I thought I was going to be able to comment on Hiroki Suzuki’s performance as Hyakkimaru but it appears that will have to wait. Right now, the character is still a man of very, very few words. In fact, he only says a real word at the very end of this episode (a very fitting word for him to say, mind you). Before that, it’s a lot of grunts, sighs, and yells which I guess Suzuki delivers quite convincingly but that’s hardly going to be the brunt of his performance. That said, this works just fine for the character. I was getting afraid that it’d soon be getting easier to figure out what’s going on his head but for now, it’s still a guessing game due to the current lack of actual dialogue.
Now, this merits asking: how well does Hyakkimaru understand Japanese? Everyone talks to him as though he does but considering he only just gained ears two episodes ago, I have a hard time imagining that he’d readily know exactly what he is being told. Sure, there is inflections in one’s voice which does convey meaning more universally but that can only go so far when questions and responses get very specific.
What really stumped me this episode though is Hyakkimaru’s curse. Since the antlion demon didn’t die last episode, I guess that wasn’t the monster had held the young man’s voice for ransom? Maybe it was that bird monster from the opening scene of last episode instead. But then why didn’t Hyakkimaru make a sound earlier? Maybe he doesn’t actually need to kill a demon to regain his body parts but then that kind of contradicts what we know of the curse so far. There’s also the manner of Hyakkimaru’s human leg literally growing back. I first assumed the antlion “claimed” it but that also sounds contradictory so I really don’t know. Admittedly, I’m more annoyed that this means we won’t see more of Hyakkimaru’s makeshift blade leg. That was too cool to only be done once.
The one detail that added up more for me is what’s going on with Hyakkimaru’s soul. As brought up last episode, Biwamaru (who leaves again by the way) notices his soul getting redder which we can presume denotes corruption. I assumed this had something to do with his feelings towards Mio but later, Mio sings her song again and the soul restores to complete whiteness. The best I can make of this is that the soul was getting redder because Hyakkimaru was blindly driven by love to fight the antlion. He wasn’t thinking straight and that in turn taps into a more demonic side of his being. It’s when Mio calms him down with her song does he regain sight of what he is trying to fight for and thinks more rationally again. It makes sense given what happens later.
I kind of figured Mio would only be around for this two-parter. The signs were all pointing towards her dying from her choice of work to the risky endeavor of servicing two warring armies to the simple fact that she’s taking care of children and dreams to raise a farm with them. As if to wave the death flag even harder, you have Dororo reveal that his mother also sold her body to make ends meet and that line of work ultimately cost the woman her life. All things considered, death just seems imminent.
Obvious though this turn of events may be, the misfortune does work tremendously for Hyakkimaru’s character. The loss of Mio and disastrous conclusion to all her hard work awakens what Biwamaru warns Dororo about: the demon inside. I have to admit that the fight scene is extremely chilling. Part of that is context. Up until now, we’re meant to perceive Hyakkimaru as a badass whereas here, he has completely given into his rage, thus making the monstrosity of his swordsmanship more apparent. However, I also can’t shrug off the feeling that Dororo really felt graphical in this scene. Not that it hasn’t gotten bloody before but this fight has Hyakkimaru stabbing necks, decapitating heads, or slicing right through them in half among other things. It feels far more brutal compare to when the same attacks are done to demons and that difference really does sell how more concerning it it to see our protagonist like this.
In a way, this scene also empathizes the importance of Dororo. Here, he is the last person alive and present who could reel Hyakkimaru back in. More specifically, he informs him that Mio did at least get the rice seeds she wanted before dying, thus forcing Hyakkimaru to realize that senseless killing is not the way he should go about honoring his love’s memory. There’s also the fact that Dororo remains the most consistent companion in this series. Everyone in Hyakkimaru’s life seems to come and go but not Dororo and it’s important that the young thief stick around. As the journey continues, Hyakkimaru is going to need someone as a conscience.
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