Dropping Expectations for an Anime Series – Dororo Episode 16 Review

Reviewing Episode 16 of the Dororo 2019 anime! Where I really examine what has been bugging me about the series’ direction in cour two.

Need to catch up with the series? Use this link for a free 30 day Amazon Prime Video trial and watch the Dororo anime legally! Check out last week’s Episode 15 review here.

So I’m sure those who are following these reviews have noticed by now, that I am fairly inconsistent when it comes to this show.

It’s not that I dislike it, on the contrary this is currently my favorite show airing in the Spring 2019 lineup. However, for the past few weeks since the cour shift, I’ve been left feeling unsatisfied. Hence the shorter reviews where I forced myself to say nice things. I couldn’t quite articulate what my problem with the show was, and I’d start and stop writing various reviews with differing tones; each leaving me more annoyed than the last.

The days would pass and yet again, my Dororo review was late. Finally, I sat down and really thought long and hard about it. Longer than I really should have, in all honestly. After all, it’s just a TV show – that is what some would say – but I really enjoy this show and the drop of quality I could not put my finger on irked me.

So I’m going to be going on a tiny rant while talking about episode sixteen. I feel the need to state that I do not hate this show, and I understand just how much time and effort are put into any show, let alone an anime series.  In fact, just this past April one of the workers at Madhouse studios was hospitalized due to overwork.

Karoshi [過労死], or death by overwork is a very real thing in Japan and I don’t want my criticism of the anime to make like of that. I’m not in the business of, nor do I ever want to trash a work just for the sake of trashing it. Even if it’s not apparent, someone did their very best and worked hard on that project, even if not reflected in the final product.

With that being said, I cannot ignore the tonal shift in the series from the first to the second cour.

I have not viewed the previous adaptations of Tezuka Osamu’s work, but I do know that this portrayal has been steeped in realism. In the first five episodes of the series, the audience is made to understand the gravity of war, the atrocities during this time, and shown how those with a powerless innocence are made to suffer.

Mio, from episode five and six, is the first that comes to mind during this discussion. When Hyakkimaru meets Mio, she is quite literally washing her privates in the river. Given what we learn about the character, we can assume she had just come back from “work”. I merely have the word ‘work’ in quotations because the character herself is vague about what she does, despite in actuality having a viable job to make ends meet. I will not judge this woman for how she survived, the same way I won’t judge Itachi for his own methods of self-preservation.

Whether it be love or infatuation, Hyakkimaru falls for the young woman. In a world too noisy for the rouge ronin, her sweet voice soothed his tender new ears. The old priest Biwamaru points out to Dororo that “when you take a toy from a baby, it will cry”, to the effect that Mio served as Hyakkimaru’s shiny new toy; stealing his attention away from quests of vengeance. A toy that caused him to lash out more so than usual in pursuit of freeing the demon on the distant plot of land to make her happy.

Hyakkimaru used Mio as his own personal calming device, noted by Biwamaru during one of her songs.
Hyakkimaru used Mio as his own personal calming device, noted by Biwamaru during one of her songs

She didn’t ask him to do this, he took it upon himself and suffered the consequences. Along this reactionary chain of cause-and-effect, Mio decides to start working between two enemy camps – realizing the risk that she could be labeled a spy and sequentially killed. Mio takes a gamble, and ends up losing.

This is the first instance in Dororo where we see that despite a character’s best efforts, they themselves cannot change the world around them. No one is going to just say “oh, we understand you are trying to take care of a gaggle of orphans while you can barely take care of yourself. We understand that this is the only way you know how to make money during this war. We are all broken during these times – here, take the seeds and claim that plot of land. Live long and happily”.

That is not going to happen. Nobody cares about her suffering.

What happened is that Mio went to these camps, and had sex with drunk and rowdy soldiers. No doubt some refused to pay, hence Mio returning exhausted, bruised and bloodied from work. Dororo understood what was happening, but Mio wanted to protect her image in the orphan’s eyes. So they never knew a thing.

They all died still believing their big sister was serving drinks to soldiers and receiving food and other supplies in addition to money for her patriotic service. It was just easier that way, and that is understandable and very realistic. She wanted to preserve their innocence in a cruel world.

Dororo mentions that Mio’s job was one “no matter what…her mother would not do” while reflecting on her death. Even a young child could grasp the situation without explanation. I often wonder if Dororo just for a second, thought that maybe if her mother had, she would still be alive and not alone in the world as she is today.

