Dororo Ep. 9: Suffering… just more suffering

We don’t get a monster-of-the-week this time. Instead, we get unrelenting human suffering. Yay! So what’s the dealio? What’s the haps? With his newfound sense of smell, Hyakkimaru is busy smelling everything; he even smells his partner. But speaking of Dororo, the kid suddenly falls ill, which doesn’t surprise me. Children aren’t known for their sturdy immune system, and the kid is always running around in rags. Luckily, the formerly deaf and mute Hyakkimaru has somehow managed to grasp enough of the Japanese language to seek help. It’s amazing, isn’t it? And as a Dororo is cared for, she — yeah, yeah, it turns out the kid is actually a girl — opens up about her parents and how she lost them. This story is, as you might expect, just a complete downer.

When you think of brigands, you think looters, pillagers, murderers, rapists, etc. Brigands aren’t normally portrayed as nice people. But apparently, Dororo’s father Hibukuro led a band of honorable thieves, because they only attack the samurai. Teaching them a lesson, y’see. They were poor, scrappy farmers just trying to take back what was originally stolen from them by the samurai. Itachi, his right hand man, tried to convince him that staying rogue forever is folly. There are more of them than there are of us, so let’s be smart. Let’s bend the knee to the cruel, selfish lords and join the samurai. Even if we can’t keep our pride, we can at least keep our lives. But in Hibukuro’s other ear was Dororo’s mother Ojiya. She was a principled woman, so she proceeded to tell Itachi off. Well, to nobody’s surprise, Itachi betrayed Hibukuro and sold him out to the samurai.

Even so, Dororo’s father did not lose his life. He merely lost his men and a lot of his fighting prowess. Hibukuro and his wife then tried to pick up the pieces of their broken lives and at least try to survive with their only daughter. Try is the key word. There’s nothing pleasant about looting corpses for blood-soaked rations, but you do what you gotta do. Still, I couldn’t help but laugh at the clumsy dialogue. Is this hell, Dororo asks? It might even be worse than hell, her mother replies. Oh lord… but I digress. One day, a samurai spotted Hibukuro’s unique pole sword (there’s gotta be a better name for it than that, but I’m no expert on weapons). On the one hand, he only targeted the samurai, but on the other hand, that doesn’t mean that innocent people won’t end up being collateral damage in your righteous mission. Even though Ojiya wanted her husband to walk away this time and not pick a fight, he got drawn into one anyways. He fought valiantly, but he still lost his life.

Still, even if Dororo’s father had survived, you can’t help but imagine that neither he nor his wife was going to last for much longer. He’s a fighter who can’t fight as well anymore, and it didn’t appear as though either of them had any trade skills. Eventually, Ojiya succumbed to starvation (either that or starvation made her weak to everything else that can kill you) and died in a field of red spider lilies. Dororo tells us that she has hated those flowers ever since. So what exactly did we learn here? Well, that’s a good question. I suppose we can always blame hubris. After all, it’s an easy, catch-all explanation to a lot of human errors. Why marry a woman and bring a child into this world if you insist on being a brigand (even if you’re supposedly an honorable one)? Why continue trusting Itachi after he showed you his true colors (and especially after you dressed him down in front of everybody)? Why drag your easily recognizable weapon around with you when a warrior like yourself can probably fight with any weapon? Hubris, I guess. We always think we have it under control.

And y’know, maybe Itachi had a point. It’s easy to be principled when you’re young and have few obligations to worry about. As the saying goes, people are born liberals and slowly grow into conservatives. I’m not saying that I’ll ever vote for conservative policies when I’m in my old age, but you can bet your ass that I probably won’t be as radical as I am now. If you have a family to protect, is it really wise to be principled? Would anyone blame you for putting your family first? Plus, our options in life are rarely ever binary. Maybe Hibukuro didn’t need to bend the knee and obey those evil lords. Maybe he just needed to compromise and not constantly wage violent retributive justice. Clearly, something needs to be done about the evil lords. There are always causes worth fighting and dying for… buuuuut I kinda feel like you forfeit that when you form a family. You have something else that you need to fight for now.

