighting skills and a source of income, taking him from village to village and hiring Hyakkimaru out as a demon slayer for a reward. Taking many forms, from the typically grotesque to human disguises, Hyakkimaru gradually regains his stolen body parts but the demise of the demons often has deeper consequences for the village.
By dint of this premise, we settle into a “Demon of the Week” format, which lasts for most of the 24-episode run, this doesn’t impede the story progression. As much as this is about Hyakkimaru reclaiming his physical form, his mental and emotional growth is also integral to the plot. The more Hyakkimaru kills, the more dangerous he become; more importantly, the more he gets to experience of the world with his own senses makes him angry and hostile, pushing him closer to a demon than a human.
Such moral quandaries are an exponential struggle but not just for Hyakkimaru but also for Dororo, left to keep Hyakkimaru on the right emotional path, but after everything he has been through this isn’t easy. Yet, as expected, the bond they form is endearing and mutually gratifying for both. There are moments of levity, yet the trust and belief in each other outweighs this, although one could argue Dororo relies on Hyakkimaru’s might a bit too much, Dororo isn’t always short on moxie or resourcefulness
Portrayed largely as a charismatic Sengoku era Bart Simpson, Dororo’s backstory is a tragic one in its own right, though this isn’t revealed until much later on. Like many, Dororo was orphaned due to the feudal environment, having to grow up on the streets, but remains unaware of a secret that could mean either happiness of real trouble. And without spoiling anything, there is good reason I am being ambiguous regarding Dororo’s gender.
Emotional peaks and troughs dictate the tone of the narrative, yet the crux of the story bubbles beneath the supernatural savagery. A few years after Hyakkimaru’s birth, a second son was born, Tahomura, who never felt his mother’s love as she pined for her first born, leaving him susceptible to his father’s influence. When it is known Hyakkimaru is still alive, an inevitable showdown between the estranged brothers beckons.
Gore fans and those excited by graphic violence are well accommodated here though the lack of nudity and sexual content is admittedly surprising when the two usually go hand in hand with each other. Not that it matters or has any bearing on the themes explored here, juggling the concept of family and loyalty with the double edged sword of sacrifice and power, and crucially, what it means to be a living human being.
MAPPA’s visual presentation will be divisive; some will find the sedate but attractive watercolour artwork and backgrounds not bold enough, whilst the occasional stilted animation might leave some shortchanged. However, the characters are strong and definitive, and the actions sequences are energetic and well laid out for the combat scenes. On that front, we are never short on visceral excitement or bloodshed.
As a buoyant, grisly, darkly philosophical epic adventure, Dororo may be an older story but its influence on the historical fantasy genre is evident in every frame, plot beat, and character development. Be it Ninja Scroll, Basilisk, or even Naruto, they all owe a debt to Dororo. Expertly crafted and always compelling, this stirring update is another reminder of why Tezuka has the reputation and reverence as the God of Manga.
English Language 2.0 DTS-HD MA
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS-HD MA
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ****
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