There’s another series of Episode Reviews for me to do.
I don’t think I can ignore this anime even if I tried, certainly not after this episode.
Oddly enough, this look at Jukai’s character is entirely anime-original. I honestly couldn’t tell until I decided to look it up and I don’t mean that because I haven’t read the manga. Rather, it just feels so powerful and relevant to Dororo‘s narrative that it’s kind of hard to imagine the original story without it.
Just the first few minutes alone are sufficient backstory for Jukai. A man who blindly committed horrific deeds for his Lord until, one day, the death of an innocent bystanders forces him to realize the monster is becoming. Despite trying to end his life as penance, Jukai survives and instead becomes a doctor who specializes in crafting prosthetic limbs. The man doesn’t think he deserves to live but evidently, fate inexplicably keeps him alive anyway. He doesn’t view his new line of work as his redemption, just an effort to do the right thing. It’s simply remarkable pathos on the writers’ part and I honestly would’ve been fine if that was all we got for this character, at least for the time being.
That said, everything else that followed is still really good. To start off, I really enjoyed the interpersonal drama between Jukai and his apprentice, Kaname. The latter character starts off as a devoted student only to become disillusioned when he learns that his master worked for the Lord whose onslaughts got his father killed. Naturally, Kaname wants revenge and though Jukai surrenders, he temporarily relents to let his mentor finish a prosthetic arm for a little boy. In the end, Kaname lets Jukai continue his work but not before leaving himself, even ditching the prosthetic leg he received from his mentor as a symbolic act of nonacceptance. It’s a disheartening scene to say the least, one that articulates that despite all the good Jukai might do now, his marred past will forever haunt him.
Of course, the real highlight of the episode is indeed when you get to see Jukai meet and raise Hyakkimaru. Now there’s a fascinating dynamic. One believes he does not deserve to live but is inexplicably kept alive by fate. Another was cursed the very moment he was born and yet he so strongly desires to live. Both meeting ends up being the best thing that could happen to them. Jukai has a newfound purpose, not just in his craft but also his life in general, thanks to Hyakkimaru. Meanwhile, Hyakkimaru receives the means for him to stay alive and even be loved by a surrogate parent thanks to Jukai. I find it quite curious too that Hyakkimaru’s soul seeing vision depicts Jukai in white, the same color Dororo had in Episode 2. Perhaps Jukai is a more kindred soul than he thinks.
How sad then that relationship come to an end and that’s in spite of the fact that we’re technically already watching Hyakkimaru on his own journey. The boy needing to go hunt some demons is regrettable enough but adding insult to injury is the fact that Jukai needed to train him in swordplay. The last thing he wants to do is create more violence and the recurring sight of a bloodied Hyakkimaru emerging victorious from a fight leaves him with severely mixed feelings.
As strong as the writing may be, I really have to hand it to the art and acting as well. Coloring the episode with a monochromatic scheme before transitioning into sepia tone is a smart piece of direction. It really helps accentuates the grim, reluctant outlook Jukai has on his life while also making certain elements (ex: the blood on Hyakkimaru’s clothes after fighting a demon) strike out more to the viewer. There’s also Akio Ootsuka’s performance as Jukai to consider. That a voice actor as experienced as him is able to breath so much life into a character is to be expected but even so, Outsuka’s deep voice perfectly suits the pain and selflessness Jukai possesses.
Towards the end, Dororo returns back to the present Hyakkimaru and his traveling party. As clarification, it’s confirmed that he specifically regained his nerves after killing Bandai. In other words, he can now feel pain which should produce a profound effect on him from here on out. Up until now, Hyakkimaru simply shrugs off any injuries he gets and keeps fighting so one can imagine that he needs to learn to be a lot more careful now. Case in point, you see him stunned when his foot backs out of stepping into a fire. It’s only when he still proceeds to step in does he realize what pain is like.
I know that a lot of anime producers refrain from taking artistic liberties when adapting, say, a manga or a light novel into a television series. And believe me, when changes to the story backfire, the result is usually disastrous. Let this episode then be a testament to how taking liberties can indeed pay off big time. At least in this particular case, expanding on Tezuka’s story not only worked to great effect, it got me even more sold on the show overall.
Thanks for reading!
Watch Dororo on Amazon.
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