So, let’s continue to talk cartoons.
I’ve been really enjoying the anime Dororo. It is very gory, and the lion’s share of that gore is the suffering of innocent people. I found it tasteful in that its focus is clearly to show sympathy/horror while samurai getting diced was just artful splatter because fuck them but it’s pretty intense misery all the same.
The pitch for Dororo is that this guy makes a deal with demons as a result his son loses most of his body parts to them an instant after being born. To regain his missing parts the son, Hyakkimaru, must go on a quest to slay each of those demons, and also he gets a small child following him around for comic relief. And this is true for the original manga and the original anime adaption.
The modern one, though, when considering the important question, “how would you tell a blind deaf quadriplegic kid this or, really, anything?” realizes the answer is “you can’t” rather than “telepathy!” And that’s how we get him wandering around running into monsters, murdering them for trying to murder him, and then being intensely distressed when sometimes, for reasons he can’t understand, that means he regains body parts and senses he didn’t know he ever had, with reactions varying from wtf??? :( to GREAT HOW DO I UNINSTALL IT. As a result, spunky kid sidekick Dororo turns out to really earn having their name be the title, as they’re the one making everything happen while Hyakkimaru is tugged along behind them.
An interesting then vs now comparison of a scene from the opening episode:
And with all that said, I’d now like to have a spoilerific chat about the character Mio and the roles (and fates) of women.
Mio is working as a prostitute to take care of a bunch of crippled children, who, in the context of the rest of the show and the similarly injured small children in past episodes, probably were intentionally hacked up by samurai for the lulz. Although she hides her real job from the kids, Dororo finds out and says they know because it was the only job their mother wouldn’t take no matter how bad things got. Mio says Dororo’s mom was admirable, only to be cut off by Dororo expressing that actually kids would rather their parents still be alive than judge what they had to do to accomplish that.
It’s a very sympathetic take on sex work that still ends with her dead.
And admittedly, this is a show about horrible things happening to innocent people, and the very fact she had a houseful of mangled orphans to worry about shows how dangerous things were there.
But the very next episode involves a community sacrificing a woman to a demon centipede. She’s eaten, the characters attempt to fight it, they lose, they regroup, they plan out what to do, they go back the next day, they fight again and finally win…and the woman’s fine. (She’s also got a connection to a kid who cares about her as a surrogate mom, but this kid is ablebodied, and unlike Mio, she has no other personality but provider-for-others). Most of the episodes, in fact, have good endings – bad things have already happened, and sometimes people are currently in peril, but our heroes come in the nick of time.
Now, Mio’s death is absolutely meant to be a tragedy, but it’s the sort of tragedy where you know it’s coming. This kind of story doesn’t end any other way, even with a pair of supernaturally talented fighters on her side, while a woman being straight-up eaten by a centipede monster is “eh, she’ll probably be okay by the end of the episode”. And when the ending is inevitable, there’s not much point in fighting against it. The dynamic is similar to the broader concept of fridging – she’ll be cried over for her kindness and avenged for the good deeds she’s done, but she still has to die.
Nor is it truly necessary, even if we argue that some episodes should involve failing. You could easily reverse their fates – when Mio is attacked, Hyakkimaru gets there in time to save her, but when someone’s been eaten by a centipede, that’s it for them and all that’s left to do is get revenge. More fitting in theme, even, because the villagers have been feeding women to this monster for some time and that shouldn’t be papered over by saying the most recent one was fine with getting eaten and is fine after being eaten.
What ultimately determines their fate is if there’s space for them in the world. A non-prostitute has no weight of backstory to address, she exists in the roles people need her for and she stops mattering as soon as she’s offscreen again. But a prostitute isn’t allowed to ever stop being one because then the people she encounters wouldn’t be able to know and judge her for it, so if she stays alive she becomes a loose end. Mio wants to escape the samurai and that’s what dooms her – if she could live an ordinary life growing rice, a man could be attracted to her without realizing she’d had sex with other men and that is more horrifying than her murder could ever be.