This is the level of complexity the show set for itself. Little nuggets of information scattered in contextual instances. Another example, because that arc was just so great: occurrences where Mio sings.

Mio lets Hyakkimaru know her secret
Mio lets Hyakkimaru know her secret

While washing in the river upon the initial meeting, Mio is singing. She sings again before asking Hyakkimaru not to stare at her, and on the ground while the heat of the flames negate the chill of death washing upon her body. Earlier in the episode the woman explained she only sings when she is sad, and again the audience thinks of her walk through the woods, her songs through tears as she is being raped my soldiers.  

Mio, Episode 6 of Dororo
Mio, Episode 6 of Dororo

Mio was a fully fleshed out character in a stupendous arc.

I found a striking parallel between Mio and Shino from episode 11 of Samurai Champloo. Sold into sexual slavery to cover her husband’s debts, the woman meets ronin Jin during her last day of freedom.

The two have an instant connection and Jin talks her out of suicide upon their first meeting.

In this world, you don't always get what you want.
In this world, you don’t always get what you want.

A whirlwind of events later in the endless rain, Jin finally convinces Shino to accept an escape plan. Upon being discovered before leaving the brothel, Shino jumps out of the window and runs through the streets with a weaponless Jin. The owner of the Brothel tells the two “In this world, you don’t always get what you want” before the ronin’s friends come through and help.

In the end of Gamblers and Gallantry, Shino is ferried across the river to a Tōkei-ji, or Buddhist temple where she could live amongst a nunnery for three years. The stay would lead to grounds necessary to dissolve her marriage.

It is never implied whether or not they accepted Shino into refuge, or if the two reunite after the series. Hell, the brothel thugs could have rowed across the river after Jin left, stormed the temple and took the woman back by force.

All we see before the credits is an image of the storm clouds clearing, allowing the group to move on from that town. If the rain had cleared sooner, would Jin and Shino have met?

In this world, you don’t always get what you want and that is life. Despite your best efforts, the universe will not bend to your will or whims. It just does not work that way.

Shino developed a coping method similar to Mio.
Shino developed a coping method similar to Mio.
Shino, Samurai Champloo Episode 11
Shino, Samurai Champloo Episode 11

Leading up to the Battle of Banmon arc, we get to know Hyakkimaru’s brother, Tahomaru. And turns out, he is a well-rounded, and decent guy. Sure, he was raised by a homicidal, egotistical maniac of a warlord father and a distant mother – but given his place and status in life he’s a decent kid. Tahomaru cares about his subjects, even going so far as to construct a fake canal to defeat the oni crab monstrosity. The young lord was willing to give his life to defend his subjects, and channeled that same passion into discovering the truth surrounding his brother.

Come the zenith of Banmon and given the contextual evidence the audience learned along with Tahomaru, his actions are extremely sympathetic. If I’m honest, I actually like Tahomaru as a character more than I like Hyakkimaru. I understand that he wants to protect the prosperity he has grown up in, and that had Hyakkimaru not survived they would not even be having this conversation.

What is one life meant to be sacrificed, in the grand scheme of things? In a war-torn, disarrayed land, the few do not outweigh the many. Then their mother’s confession makes you question whether or not she had prayed to Kanon for sixteen years for the safety of her firstborn son, or for forgiveness because she had no remorse over her actions.

All of this development falls stagnant as we shift into cour two of the series. The poor episode directed by Kobayashi aside, we find out Dororo has a map on her back. During that scene I thought to myself:

“Hmph, the show is named Dororo. I guess we will focus on her now.”

Dororo is Hyakkimaru’s biggest hype man. Alone in the world after her mother’s death, she is determined to outlive the civil strife. Then in a spot of luck (or fate), she meets someone strong enough to take care of her, and whom also serves as a protector. The brawn to her brain, Hyakkimaru is the pair’s meal ticket; exchanging extermination of monsters for food and lodgings.

The shift to Dororo becoming the primary focus and the (previously) unadapted to screen arc where Dororo is kidnapped by Itachi could have been handled better. I want to blame Kobayashi’s episode for this disconnect, but the second cour seemingly had no intention from a storytelling point to ignite this shift in intelligent ways previously explored by the series.

Dororo Season 1 2019 Opening Credits
Dororo Season 1 2019 Opening Credits

Yes, Dororo has a map on her back. The little girl buried her mother in a grave which Itachi dug up after their meeting. Hyakkimaru and Dororo have traveled a considerable amount since her mother’s death, but somehow Itachi happened to be on the trail? Maybe he heard rumors of the boy with prosthetics who was going around murdering monsters and soldiers alike. Maybe he didn’t – either way he found her.

