Life's hard. That's why no one survives. It's even harder when you're born because your maniacal father is using your birth to bargain with demons to gain power and grant his deepest desires, leaving you born without sight, a nose, limbs, or even skin.
That's the premise of Osamu Tezuka's classic tale Dororo, which got a modern revival this year that's action-packed, filled with comedic scenes, and even heart-rending at times. It follows the aforementioned young boy, named Hyakkimaru, as he grows up and faces hardship like no others have had to endure, as he slowly begins regaining the senses and limbs he was born without by defeating the demons in the world around him.
Hyakkimaru is eventually earning skin, his nose, and even recently his voice as he tears through the demons still left out in the world. Each major kill means breaking the ties from his greedy and uncaring father (who cast him away) and coming away with more of his body intact. It's awesome to see, and Hyakkimaru is doing it all with prosthetic limbs and while being functionally blind (only able to "see" others' auras).
Luckily, he's got an important traveling companion by his side: the titular Dororo, an orphan who lost his parents due to unfortunate circumstances long ago. Dororo is a young thief traveling alongside Hyakkimaru who makes money usually by swindling people out of their hard-earned cash. The pair become inseparable travel companions, with Dororo acting as something of a guide for his "aniki," or his "bro." Dororo is rash, boisterous, and ready to charge forth into danger at a moment's notice to defeat a demon. He's a shrewd dealmaker with astute observational skills, and does his best to ensure the pair are watching their money reserves as they travel as well as not falling in with the wrong crowd (which tends to happen anyway).
Dororo and Hyakkimaru behave like two brothers would toward each other, each taking care of their companion as if related by blood, and it's touching to watch. Of course, they fight together as well, and figure out problems from episode to episode. Dororo is obviously invested in Hyakkimaru one day becoming "whole," and it's touching to hear Hyakkimaru say "Dororo" for the first time.
Dororo is actually a young girl, as revealed during a recent episode of the show. The new anime series hasn't decided to explain this plot revelation just yet, but it's certainly an interesting direction for the story to take, and something that certainly wasn't immediately obvious in the beginning.
It's such a cool plot thread to keep Dororo's identity a secret like this, because when we do find this out, the anime doesn't make a huge deal out of it or even attempt to explain it away. Dororo is Dororo, whether we believe the character is a young boy or girl, and still the same massively important sidekick for Hyakkimaru, who needs all the help he can until he's back up to speed with functioning hearing, vocal abilities, and hopefully sight, eventually.
Dororo is an intriguing tweak on the typical feudal-era ancient Japan series, especially with its plays on gender roles and the hurdles the protagonists must jump through to reach some semblance of normalcy after the hands life has dealt them. It's got a lot left to offer as it burns through the rest of its 24-episode series, and we can't wait to see what becomes of Dororo and Hyakkimaru later on in the series.
Will Hyakkimaru ever be just like everyone else and gain back everything his father "stole" from him at birth? We'll have to watch and see — and wait for more information about Dororo and his (or her) decision to live life as a young boy, as it's one of the most intriguing things about the show thus far.
Dororo is available to stream via Amazon Prime.