Having said that, my biggest problem with this show lately is just that, well, all the unending agony of human existence that it continues to shove down our throats. At one point in the flashback, we see Ojiya and Dororo lining up at a temple for hand-outs. When they got to the front of the ravenous crowd, however, they learned that there were no more bowls left to hand out. I guess nobody in the crowd had enough empathy to help a desperate mother and her starving kid out either. So naturally, the woman told the man to scoop hot, scalding porridge (soup?) into her bare hands so that she may feed her starving daughter. Naturally, the selfless mother wasn’t even concerned with feeding herself. And as I’m watching this, my reaction is (of course), “Wow, that sucks. My heart hurts. But what am I supposed to be getting out of this?” Then at the end of Dororo’s flashback, she tells us, “That’s why I’m never going to give up.” Haha, really? That’s what I’m supposed to take away from the show’s bottomless pit of despair?

I dunno, man… Dororo is hardly the first show to try and tease out a life-affirming message from uncompromising human darkness, but I don’t feel as though it’s doing so correctly. Here’s twenty minutes of soul-draining hopelessness, and here’s a single line uttered by the main character to contrast it! You could argue that maybe there’s only so much that you can do with a TV show and its 24-minute format, but that seems like a cop-out. I think, like most things MAPPA has churned out, the execution is just sloppy. But hey, didja hear? Dororo’s a girl! And she’s kinda embarrassed about it! Oh well, it’s not like Hyakkimaru can see anything anyways. Maybe in the last few episodes, he’ll finally be able to see what the kid looks like.

Anyways, Daigo has finally confirmed that his first son is still alive. Tahomaru also overhears everything. So y’know how Hyakkimaru is missing parts of his body, and he needs to slay demons in order to get them back? He’s just taking back what is rightfully his. We then have Tahomaru who feels as though he’s missing something crucial from his father and mother’s love. As a result, he probably now thinks that he needs to slay Hyakkimaru to get that back. Unfortunately, we can’t quite say that like his brother Tahomaru is taking back what is rightfully his. I mean, imagine being born with a silver spoon in your mouth in stark contrast to your abandoned and handicapped brother and still being dissatisfied. But I guess that’s why he is his father’s son.

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22 Replies to “Dororo Ep. 9: Suffering… just more suffering”

  1. Well I think you sum up my emotion very well watching this. That world is definitely hell. I know it’s probably realistic given the time period (man-eating demon aside), but in the end the payoff is…I could not tell whether it could be called possitive or not. The only thing I know is that it really makes me feel very exhausted. It’s the same feeling Berserk gives me. The world is a terrible, horrid place, and it becomes more and more tiring to watch.

    Btw, I still don’t get why the story reveals that Dororo is a girl. It’s…certainly a twist. But it does not seem to have much meaning. In fact, I don’t know why the title of the manga and the anime is Dororo.

    1. In fact, I don’t know why the title of the manga and the anime is Dororo.

      Hyakkimaru is a mouthful.

      But on a more serious note, I guess Dororo is the key to Hyakkimaru’s development. When Jukai taught the kid how to defend himself, there was a fear that he had created something even worse than demons. Then the blind old man tells Dororo that as Hyakkimaru gets his body parts back, let’s just hope he’s more human than beast. There’s the sense that Dororo keeps Hyakkimaru from going “feral.” The kid plays an important part in his social development. He’s never had a proper childhood, and even though she calls him aniki, he doesn’t take on that older, “I’m more responsible than you” role. They’re like two kids just aimlessly wandering through the world.

          1. Yes, he was a she in the origin. It was revealed at the very end of the manga, when Hyakkimaru left her to continue his journey. I have to say that the manga is not ended properly – the main personal conflict of Hyakkimaru is resolved, but he still has not recover his whole body, it could be said to be an unfinished work, so I have no clue what Tezuka actually want to do with the reveal.

            1. Maybe they have other plans for her gender. Can only wait and see. Right now, Dororo being a girl instead of a boy doesn’t really hold much significance for me.

              1. The adaption has made very big changes to the work, and from what I see, they have made vastly improvement, so I am quite optimistic about that.

                1. Yeah, maybe they will do more with Dororo, because right now, she’s not a very interesting character. She hasn’t developed at all since the start of the show.

      1. A girl being a morality pet of a guy who could be dangerous if he breaks lose…You know, it reminds me of Sesshoumaru and RIn in Inu Yasha :))

        1. I keep forgetting that Inuyasha’s last anime adaptation was just about ten years ago. I always think of it as a super old series.

