「鵺の巻」 (Nue no Maki)
“The Story of the Nue”
The Dororo anime has been seeing some hard times recently. Between the long stretches of time where Dororo’s back-map only gave us several episodes where we were forced to sympathize with Itachi, rough patches in animation quality, the zanier demons Hyakkimaru has had to face, and a filler episode with comedic gags that felt out-of-place, the second cour is a far cry from what was considered to be one of the best shows of Winter 2019. With the tail-end of Episode 20, however, Dororo is looking to build up some momentum again as we start to see why there have been so many warnings against allowing Hyakkimaru to continue his path towards self-destruction.
The antagonists of this episode felt too similar in motive to Shiranui of the demon shark episodes as fallen samurai Saburota is revealed to be more interested in feeding people to the forest demon Nue than extinguishing it. However, one unique twist that is genuinely interesting is that his motives are centered around a combination of his self-loathing for his failure to save his mother from Nue’s grasp and his resentment towards the townsfolk for mocking his cowardice. In retaliation, he found himself taking delight in watching villagers run away from Nue before they were devoured by the demon, offering some sort of schadenfreude for Saburota for people ridiculing him for chopping off his mother’s arm in a desperate attempt to flee as quickly as possible. Again, without all of his backstory, he did feel like “Shiranui: Part 2” for wanting to feed people to demons out of their personal hatred for those around him. But it does feel tragic to see his fall from grace knowing that he had always intended on being a noble swordsman before his fateful encounter with Nue.
As it turns out, Saburota’s greatest function is to further test Hyakkimaru’s grasp on humanity. He seemed to make great strides with Dororo earlier on by showing her the fondness that he has for her and the interest he has in learning more about the world around him. But when Dororo’s arm is trapped in a rockslide and he finds himself unable to save him, he reverts back to the one-track-minded rage that drove him to continue the cycle of killing because he knows he wants every part of his body back. Although being with Dororo has helped to humanize him to some extent, he never truly had a mental breakthrough whenever his goals have been challenged in the past. Jukai had tried but once Hyakkimaru brought up Dororo, it was never mentioned again. Any of the times Dororo has tried to stop Hyakkimaru from going overboard lately have also been ignored, reverting Hyakkimaru’s development back to how he was after he killed the moth demon by actively ignoring Dororo’s distraught calls to stop mindlessly slashing away at Nue’s corpse. With Hyakkimaru channeling his demonic rage towards paying Daigo another visit, the warnings that the Monk and Jukai had given about becoming more demon-like with every killing he takes part in and every human that’s killed along the way are unfortunately looking like they won’t be heeded. Dororo is likely to be able to stop him, but with Hyakkimaru’s desperation increasing as he finds himself unable to help anyone unless he has his full body back, the blood trail that Hyakkimaru leaves behind is expected to grow redder and lengthier as the series trudges forward.
One mystery that this episode poses is how much influence the Hall of Hell has on the universe at the moment. Hyakkimaru’s frustration increased tenfold when he discovered that killing the demon never gave him one of his body parts back. At the same time, the Hall of Hell had received an abnormal fracture that didn’t quite destroy any of the statues. The Hall’s main function to be the mediator between the demons and the Daigo empire has been complicated since Lady Daigo became aware that their influence had been ineffective due to the demon that failed to fully consume Hyakkimaru. As a result, their land is exposed to far more instances of famine and locusts plaguing villages and crops. It also places Tahoumaru in a complicated position on a moral level as his dedication to his people and his vow to devote all of his strength and efforts into keeping his family’s land and inhabitants alive make him a far more sympathetic character. While him toeing the line for his father and upholding his decision to kill Hyakkimaru positions him as an antagonist, the stance he’s had towards protecting, preserving, and saving the lives of his nation’s people has rarely wavered and it is easier to empathize with his point-of-view when he doesn’t share the same selfish ambition as Lord Daigo and his decision to follow his father’s example is consistently framed as a means to an end if he can save the countless numbers of lives who would be affected if removing the Hall of Hell meant ending most of those lives due to famine and poverty. It also doesn’t help that this episode teeters between showing Hyakkimaru in a more demonic light while having Tahoumaru feeding a starving child. As the series continues, it will be interesting to see if this ends up getting reversed by the events that follow.