This week’s Dororo depicts a showdown between opposing factions, but it’s nothing so clear cut as good vs. evil. “The story of the cape of no mercy” excels at demonstrating how everyone clings to an uncooperative worldview that looks perfectly reasonable from their own perspective. Caught up in the conflict between Shiranui and Itachi’s bandits—and now between Hyakkimaru and his brother as well, Dororo must navigate an unforgiving world filled with adults who refuse to compromise. Interspersed with tension-packed action sequences, this episode’s script excels at navigating the moral ambiguity of Dororo‘s world with well-rounded empathy.
After two episodes apart, it’s a softer and wiser Hyakkimaru who reunites with Dororo—and just in the nick of time. Their reunion is utterly adorable; the cheek pinch and forehead rub that Hyakkimaru delivers are the exact same motions that his “mama” Jukai used to greet him in the last episode. It’s a fresh indication that Hyakkimaru sees Dororo as his family—and sees himself in a parental role toward the younger brother. Dororo’s reaction of embarrassment and half-hearted fury that quickly fades into affection is exactly what we’ve come to expect from his character. It’s little moments like this reunion that give the show its heart, beyond even its most dramatic fight scenes. Hyakkimaru’s journey toward becoming “more human” isn’t really about arms or legs or hearing or speech—plenty of humans are perfectly whole without those things. Instead, the most pivotal moments of Hyakkimaru’s reclamation of his humanity come from these quiet emotional moments.
It’s a happy coincidence that Shiranui’s demonic shark had Hyakkimaru’s leg just when he needed to regain his full mobility. That said, Shiranui’s grief and rage aren’t necessarily evil. The flashback that shows him with his dying mother draws a parallel to Dororo’s own past. Maybe if Dororo had met a pair of sharks instead of a big bro with swords for arms, his life might have turned out differently. Shiranui is one of the three factions Hyakkimaru must battle on this merciless cape. Tahomaru has tracked down his brother to this supposedly remote place—and he’s brought an entire army with him. The younger brother has hardened himself against his feelings, but he’s doing this to pursue his own vision of morality, by doing whatever it takes to save Daigo’s land. Finally, there’s Itachi and his bandits single-mindedly making their way toward Dororo’s father’s gold stash. While they are thieves, they also consider themselves to have honor—when Tahomaru appears, Itachi’s primary concern isn’t even his life, but making sure the samurai don’t get the gold, sharing the same goal that Dororo’s father had until his death. Even Hyakkimaru himself follows a gray morality, since his goal to get back his body “because it’s mine”. But what about when that body is weighed against the lives of everybody in Daigo’s land? This is why Jukai won’t help his “child”; he’s not willing to make that judgment.
Because everyone has at least some semblance of a sympathetic reason to fight, the episode’s body count is indeed a tragedy. It’s hard to coldly judge anyone who has died this week or say that they really deserved it in their pursuit of what they thought to be right. It wasn’t a clear strength advantage, but simple chaos that led to the chips to fall where they did. In a final summation of this story’s rejection of stark black-and-white views on humanity, Dororo decides not to take the money yet—but he still nabs a few coins for the road. “All or nothing” isn’t as noble as it’s sometimes portrayed, and it’s not realistic for a pair that sometimes finds themselves starving to hoard a stash of gold. It’s not any one person or any one viewpoint that’s evil, but the reliance on violence against others to justify one’s actions that’s wrong—and this episode is one of Dororo‘s most masterful examples of this message.
Dororo is currently streaming on Amazon.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.