          1. Me too. But for me, Inu Yasha is indeed a super old series, since I have read the manga since I was in elementary school. Sesshoumaru is my first 2D love, well, it feel very nostagic to remember that I used to collect his stickers during my childhood.

              1. It’s okay, from what I see it’s more popular with girls than boys to have such crush. And because I could not reply to your twitter, I would say it here: I feel terribly bad for the Manikin too. I feel terribly bad for any normal human/beings in SMT world.

                1. I think my problem is that I got into anime late. Maybe I would’ve had a crush on whatever came out in the 90s, but I was mostly watching American family sitcoms.

                  After replaying SMT3 for the umpteenth time, I still really love the Reasons, and people are doing the story (despite how sparse it is) a disservice by trying to fit the endings into the typical lawful/neutral/chaotic framework that you see in the other games. It really felt like Nocturne had its finger on society’s pulse at the time. Isamu’s whole isolation thing has to be a reflection of the hikikomori business. Chiaki wanting to reinforce social hierarchies is very familiar. Her first move is to go after the Manikins, and those guys are essentially the lower class. And sure, you could say that there’s something very enlightened about Hikawa’s desire for stillness and being at one with everything, but it just makes me think of a repressive Asian society doing everything it can in order to suppress individuality. It’s all very Japanese. Finally, you have Yuko, who is dissatisfied, but doesn’t actually have any convictions of her own. She just runs away from her problems. It’s like someone trying to remain apolitical while simultaneously complaining about the state of the world. On the other hand, I don’t really know how to fit the True Demon Ending into this equation. Maybe this is why I’ve never really liked it outside of the ability to fight Lucifer.

                  There’s also something really dreamlike about the narration. Of course, if I try to think about it too hard, none of it makes literal sense. How are all these complex dungeons created and by whom? Really? An obelisk that stretches hundreds of floors into the sky? An upside-down pyramid? And why would a bunch of demons even follow Hikawa’s bidding? How did Chiaki, Isamu, and your teacher even manage to get from point A to point B without being torn to shred? You’re a demon and you can barely get through a dungeon. So on and so forth…

                  I would love a remake/remaster of the game just to see it in HD and widescreen. And of course, tone down the unforgiving parts of the gameplay. I’m not one of those people who feels special pride in beating something that is designed to be unfair. I just think it’s unfun to take one step after a battle and immediately get thrown into yet another battle. Or spending half an hour rerolling a fusion in order to get the right skills. For the last time, I don’t want Sexy Gaze on my goddamn demon. And last but not least, who hasn’t died in an SMT game from a random Hama/Mudo and had to restart from a save point 40 minutes ago…

                  Sorry, didn’t mean to write up a mini-post in the comments. Feel free to not read it.

                  1. It’s okay. I am actually very glad to hear your thoughts about Nocturne, Sean. I am a big fan of that game and have replayed it several times, but I could not find any friends around to talk about it. And that game has a lot that I want to talk about.

                    I really like your choice of word: “Dreamlike”. It also described my feeling playing through the Vortex Word. It might be because of the sureal quality of the plot, and the fact that the story progression in Nocturne is more about the progression of concept and ideaology than character or plot development, as least that’s what I always think. The characters are more like, a representation of some concept rather than real human. And another factor, in my opinion, is the art. The color palette, the alien, empty barren but very well designed and stylized word, they all contribute to the sureal, yet captivating atmosphere of the game.

                    I also hope that it would have a remake, but I think Atlus has to do more work for it to work in current game market. The Reason need to be flesh out more, and I hope they should go deeper in various themes they present in the game. About gameplay, you’re right, some of the cheap difficulty has to go. But I hope they would be able to keep the battle and dungeon navigator challenging in an interesting way. Like boss battle -I have great fun trying to figure out the trick to defeat those bosses.

                    I also don’t like the True Demon Ending. But I like the way Lucifer’s trickery and manipulation skill is being portrayed in that. In a world when everybody trying to tell you that they know the answer, they know what you have to do, that you should do this and that, he is the only one calmly provided you with seemingly neutral information. Throughout your journey through the Labyrinth of Amala, he slowly nudges you into his side, his point of view while maintaining his calmness and never outright tell you what to do.

