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Review: Garo the Animation

Genres: Action, Drama, Fantasy, Demons, Witches, Alchemists

Plot Summary: When the Kings advisor Mendoza tries to put to death all of the Makai Knights and seize control of the kingdom, guardians against the Horrors that feed on human depravity,  a child is born in the midst of travesty. This child named Leon and the surviving son of the King, Alfonso, would take their place as future Makai Knights…if only Leon can control his violent anger…

STORY – 3.4

Garo the Animation is a lot of things: fun, exciting, tragic, heroic, thematic, romantic, bold…maybe too bold. This wild story brings a combination of epic to head-scratching confusion with style, all before landing back to its roots. At least, until the end.

Adult Elements:

Garo takes liberty showing off the human body, particularly men in this show. As an equal opportunity offender in selling sex, a majority of the episodes involve some kind of bed and a woman, suggestive positions short of softporn (think Halle Berry’s sex scene in Die Another Day (2002)). To be fair, the conversations are meaningful, so skip at your own peril as finer elements are explained in these awkward scenes. Additionally, language is causally used at a TV-14 level, though expect to hear a few dog names.

Main Themes:

Accordingly, Garo the Animation dwells on dark, human aspects of our lives, focusing on how the quest for personal vengeance can destroy potential and of despair and personal ruin. A fantastical world with Horrors, demons who embody hatred and wickedness in a soul, even engulfing both body and soul. Throughout the episodes, tragedies bring out the disparity that hits close to home, of how are base needs, including sexual, can confuse and destroy people.

Throughout a majority of the episodes, our main protagonist, Leon, feels natural in his struggle to forgive and leave his vengeful quest to satisfy the pain of his mother’s death. The answer to this Leon’s past is veritably redeeming in defining what it means to be a hero, not simply slaying evil men or protecting people for the sake of a hero. From an audiences’ perspective, much of what Garo tries to accomplish feels mature and candid, whether or not the answer leaves you feeling satisfied.

On Romances:

This mature posturing of Garo the Animation, lends well to a constant theme for the one our main protagonists, German Luis, bearer of a magical demon armor called the Makai and in search of a son…and by son, I mean finding any brothel or random beauty he may spread his cloak of love. To say this was not annoying at first would be a lie, but oddly enough as the show progresses, we find German’s philandering humorous as it is insightful to our own sexuality. Naturally, German seeks this the wrong way until he meets an unlikely woman who can answer his burning desire.

Oddly enough, aside from the girls at the brothels, most of the women German happens upon are decent girls, and one in particular is more than capable of taming this wild oat. The themes of mature love, of redemption, of how marriage answers deep desires in our hearts is what makes the romance solid and its morals stable.

A Dead Witch, a Lecherous Knight, and an Angry Hero:

german-killing-the-beastNow, the beginning starts with a sad scene of a young “witch” being burned at the stake; the scenery is slightly gothic before bowing to the fake CGI effects of a silver wolf-knight, German. The knight himself is unable to save the woman, but not before she miraculously emits a power that preserves the unborn child out of the womb and into the arms of what turns out to be the husband’s hands.

Ordinarily, I dislike convenient magical events, since this betrays the lack of depth in the story to stay believable, although this amazing birth of Leon comes handy later on as an excellent contrast both to the father’s promiscuous lifestyle and the child’s thirst for vengeance. Why Leon has any memories at all is never explained, but the payoff is worth the shaky beginning.

Enter now Leon’s father, German, weaving the former tale to a voluptuous woman in her bed. Naturally, this is a brothel, though the foreplay is limited and technically the woman turns out to be one of our Horrors, but the suggestive material is pretty sensual. To be fair, Garo is pretty much eye candy for the women, and the constant case of losing his clothes does lend to some humorous moments.

Makai Knights, a loveable Alchemist, and the Slow-Cooking Presentation:

Notwithstanding, Garo is not a fair description of the Makai Knights in general, these noble warriors serve deities who are neither lovable nor efficient. I appreciated the conflicting nature of these Knights: Sworn to never use their power against normal humans, these Knights oddly enough use the same power of the horrors in their armor that they fight against. Not to say Garo convolutes morality in this world, only which naturally lends to the disdain of the villain in the story, a former Makai Knight himself, who sees the power of the horrors as nothing to be fearful of. In fact, the twist is he seeks to control and consume them with a rare artifact, in his quest to be superior against what he sees as the order of life.

For this villain, hereafter named Mendoza, his goals and aims are fleshed out in the series fairly well (save for the ending), and the doomed subservient of his are in direct contrast to his apathy towards the world. This made for an intriguing series the way Garo the Animation directed the viewer to think about each person’s humanity in a way that was reflective and dark.

Moreover, the first major subservient, a Black Knight with ties to German from youth, has a fairly decent arc that lets us meet a beautiful, yet crafty Alchemist named Ema, who magnificently saves Leon early on, affectionately calling him “Boy” throughout the series. My only shame at this point was the lack of cameo for Ema, yet this was soon to be rectified.