Yes, the priest has been hinting at Hyakkimaru completely losing his humanity for weeks. But the ronin being so lost in thought he didn’t notice Dororo felt off to me. Not to mention Hyakki tracking her original location from the mountains he realized in, to the field of white using one peg leg felt off to me. The lazily edited pan of stills to denote the transition of time and illustrate the distance between the two felt lazy to me. Hyakkimaru after the credits finding out his father Jukai was nearby when all hope was lost in rescuing Dororo in time felt like the show was issuing its first piece of plot armour to the story.

I swear, if next week he finds the strength to overcome his nature and the demon flames within him through a talk-no-justsu, a prosthetic power-up, and comes to the aid of Dororo when her situation becomes perilous I will scream. Bonus points if the bag with his clan sigil breaks and Mio’s seeds remind him who he is once he no doubt, lamely gets his sight back from defeating the baddie of the week – shark boy.

I’d be completely fine if none of the things I just mentioned happened, because that would mean the story is following a stale formula and becoming predictable. Which I hope it won’t.

Let’s just point out, Dororo’s whole encounter with Itachi was blasé. Sure, I understand the initial compliance at being kidnapped by this man, but I don’t understand the indifference towards the man who betrayed her father and indirectly caused the death of her mother. THEN to FURTHER add insult to injury, desecrated her grave and stripped her naked to view the treasure map on her back.

THEN while being saved by the man you betrayed’s daughter, be reminded of him, only to continually screw over the little girl and strip her naked in search of a treasure map. Only to stupidly remark “hmm, I have no clue why your dad would raise you as a boy” all the while grown men stand over a naked little girl by a fire.

The same reason Dororo was raised a boy, is also why Osushi cut her hair once she lost her estate and fell into poverty. In episode four Dororo mentions that the woman spoke “pretty words [and had] a ladylike face”. Had Osushi been draped in finery with long hair common for her status, she would had been raped a dozen times or ransomed. Once the revelation came that she was broke and had no one to pay this ransom, she would have been raped and most likely murdered.

Osushi reflecting on her fate in Dororo episode 4
Osushi reflecting on her fate in Dororo episode 4

Dororo’s speech and mannerisms match that of a boy, as does her prepubescent body. Similar to Arya Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire, during war times it is safer to be perceived as a little boy alone in the world, rather than a naïve little girl looking for a family.

And I may be a terrible person for saying this, but I am sure if the show hadn’t doled out the plot armour, something would have happened to Dororo. I am not saying I would want that, in no shape or form do I enjoy human suffering – especially that of children.

But they are at war. Even if Itachi is not a pedophile himself, there is always one in the group. A creep who would wait until night, and a friend who would aid in. Itachi (given his character) would turn a blind eye, feel bad about it, and leave her tied to the tree as he did to go forth in search of the treasure. Only to find treasures and in a stroke of bad luck, run into an old adversary or maybe even lose it – deeming it all for naught.

That would be a realistic option, but instead Dororo is just tied to a tree waiting for Hyakkimaru to rescue her, while the latter is getting a prosthetic power up and chatting with dear old adoptive dad about his morality.

Sigh. I know this was a lot to read and maybe I am looking too far into this, but given the established world rules the last few episodes have been a slap in the face.

I didn’t truly enjoy them, and I didn’t know why until I laid it all out.

Hopefully the following episodes return to the shows earlier pace, and aren’t contrived by plot armour and other nonsense. That’s one thing I hate the most in media, when realism is featured in a story and it is abandoned in favor of saving a character. If you are going to be gritty, be gritty until the very end. Don’t allow one character to suffer, while the other doesn’t while placed in a similar situation that would have otherwise killed them.

It’s lazy, cheap, and diminishes the audiences’ intelligence.

Again, maybe I’m being too harsh – but that’s just how I feel about Dororo right now.

Dororo, On to the next adventure...
Dororo, On to the next adventure…

Do you feel the same way? Have you noticed any changes? Does it even matter at this point? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more Dororo 2019 episode reviews!

See you back here next Monday for another one!

次の巻: When Good Intentions Are Not Enough 

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Author: In Asian Spaces

I write in my personal time and I haven't published much at all. I don't know if that qualifies me as a writer or not, but I'd like to change that. I have a deep passion for travel, cinema and (mainly) East Asian things, but I plan on writing various things to keep it spicy. Let's prosper together ~ よろしくおねがいします。

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