「守子唄の巻・下」 (Moriko Uta no Maki: Ge)
“The Story of the Moriko Song, Part 2”
If the last episode wasn’t devastating enough, this one will do the trick. Dororo‘s efforts to crush Hyakkimaru with the weight of the world are highly effective as his connection with Mio takes a physical and emotional toll on him. Since his most positive experiences of life so far are linked to Mio, her demise continues the anime’s current ethos that what is gained along the way can just as easily be taken away. The equivalent exchange gives one fortune and mediates that by giving a wicked misfortune for good measure. It’s hard to say that I’ve seen an anime as consistently bleak yet meaningful in a while, but these past two episodes along with the ones before it are strong arguments that the quality of storytelling in Dororo is on-par with numerous anime classics.
Since Hyakkimaru is slowly experiencing the world around him for the first time and Dororo is still very young, Mio is one of the first characters we’ve followed that haven’t been involved with demons or warfare. Her status as a civilian is important because of how it links back to the socioeconomic background of Dororo with the general populace suffering directly and indirectly as a result of war. Just as Hyakkimaru’s fights often end with him reeling from the pain that his new senses are causing him, every measure to rid the world of demons has intensified conflict among humans as the war between Sakai and Daigo helped spark the drought that would clear out Mio’s village. War tore apart her village and ripped the children away from their parents, but it would also keep Mio motivated to work towards building a prosperous rice paddy with the children she took in, even if it means resorting to selling herself for the money to return to those golden fields of rice.
Mio is also a compelling character because of what she brings to the story. Her personal tale of trying her best to fight through the pain and sorrow she feels through her song makes the uphill battle she faces immensely tragic. Her song that lulls Hyakkimaru into tranquil peace is the same song that redirects her mind to thoughts of a lush, vibrant, and windy rice paddy to avoid having to feel the pain of being repeatedly ravaged by soldiers. Her experience with tending to Hyakkimaru was eye-opening for her as the one moment that her song was treated as the voice of an angel, the one time she hasn’t been repulsed by the hands of a swordsman, and the one time that someone was able to see that the color of her soul wasn’t tarnished or damaged by the work she was forced to take part in. Dororo puts the latter into perspective as the horror from seeing her line of work comes from the memories of a mother who refused to sell herself at her most desperate, yet was alluded to being raped before she died. It puts her suffering into perspective with how endemic that desperation, cruelty, and hardship are in such a world where she would be driven to the point that she would risk her life to work with both armies.
Her changing work situation would quickly come at the cost of her and the children’s lives as Daigo’s men murder them under the assumption that she was a spy for Sakai, but not before Hyakkimaru returned to the village after killing the demon that took his leg. The last time he heard Mio’s song was through her last words as she sung to take her mind away from the agony she had faced before her death. In truth, it’s challenging to write out some of this post because of how devastating so much of the episode is. Imagining being in Mio’s shoes as her last moment was spent watching the children she raised get brutally murdered as she tries to numb the pain with her song and being in Hyakkimaru’s shoes as he hears Mio’s life fading through her song as he realizes what has happened to her and the children is heart-wrenching. To add to the pain of Hyakkimaru regaining senses he is unfamiliar with and the cost from losing his leg, he also has to endure the emotional toll of having the one solace in his life up to that point heartlessly taken away from him. The monk’s warning to Dororo that what may be dormant in Hyakkimaru might be a monster come out in full force as he takes his arm to tear almost every one of Daigo’s men to pieces in a primal rage. Dororo tries to relieve Hyakkimaru of his pain by reminding him that her efforts weren’t in vain as she gathered enough seeds to start her dream of planting a rice field, but Hyakkimaru’s grasp on humanity itself is put through a cruel and relentless test on whether he can keep his fury suppressed long enough for him to stave off his desire to kill. When he calms down, he is given the time to mourn and say his first word: “Mio”. As the episode closes with Dororo and Hyakkimaru walking an uncertain and ruinous path, the viewer is given one final send-off to Mio as her song transforms the dry and barren field into the golden rice paddy she had always imagined. It’s a grim and haunting reminder of the temporal nature of life as her existence may have drifted away like dust in the wind, but her song and her dream will continue to follow the two on their lonely and unforgiving road.
It’s a world that contrasts heavily with Tahoumaru’s upbringing as well with how much of the torment that Hyakkimaru was sentenced to endure weighs down on the shoulders of his parents. The neglect his father gives Tahoumaru is a consequence of how much of his empire relies on the continued suffering of Hyakkimaru to the point of his mind being constantly clouded by how many of the demons have been vanquished and what it could mean for his empire if they are all wiped out. While Daigo is caught up with whether Hyakkimaru is still around to kill his demons, Tahoumaru’s mother has been entirely focused on praying for her long lost son. Tahoumaru may have lived in the lap of luxury his entire life, but the circumstances of Hyakkimaru’s birth and the demonic wish that was granted to Daigo have a lasting effect on how Tahoumaru is treated enough so that it built up resentment in him over being neglected and ignored by his parents. Tahoumaru will likely try to involve himself in finding Hyakkimaru once he catches wind of why his parents have been paying less attention to him over the years, but once he does, it will serve to contrast the lives between both of Daigo’s sons.