Speaking of Leon, the initial fight with the Black Knight reveals his propensity towards losing his emotions quickly. Leon’s thirst for vengeance for his mother causes him to lose control over his Makai Armor…so while this does afford him great power, it also endangers everyone involved. The musing that follows between German and Ema regarding Leon, was less of a conversation than a weary concern that Leon will never be worthy of the Makai Armor he currently possesses. This ominous feeling does not disappoint and Garo starts to suck the viewer into its twisted universe.

leon-disgracedWhich brings me to an important point about Garo the Animation. At no point does the show dump everything onto your lap…even the Makai Knights are slowly introduced with their backstory one by one. Furthermore, the adult conversations throughout the show are deep, emotional, and hit closer to who we are as sexual beings than you might care to admit.

Consider the episode where Leon and Father come upon a town where the residents are ugly and unwelcoming. The crux of the story involves a boy who was bitter that the town slew his father out of fear of curses, and by happenchance meets a demon who with his help slowly picks off those in the town one by one. While the child’s desire for vengeance is a bit different than our Leon, his desperation for his missing father is both disturbing and tragic, to excellent effects.

Weaknesses in Garo and a Prince:

By this time the show was picking up in steam about Leon’s past, intrigue following by an odd sort of episodes that barely move the plot and have forgettable characters and stories. Take the fight the Black Knight where Leon is knocked unconscious…he loses his memory?

What? Why? And what gives with such a lame side-arc that feels forced, is not scary, and fails to be either imaginative or insightful, even when the concept surrounds a “ware-wolf”? The villain to this small clichéd village, where Leon finds himself, is selling children off to slavery, dressed as a ware-wolf. He uses the church to his advantage, but really, the villain is not very bright. Why anyone “recognizes” Leon is stupid, the villain’s backstory feeble, his Horror comedic, and however you call that a “fight” scene, on a beautiful bridge in front of the tearful kids, silly.

Is this Lame? Dirty? Innocent? Or do streamers attract the ladies?

Granted, Garo sometimes feels like a half a bag, anyways. Every third episode feels like the stories surround tropes that neither push the story nor engage the audience. So, when German also loses his memory from a unsightly injury, the audience is unsure whether we should scoff or be intrigued. Thankfully, this turned out to the latter, as the show hit gold when we also discover German also has lost his clothes.

To be fair to this episode, the premise sounds innocent enough. Find a woman running away from some normal human brutes, play the hero, running away to a barn where the woman is bound to be receptive to your chivalry. When the woman words her words seductively, Leon is not one to pass off a chance at love, and with bold gusto flings his clothes off only to be discovered by the brutes at the worst possible time…oh, and the girl is one of them.

“Think of what could have been” …Not even nakedness throws German temperament…strikingly, the sultry view that says everything here had me hesitant to whether the scene was obscene or just hilarious. Even better, the ENTIRE EPISODE INVOLVES HIM RUNNING AROUND TRYING TO FIND SOME CLOTHES. For an episode that has a naked man running around looking like a pervert to find some clothing, Garo the Animation actually made this one of my favorite episodes of the series…who says you cannot traverse in the comedy that in the sanctimonious nature clothes afford?

Conversely, we even meet German’s next love, washing some clothes and smirking away at German’s predicament. Slyly, Garo manages to make her memorable while not forgetting the arc at hand, which includes the woman thief from before desperately clinging to German, pleading for his help since her companions are dead. Moreover, we find pleasing German’s perceptive words about knowing what happened to the small leader of the group, who had turned into a horror.

But best of all the scenes comes at the end of the episode, where after getting his clothes back and meeting up with Ema the Alchemist, they have one of the greatest humorous, yet serious conversations about Leon’s future while German has nothing more than a pink bonnet to cover him. I swear, this feat alone is worth an award.

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Of Solid backstories, real Honor, Villains, and Great Justice:

              Garo continues to raise its stock with a mostly successful backstory of German, his dead wife, and the Black Knight’s friendship together. By this point in the story, the villain Mendoza has seized the kingdom, pushed out the prince and is holding the Queen hostage. Here, another impressive event happens when the prince, Alfonso, pulls off an amazing decision to NOT be a cliché by saving the Queen first…all of this feeling original and brave of the show.

              True, the luster of the arc dims a little with the Black Knight’s defeat by German who inconsistency goes from “YOU ARE DEAD TO ME” to “My Brother”, but Garo does not disappoint with its bold story-telling.

              Mendoza, awakens a giant horror he seeks to destroy the world…maybe better described as a headless boob monster…and we have a great fight scene with our heroes, only Leon’s anger makes him an easy target for Mendoza. Ironically, this plays into Alfonso’s hand when Mendoza forgets about the boob monster and is swallowed whole. Between the visionary madness of the wizard and Leon’s fire for vengeance, having the Hero be the greater threat when he in his golden armor breathes fire and lays flat half the Palace!

              While the wolf hands do look a bit corny, Garo is not afraid of challenging our expectations with great dialogue. Not only was Leon useless in the battle against Mendoza, but he destroyed half the palace city and subsequently stripped of his titles and his magical armor!

