Tezuka Osamu has been called the “Father of Manga,” and he’s widely credited with laying down the foundations for the art form. Throughout his life, he created over 700 comics for a wide variety of genres. Dororo was Tezuka’s take on a samurai story. Dark, cinematic, and often disturbing, the series was one of the inspirations for how Tale of Ronin presents Edo period Japan.
Dororo tells the tale of Hyakkimaru, a wandering swordsman who is clearly modeled after a ronin. Technically, Hyakkimaru is a ronin in the series, though he had no choice. His father, a daimyo, prayed to 48 demons for the power to rule the land and offered up his unborn son in exchange. Hyakkimaru was born missing 48 body parts. His father quickly gained political power and became the ruler of the domain, while the disabled child was abandoned to die.
Hyakkimaru was taken in by a skilled doctor who crafted detailed prosthetics for him. However, he couldn’t stay with his adopted father because malicious spirits continued to hunt him. In order to live peacefully without bringing harm to those around him, he must find and kill the 48 demons and reclaim his lost body parts in the process. He is accompanied by the bandit child Dororo — the only one who isn’t scared off by Hyakkimaru’s cursed existence.
While Dororo takes place during the Warring States period, it focuses heavily on the class conflict between the samurai and peasant castes. Those with power almost universally abuse it. Those without power almost universally suffer for the lack of it. Tezuka’s cute, rounded art style portrays fields of corpses and high-octane swordfights with the same love and care as his adorable characters.
One of the most intriguing elements of Dororo is the way it portrays gratitude. Samurai and commoners alike are repeatedly shown to be kind to Hyakkimaru when they want something from him, only to immediately turn around when he needs something in exchange. That innate selfishness transcends social class. Perhaps this is why only those on the outskirts of society, including Hyakkimaru himself, are truly compassionate to others.
In Tale of Ronin, the demons are rather less literal than the monsters Hyakkimaru fights, but players will still encounter the kind of selfish samurai who would sell his son for power… and the kind of closed-minded peasants who would abandon their savior as soon as they no longer needed him.