                    And yes, I don’t understand what the hell is Amala Temple (the thing with the floating pyramid), who build them, or what is their purpose. The Obelisk at least have some purpose.

                    I am also one of those people who are disappointed with SMT IV. Let’s hope V would be better!

                    1. The best thing about Nocturne is visiting all these impossible locales. The hallway right before the Amala Temple with the red reflective floor really blew me away when I first got there. You truly felt like you were in an inhuman world, which I didn’t get once from SMTIV. Then again, I guess SMTIV is more similar to the first two games. Strange Journey captures a bit of this “stranger in strange land” feeling, I guess. It’s just too bad it doesn’t have the presentation to really capture your imagination. I love the Persona series, but I felt like its explosion in popularity kinda tricked the company into treating the mainline games like spinoffs instead. So they get stuck on handhelds. Granted, the DS/3DS sold like hotcakes in Japan, but it really limited the future games in what they could do. Anyways, I digress. Thanks to the exotic locales, my least favorite thing about Nocturne would be the subway dungeons. First, I hated having to buy a stock of Light Balls just to get through them. Second, they all just felt the same. Bland, featureless tunnels. I also wish they did more with the NPCs. They’re just floating balls of blue wisps. Kinda lame.

                      I’m not sure if I need the Reasons to be better fleshed out. I like their simplicity. Philosophy is often an attempt to simplify everything down into a series of core tenets, which often fails to apply to complex, real world situations. And in that sense, the Reasons perfectly capture why you can’t just base a world and its laws around one encompassing philosophy.

                      Gameplay-wise, I did love the fact that the bosses felt like puzzles I had to solve. The first time I played the game, I was stuck on White Rider forever. On the same token, once I learned how to fuse them, they pretty much broke the game with their immunities and lack of weaknesses. Magic felt rather underpowered in this game. By the time I got to the Tower of Kagutsuchi on my replay, it was basically three demons buffing and debuffing while my Hitoshura threw out Focus’d Deathbounds. I know there are better skills than Deathbound, but I wasn’t high enough level for them. Didn’t matter, though. Kagutsuchi still ate like 8k crits. Speaking of which, he is a really disappointing final boss. The previous bosses would at least cast Dekaja or Dekunda. Kagutsuchi was pretty much a sitting duck.

                      As for the dungeons, I’m a bit split. It’s just one of those things that aged super poorly in my opinion. I appreciate the fact that the dungeons are actual mazes. I can’t just walk in a straight line and get through them (cough Persona 5 cough). But at the same time, not being able to save anywhere and anytime really made the experience super infuriating, especially since Atlus is in love with invisible teleports that just send you to god knows where. The later games at least let you save wherever you want, but Strange Journey Redux went even crazier with the teleports. I think it would be fine if a little patience and thinking is all that is required. But oftentimes, these dungeons are just trial and error. And since I can’t save anywhere I want, I just have to hope that I don’t accidentally bite the dust to some lucky instant kill move.

                      The True Demon Ending makes sense, I guess, on a Nietzschean level. You can think of Yuko’s Freedom ending as man faltering in his faith, but through hardship, learning to embrace what God has given us and thus restoring the old world. To do so, you reject Lucifer’s gift and become human again. The only problem here is that Lucifer actually doesn’t mind you picking the Freedom ending. Then again, in Nocturne, it feels like he has a bigger beef with the Great Will than YHVH, and by rejecting rebirth, you are going against the Great Will. Anyways, TDE is pretty much the opposite of the Freedom ending. The Ubermensch rejects every Reason and by destroying the whole cycle of death and rebirth, you are rendering yourself beyond morality. I just don’t like it as much, because… I dunno. I prefer keeping the original scope laser-focused on Japan and its contemporary problems.

