Each season of anime inevitably has at least a few really great shows. In addition to this, there’s usually one or two that stand above the rest. When I initially did my Dororo (2019) Pilot Impression, it struck me as one of the season’s shows that would definitely fit into that first category; what I didn’t expect was for it to turn into my favorite show of the season, and we’re only halfway through! Spoilers ahead (including the latest episode).
I already wrote a basic plot summary from the pilot in the Pilot Impressions post, so I won’t go in depth on it again. The TLDR is: territory struggling to survive; lord makes pact with demons; demons harvest body parts from lord’s newborn as payment; newborn survives and kills demons to retrieve body parts (not as a newborn…clearly…).
I noted that the pilot was kind of a darker premise thanks to, you know, the child sacrifice to the demons in exchange for power and prosperity. The imagery was jarring. That style stays with the anime. He’s (Hyakkimaru, not Dororo) a failed sacrifice hunting down demons, after all. And I can’t say each episode fills you with overwhelming hope that he will accomplish his mission. There are a lot of obstacles in his way, as well as real and impactful loss of life beyond just the demons that he’s hunting. There are two particularly impactful deaths (for Hyakkimaru and Dororo) that happen in the first half of the season.
The Story of Mio
The first is the death of a character named Mio. Dororo meets Mio when he’s struggling with the recovery of his ability to hear. He’s going through sensory overload and is unable to focus and fight; he hates even the sound of his own voice. This is when he hears the sound of Mio singing. The comfort from her voice causes him to finally collapse from his wounds and Mio takes Hyakkimaru to her home to let him heal.
Mio is working to help with the survival of several children who are displaced due to a war between two local clans. She serves as their surrogate mother, earning money for them to live while they make plans to find a plot of land for themselves and live peacefully. What the children do not know, is that when Mio leaves them at night to earn money for the family, she is offering herself to the soldiers of the warring factions as a prostitute. She is only exposed when Dororo follows her out of curiosity. Dororo is, of course, sworn to secrecy.
Hyakkimaru quickly falls in love with Mio and her voice. For him, her song and voice are the only things truly worth hearing; they take away the confusion and the pain in an otherwise loud world. When he learns that there’s a demon standing between Mio and her goals, Hyakkimaru makes it his goal to slay that demon. He succeeds, but it’s far from a happy ending.
As Hyakkimaru and Dororo are returning, they notice that the house where Mio and the children are staying is under assault. Soldiers from one of the warring tribes had taken notice that Mio was offering her services to both factions. They branded her a spy, and they killed Mio and all of the orphans as a result. This sends Hyakkimaru into a killing rage, and for the first time, the aura of his soul becomes tainted.
The Story of Nuinokata
In the final episode for the first half of the season, we see what I think will ultimately become one of the series most important deaths, the death of Nuinokata (aka, the mother of Hyakkimaru). It’s more than just her death, though. There are also a lot of important events surrounding it.
The final arc of the first half has Hyakkimaru crossing paths with his entire family (younger brother, mother, and father). First, he meets his brother and both are ignorant of the identity of the other person. But when his brother describes Hyakkimaru to their father, the father instantly knows he’s the son he sacrificed so many years before. Eventually, Hyakkimaru and his father, Daigo, meet face to face. Daigo pulls together a small army to kill Hyakkimaru in order to protect what he has built.
This turns into one of the more interesting meetings in the series, at least it did for me as a viewer. My assumption is that any man who would sell the body parts of his firstborn to demons would be an evil person no matter the reasons. Even when Daigo stated that he did it to protect more than his pride, instead desiring to protect the lives of all the people under his rule, I was suspicious. It didn’t feel like that would be a good enough reason to justify killing your son; I assumed he was likely making the whole thing up. Even Hyakkimaru’s brother, Tahoumaru, states as much when he learns the truth of what has happened. But when Hyakkimaru and Daigo finally meet, the soul that Hyakkimaru can see (in his blindness, he can instead see the soul or aura of a person) isn’t blood red like a typical evil person. In fact, it looks incredibly similar to Hyakkimaru’s soul (mostly white with small streaks of red, representing teetering on the edge of losing your humanity). This gives Hyakkimaru pause, not knowing if who he faces is friend or foe.
Do I think that his apparently honest intentions are enough to justify the sacrifice of his son? Personally, I do not. But it’s an interesting perspective to present to the viewers; the sacrificing of one to save the many. In the final face-off between Daigo and Hyakkimaru, Tahoumaru (the brother) steps in and challenges Hyakkimaru to a duel; while Tahoumaru still thinks it’s an unfair fate, he is unwilling to undo all the progress of the people in his domain.
Eventually, Nuinokata shows up on the battlefield, crying for Hyakkimaru. But instead of trying to protect the son that she has longed to know all her life, she simply apologizes and asks for forgiveness. Despite her love for her son, she cannot betray her people. Saving Hyakkimaru threatens to potentially undo all they had sacrificed up to that point (In fact, the more demons that Hyakkimaru kills, the more problems their people seem to be faced with, so I can see how each one of them would come to that conclusion). However, Nuinokata is unwilling to force Hyakkimaru to be the only one to suffer. In the end, she takes a sword and kills herself, both out of penance for Hyakkimaru and payment to the demons to save her people. With this, Hyakkimaru loses a mother that he barely knew.
This turned out way longer than I intended. But know that I only highlighted two of the stories told in the first half of the season. This show is beautiful, thought provoking, and presents some of the most interesting characters I’ve ever seen in an anime. The historical backdrop is stunning and exciting to see. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t at least try an episode or two. Even if this isn’t an anime that you would typically watch (I fall into that category), I think chances are very high that you will enjoy it regardless. And the best part is, we still have twelve more episodes after the mid-season break. I’ll be sure to post my final thoughts after they air.