Dororo: Anime Honors Osamu Tezuka’s Classic Manga, Better with Subtitles (REVIEW)

Cancel those Rosetta Stone orders, anime fans! Dororo… has subtitles at last on Amazon PrimeAnd yes, it’s much better when you can understand what they’re saying.

The story takes place in the Sengoku period of medieval Japan, where an ambitious lord makes a pact with demons to ensure his land thrives. The price is his newborn son’s body – reducing the baby to a limbless, eyeless, skinless lump of flesh. The lord orders his son put to death, but a kindly nursemaid sets him adrift in a river instead. The nursemaid is eaten by a demon by the river, and only the blind warrior monk who kills the demon knows about the barely-human, barely-living baby cast off in the river…

Sixteen years later, a mysterious wandering swordsman with katanas for arms saves the life of an orphan and thief named Dororo from getting eaten by a demon. As the demon dies, the swordsman’s mask falls off his face as he gets is skin back for the first time in his life…

Thus begins the new adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s classic manga from the 1960’s, updated to a 21st Century anime aesthetic. The character art is more realistic, less “cute” like Tezuka’s original Disney-sque look. The result is an anime that feels even darker, harsher and crueler. Don’t get me wrong, Tezuka’s stories – despite the cute-looking characters, were unflinching when it came to showing how cruel the world could be. Just because a character is lovable and cute doesn’t make them immune to the horrors of an unforgiving world or threats of being killed for no good reason. When Hyakkimaru first encounters Dororo – who’s still a child – he is on the verge of getting beaten to death by a band of bandits whose goods Dororo stole.

For some perspective, here is what Tezuka’s original version looked like:

dororo anime tezuka review
Tezuka Productions

The storytelling style of the 2019 anime also differs from the 1969 anime. Where the 1969 version often had characters in constant motion in wide shots, the 2019 version – stylishly made by acclaimed studio MAPPA – employs more cutting between long shots, medium shots of stillness, and then the eruption of action with a more cinematic look. The result is a more melancholy and austere style reminiscent of classic period Japanese movies directed by directors like Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi. The action scenes are precise and have more style than most American blockbusters. With just one episode, anime fans are already buzzing that this will be one of the highlights of the Winter season.

Though yes, you still have to go into the menu to turn on the subtitles: Amazon still needs to work on the worst part of their anime streaming.