So far, the Winter 2019 anime season has been jam-packed with a variety of fun shows. Whether you like rom-coms, action-adventures, or psychological thrillers, there is at least one quality title to sink your teeth into. Personally I have been enjoying the strangeness of Boogiepop and Others, the surprisingly wholesome and impactful Mob Psycho 100, the hilarity and cringe factor of 3D Kanojo Real Girl, and a great anime adaptation of one of my favorite manga in the last five years, The Promised Neverland. But my favorite of the season is a surprise to me and the many others watching it. Ever hear of Dororo? It’s on Amazon Prime and if you haven’t heard of it, you should. It’s an adaptation of Tezuka Osamu’s 1960’s manga. Osamu? The creator of Astro Boy? The grandfather of modern manga?
Like I said, the surprise of the season.
Unlike the cartoonish style of its predecessor, 2019’s Dororo is beautifully brutal in its depiction of the Sengoku Era’s war stricken Japan. There are many tragic deaths— innocent lives taken by both humans and demons— and Dororo and his cursed friend Hyakkimaru must travel the dangerous countryside for survival and revenge. Its plot is nowhere near original, but its execution and emotional peaks make me run back for more every week. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for samurai stories, maybe it’s because Dororo reminds me of Rurouni Kenshin and Samurai Champloo (two of my favorite titles ever), but even the story’s episodic structure doesn’t push me away. I’m loving Dororo. I screamed when I found out it had 24 episodes. The show is killin’ the game and episode 9, Dororo’s most recent installment, made me love it even more. It provided some much needed back-story, rounded out our titular character, and made me very curious about a certain red flower.
(Spoilers for Dororo up to episode 9)
Dororo uses a lot of flower imagery in its amazing ED. Flowers are very meaningful in Japanese culture; hanakotoba or flower language (literally translated to flower words) give each blossom and bouquet distinct meaning and purpose. Flowers are not just given as a kind gesture; there is individual significance given to each gifted bud. Episode 9 of Dororo uses hanakotoba to add an additional layer of sadness and foreshadowing into the story. The flower in question is the Manjushage, an intricate red flower with many names. One of them is Higanbana, the hell flower. Others are the poison spider lily, the abandoned child flower, and the dead man’s flower.
If you’ve seen the episode, you know where this is going, but let me dig in a little more to show you how cool this symbol is in this context.
For those of you who haven’t seen the episode and don’t mind spoilers, episode 9 tells the story of the death of young Dororo’s parents. His father is betrayed by comrade and killed by rogue samurai; his mother, working to protect her child, dies of hunger. She collapses in a field of Manjushage, telling her son to survive the war. It’s a sad but beautiful scene, lit up by the blood red blossoms that foreshadowed her tragic death throughout the episode.
Manjushage are known for being extremely poisonous. Every part of them, from root to petal, hold venom. In that sense, they symbolize death, but also have many other meanings and uses. One use of Manjushage is that they are planted to keep animals away from certain places; think of it as a natural form of animal control. They are often planted at family graves so stray animals do not eat the offerings or desecrate the site. If you look at it that way, Dororo’s mother isn’t just enclosed in her impending death, she is also laying her in tomb, surrounded by the flowers that will protect her grave site.
That’s kinda metal, right?
So yeah, Dororo has a lot of reasons to hate that flower. It’s the color of blood, it reminds him of his mother’s death. It also is known to bring bad luck; there is a superstition that if you bring Manjushage home, it will cause a fire. Remember Moriko, the girl who sang about picking red flowers? Remember what happened to her house and everyone in it? I bet Dororo put two and two together.
Something Dororo may not know about Manjushage is that it is also known as the abandoned child flower. This is based off a legend where two creatures who were tasked with guarding the flower left their post in order to meet each other. God, angry at them for disobeying him, forced them to separate for all of eternity. The Manjushage was abandoned by the ones who needed to protect it, just like Dororo.
When I thought I couldn’t feel worse for this kid, a single flower can heighten that emotion and multiply it.
However, the Manjushage is usually known as the Higanbana (hell flower), so why does Dororo call it by its other name? Manjushage is the term for the flower that shows up in Buddhist scripture which, firstly, reflects Dororo’s time period and, secondly, adds a bit of a hopefully spin to this blood red blossom. Due to its relation to Buddhism, Manjushage are also linked to the heavens and incarnation. Maybe Dororo knows this and does not call it Higanbana because he wants to believe in the reincarnation of his loved ones. Or maybe he doesn’t know any better because he’s, like, eight-years-old and I’m reading into it too much (I did just write over 1000 words on a flower).
Whichever way you like at it, the inclusion of this small element is fascinating. Whenever I come across a distinct flower in anime or any Japanese media, I always research it because I find hanakotoba so interesting. I looked up flower meanings when making bouquets in Persona 5 so I could max out my stats; I read about the flowers in the sixth Natsume Yuujincho OP to get a better sense of what it wanted me to feel. There are so many ways how small choices can expand a scene’s message. The Manjushage is an example of that. I’m excited to see the other flowers in the ED make their appearances. What kind of flowers are they? What do they mean? How do they add to what is happening on screen? Man, isn’t symbolism so freakin’ cool?
Anyway, I’ve been loving Dororo. It’s a simple but impactful show that can go from funny to tragic to profound in a matter of minutes. If this post interested you at all, please go give it a try. Not enough people are watching this show. I can’t wait to see what else it does and how more of its little details like this will blow me out of the water.