                      My biggest problem with SMTIV is that for all its text and dialogue, it just never established the same atmosphere and tone as Nocturne (or even Strange Journey). It always felt like this crazy romp through a rather cheesy post-apocalyptic world. I also dislike the fact that Walter, Jonathan, and Isabeau get to talk so much, and yet they still end up being such weak and poorly developed characters. Isabeau is the biggest offender. Her fate is sad in every route you go down. Even in neutral, the only solace is the fact that she gets to survive. Otherwise, she’s just the Heroine who can’t make a decision without the Hero. She can’t articulate how she feels unless she has your support. That’s similar to Yuko, but the latter has so much more depth. Particularly how the Vortex World is actually referred to as the Womb World. They even directly call the cataclysmic event the “Conception.” This is all heralded in by Hikawa and Yuko, so they play paternal and maternal roles for the world. From a literal standpoint, her closeness and intimacy to the Hitoshura is poorly developed (you just have to assume that they were close before the events of the game), but on a metaphorical level, she plays the Mother who will give birth to the new world, and thus your search for her throughout the game — directly against a cold and distant father in Hikawa, I must add — lends Oedipal overtones to Nocturne’s narrative. Honestly, I could just go on all day about this game. I just find it so much more fascinating than SMTIV. I haven’t touched SMTIV:Apoc for more than ten minutes, though… I hear the female characters get into bathing suits for that game. Ugh.

  2. Sean, have you thought about writing a post on Nocturne? I love your write-up about games. You seem to have many interesting ideas about it. The Oedipal overtone of the Demi-fiend journal is something I have never thought about. Like you, I also cannot stop when talking about this game. The design, the art direction, the plot and the character seem to be minimal, but the more I think about it, the more interesting angles I see. And…yes, magic is somewhat underpowered. At the begining some spell is nice, but at the end of the game, strength rules. Especially if you got freikugel…even though when you got freikugen, there’re not much left to kill anymore.

    I have many problems with IV. Actually I feel the game is somewhat a stepback from Nocturne. The alighnment system is so…I think the Reason system of Nocturne makes more sense. I agree with this dude, so in the end I go with him to reach the boss. Granted the Normal Ending (reset the world) is quite hard to get without a walkthrough, but I think you’re supposed to earn it. And as you said, I don’t like the characters. It’s funny that Nocturne’s characters are also flat, but I don’t have much problem with them. Maybe because Nocturne set it very clear in the begining that they’re supposed to be representation of some certain ideas, while IV seemed confused between the need of making them feel human while also have to turn them into Law and Chaos spokeperson at the end?

    I played IV Apocalypse once. In term of gameplay, I think there’re a lot improvement, but the characters and plot are lacking. The biggest problem is it feels rather anime-like sometimes.

    I am glad that you like Strange Journey. I have never, ever found a friend who played that, let alone like that game, and it’s just a pity, because I like that game. Some dungeon is too confusing (the teleport mazes always give me a literal headache whenever I play that part), but…I enjoyed it a lot. It’s such a pity that it would never get a remake, because I think the very alien nature of the Schwarzwelt would lend to some very spooky and interesting environment if being given a 3D treatment like Nocturne. And…I know that they are flat as hell, and just background NPC, but I grew to like the crew on the Red Sprite, the AI Arthur included, too. In the end I always go with the Neutral ending because I don’t want to turn them into demon or mindless angel -wordshipping. (The Law and Chaos ending of that game is too extreme). Strange, huh?

    Sorry for always writing such a long post. I am very happy that you replied back and shared your thought. :(

    1. I did not grind to get Freikugel. It’s just very unnecessary unless I’m going for the True Demon Ending, which I ultimately decided not to this time around. Going to move on and replay FFT: War of the Lions.

      For me, the biggest letdown with SMT4 was just the tone. I found it very goofy. It’s very difficult for me to imagine Walter being dissatisfied with being discriminated as a Casualry then going whole-hog into pure anarchy. The progression just doesn’t feel natural.

      Also, neutral was also so much harder to get than the other endings, but I did not feel the payoff was worth the trouble. They want to make your companion more fleshed out this time, but at the end of the day, the endings still aren’t very satisfying. I think Atlus needs to make a decision. If they truly want to be a little more Persona-like, then the endings need a little more meat to them as well. Or maybe I just think that if I’m going to all this trouble to get an ending with Isabeau, things shouldn’t be so platonic between her and Flynn.

      Regarding Strange Journey’s endings, we all know Atlus has a bias for Neutral. Still, Redux added three new endings. The new Law and Chaotic endings are arguably superior to the new Neutral ending in my opinion. If you don’t want to replay the game, I’m sure someone has uploaded them to Youtube.

      1. Actually I have started to play Strange Journey Redux, on Casual difficulty as I have not enough time to grind like when I was younger anymore. Would you mind… if I write to you another wall of text when finishing the game?

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