Dororo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Dororo

 

Similar: Demon Slayer

Mushi-shi

Sword of the Stranger

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Supernatural Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Brutal depiction of samurai times (even without the monsters)
  • The monsters
  • Hyakkimaru’s lore
  • Beautiful rustic art

Negatives:

  • Visuals dip in the finale

(Request an anime for review here.)

Did you watch Mushi-shi and think, “This anime is too friendly. Needs more violence and demons”? Well, do I have the anime for you!

Dororo takes Mushi-shi’s adventure of roaming rural Japan in search of the unusual, but instead of trying to understand the supernatural like Ginko would do, Hyakkimaru massacres them to the very last. He was born as a child of sacrifice. Though he should have died, missing his limbs, most organs, skin, and even a spine at birth, a prosthetics doctor found him down the river and rebuilt him to survive. Now, with each demon he slays, a part of him regrows. His single-minded focus to cleanse the land of demons and regain his body drives him down a dangerous path. Thankfully, the ever-cheerful street rat Dororo latches onto him and claims him for an older brother.

The feudal world of Dororo is a harsh one. It does not romanticise the samurai era whatsoever. There was a time when a samurai’s primary goal was collecting the heads of enemies, even if it meant taking them by force from allies. After all, the survivor tells the tale. The country is in a state of desolation – Hyakkimaru’s father and lord performed the sacrifice to bring prosperity to his state. Samurai or peasant, honour is a scare resource when starvation grips the soul. Dororo’s parents were victims of a battle, an inconsequential skirmish in the grand scheme of things, fought over scraps of power. He now travels with Hyakkimaru in search of demons to slay and food to survive, all the while making the most of life.

There is so much to like about Dororo. The titular character is likeable from the very first. I love his energy and craftiness. The contrast between him and Hyakkimaru is a perfect balance between the former’s bubbly personality and the latter’s silence. The perfect foil. Hyakkimaru wouldn’t have worked as a protagonist without him. Speaking of, I love the design of Hyakkimaru with the prosthetics, blades hidden inside his arms, and the way he regrows bit by bit. When a new leg shoots out after a kill, it’s painful yet great to watch. The more he regrows, the more human he becomes and learns about the world around him. Smell and sound are a surprise. However, he becomes more obsessed with the next kill the closer he gets to completion. His arc is fantastic, culminating in a crazy scenario that I don’t even want to hint at.

Dororo gripped me from the start. If you want a prime example of how to do a first episode, watch this anime. There are no exposition dumps, no out of place humour (we all know another studio would have forced a boob grab or some such cliché), and the showing of the characters, their motivations, and the world is spot on.

Then we have the world. The watercolour environments give such a rustic, quaint feel that you wish you could roam that countryside. That is, until you face a demon, or worse, the samurai. I can imagine the Japanese tourist board setting up walking tours to visit the modern equivalent, safe from horrors of course. The charming feel to the world was a great decision, for it lulls the audience into thinking perhaps things aren’t so bad, perhaps they have found peace. Then reality hits and all goes to hell.

The variety of demons and the way they fit into this world – like a mini fairy tale each episode – is fantastic. Some are simple beasts of instinct, while others are cunning. There’s always something new over the next mountain. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the action is exciting with great animation. Doesn’t hold back on gore either.

Now, I don’t recommend this as a binge show. Much like Mushi-shi, it’s best to let it sink in every few episodes. I watched Dororo over the course of two months – hence the delay on this request – and would not have had it any other way. The episodic structure (until the final stretch) facilitates this method. Dororo gets better with each episode. Each piece of the puzzles comes together to make one of the decade’s best anime.

Art – Very High

The samurai drama visual style is a success. Plenty of animation too, but it does have to use some TV shortcuts like repeating animations. Beautiful backgrounds are an increasingly rare sight these days.

Sound – High

I almost had a serious negative about a casting choice, but it worked perfectly in the end. Acting is solid, though Hyakkimaru isn’t quite right. I like the first OP and ED, listening to them each time, but I would skip the second set.

Story – Very High

A street rat and a cursed child roam a war torn land in search of food and demons. Dororo doesn’t hold back on the realities of war, starvation, and the desperation to survive as it delivers riveting action and an engaging arc.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Dororo is a surprise hit for me. I wouldn’t want you to miss it (unless you don’t like violence).

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid AnimationRiveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

10 thoughts on “Dororo – Anime Review”

  1. I watched an episode some time after it started airing and suddenly I had watched 10 episodes and it was dark outside. Everyone is so brilliantly fleshed out, not just the main characters. Jukai, Hyakki’s mom, random villains, and especially Daigo and Tahomaru: all brilliantly done. Hyakkimaru is a perfect protagonist for the show don’t tell storytelling you mentioned. No internal monologues, no unnecessary exposition, no yelling out inspirational dialogues: Dororo is one of the most mature shonen I’ve seen, restrained when it needs to be and utterly unrestrained elsewhere. The brutality just strikes so hard, and it’s everywhere in that era. So much poverty and suffering. The arc with the girl who takes care of orphans moved me to tears. Each episodic arc is self contained; the comparison to Mushishi is apt.

    Although I think you weren’t hard enough on the art quality drop for some episodes: in particular, I noticed a serious drop around episode 14 or so that lasted a couple episodes (episode 15 had that heavily-memed scene of a poorly-animated Hyakkimaru running up a hill).

    Hard to believe this was written in the 60s! Seriously, between this, JoJo, Fruits Basket, Blade of the Immortal, and Banana Fish, I hope we’ll get more adaptations of older manga. Seems like it’s likelier now than ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really need to rewatch this. Like you said, my initial binge watch didn’t do it justice (although once I’d caught up I was able to space it out: though not by choice, haha). An episode a day, that probably works best.

      It’s just a shame this was stuck on Amazon Prime and they did such a poor job of advertising it. It’s seriously underwatched.

      Like

        1. Indeed. Given the level of popularity Demon Slayer has achieved, you’d think this kind of Japanese period action-fantasy with monsters and demons would be lapped up by viewers. I guess both the time of release (it was pretty much the first anime of the year) and the other shows it was competing with (Shield Hero, Kaguya-sama, Promised Neverland, JoJo part 5, and Mob Psycho S2 all aired during the same season and were adapted from already popular franchises, so their following was bigger), in addition to the problems with the platform as I mentioned earlier. It’s a shame. This was probably my pick of 2019.

          Liked by 1 person

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