What’s it about? Lord Daigo Kagemitsu, in order to further his ambitions, made a deal with 12 demons that resulted in his son being born without eyes, ears, skin, limbs, or a nose. The child was cast out, surviving by the midwife’s kindness. 16 years later, a young thief name Dororo encounters a wandering swordsman with swords for arms and the ability to cut down demons.
Content Warning: Gruesome imagery.
MAPPA (Yuri!!! on ICE, ZOMBIE LAND SAGA) has established itself as something of a household name over the past few years, somewhat occupying the space left by the late, great Manglobe—while not every series from their studio is guaranteed to be a winner, they’ll usually be ambitious and distinct.
Dororo’s premiere keeps stride with that reputation. The opening prologue has a sense of creeping dread right out of The Omen, and the ending fight is gorgeously fluid. It was the kind of ominously atmospheric mood piece that’s surprisingly hard to find in anime, land of bombast and gore.
But then, it kind of has to step up its game. Dororo comes from the very famous pen of Osamu Tezuka, and has already been adapted twice—once in 1969 as an anime, and in 2007 as a live-action film. Like many of the recent classic-revival series, it’s in the position of having to justify its own existence. It has a slight leg up on Banana Fish or Devilman by virtue of being a period piece, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t sensitive issues the show might potentially butt heads against.
The so-far unnamed swordsman, for example, is a disabled protagonist: he wears prosthetics and appears to be deaf, blind, and possibly mute. That said, he falls pretty squarely into the realm of “superpower disability,” as his hands pop off to reveal dual sword arms and the brief glimpses we receive in his point-of-view show his vision as completely dark except for the ability to sense demons (which appear as glowing shapes).
The hook at the end of the episode also seems to be leaning toward this character shedding his disability. After killing the river demon, he’s shocked to see that his skin has grown back, implying that each of these 12 demons holds a “piece” of him that he can take back. It is, needless to say, an extremely fraught premise. As always, we welcome pitches if any disabled readers would like to speak more about this series.
Finally, there’s the fact that Dororo himself is apparently AFAB but, at least in the manga, identifies aggressively as male. (If you were wondering why Twitter was tying itself in knots the other day, that’s why.)
On the one hand, looking for transmasculine characters in anime is like digging for water in the desert, so this is exciting. On the other hand, it’s a manga from 1967, and there’s still room for this adaptation to play it as “this character needs to grow up and learn to be feminine.” So, enthusiasm carefully tempered on this one.
Still, I’m excited to see more. The incredibly bleak undertones of this first episode don’t feel a bit out of place in 2019, and I’m excited to see what new ideas the crew will bring to such a well-known property. This might end up being a sleeper hit of the season.