              Throughout, Leon’s humiliation and inability to repent, feels human. Appropriately, Garo shows us what life is like, and how people do not always choose the right decision when the time comes. Occasionally, our pain and sorrow we bring on ourselves can help shape who we are, but only if we allow the circumstances to teach us.

             Dramatically, the despair Leon feels hits the mark. We comprehend…the show knows…his sorrow is not from humility, but self-pity and shame of what he has done. Until the time when Leon recants from who he was, Garo the Animation never forgets to expose the inner turmoil that Leon is self-inflicting himself, and ends up with one of the best scenes in recent years.

A fine Romance, Romeo and Juliet:

              After an intermission, Garo moves the plot along following Leon’s despair at his own worthlessness, even seeing him attempt suicide by leaping off a cliff! Moreover, the show rises to the occasion, as a sweet-tempered farmer’s girl, named Lara, by happenchance saves our unlikely hero. The scenery of the farm was splendid, where normal life is fascinating, and digging a waterway on hard ground a serene, deep point about how life is long. For life is messy and slow, yet often forcing our will misses the insight that technique and friendships offer. For Garo acknowledges that it may be good for a man to have his face smashed in the dirt, to be humbled by his circumstance, so that he might find a hope and a future, as much as find redemption to the viewers’ perspective.

Satisfyingly, Leon is slowly romanced by Lara’s cheeky personality, their friendship budding in the wind as the crops grow. Albeit Lara’s boob scene (“so we keep our rating MA”) was unnecessary, like a master story-teller Garo throws the right kind of tension in the air when we peak at Mendoza’s handmaiden, who escaped notice in the arc before.

Sensational, what a nail biter we have in the coming episodes! Here, Leon has found peace with himself, a friend whom he begins to care for, and even is given encouragement by the Prince, who is back to traveling and hunting down Horrors. The sensuous scene from before leads to a false hope for the two of them when a particularly nasty giant Horror worm finds its way to the farm’s doorstep.

leon-saying-goodbye-to-laraAnd what tremendous scenes that follow! While Leon desperately trying to save his friend with Alfonso’s help, I was convinced Lara would stay alive…yet, Garo again shows its maturity. Candidly, her death left the audience feeling numb…after all, Lara is in the ending credits (and stays there for the rest of the show)…Leon and Alfonso were so close…the deafening silence of Leon’s great sadness at seeing his lifeless friend, Alphonso muted shouting at his frustration and pain… Masterful. Even Leon’s romantic last words with Lara transcended to new heights…

As if this tragic event could not be more touching, in the next episode, Leon is burying Lara…yes, they spend an entire episode on Leon facing his own inner Horror and letting Lara slip away. Although his grief is deep, Leon’s understanding of what his purpose is, beyond merely “protecting those I love”, but transcending to a unique flavor of protecting the memory of what they stood for and cherished, as much as that person. Leon, for the remainder of the series, made his desire personal to each individual he seeks to defend, and comes off amazing.

Take the next episode, where Ema the Alchemist has been searching for her former husband, now a Horror. As independent as Ema pretends to be, Garo does not lose sight of these powerful moments, and propels the show by virtue of Leon’s newfound nobility and grace with Ema’s misery.

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Empathy for tragic fools, and an Ending, Memorable?

Interestingly, Garo also was capable of presenting the human, raw side of a villain, the Handmaiden of the Wizard whose loyalty to Mendoza actually leads her to killing off an innocent servant girl we grew to like to save herself. Heck, look at the way the girl died, eaten by a Hollow that Mendoza has control over, and even willing to lose a leg to avoid suspicion. Garo was rocking, unafraid to test the limits of story-telling.

But first…did I mention Ema and Leon falling in love? No? Yet, aside from two cryptic mentions, the latter a joke on Leon becoming like his father… that was all. As we find out, it was a blunder by Garo when the audience feels left out of the loop at such an important element. Yes, Leon makes some awe-inspiring statements about valuing life and there are some touching moments given even to the handmaiden…but why does Ema not deserve any love?

For sure, the Handmaiden’s death was beautifully tragic. For Ema’s perceptive understanding of how little Mendoza actually loved the girl was pointed, even as we sense Leon’s Father has been overwhelmed by Mendoza’s numerous horrors. And who can forget Leon’s encounter with Mendoza, unfazed by his taunting and even capable of upsetting the villain by his newfound wisdom.

The problem then, is these epic moments are ruined by such an impossible, incorrigible metaphoric fight that ensues between Leon and Mendoza. Mendoza’s god form was neat, but the apathy towards everything ended up making the fighting look pathetic.

And to have the sorcerer fight about musings, a trope that has seen use a thousand times…Mendoza’s ascension is splendid, and opening up that portal to hell and thrusting Leon (who pulls him along) was promising. But what are we entertained with? MORE WORDS…in fact, that is all that happens. For magically, Leon’s mother appears and conveniently tells him how her love is a fire in this world that can hold Mendoza in purgatory forever. Oh, and Garo’s Father apparently died so that he can have his “touching” moments with Leon as Garo cannot have Leon doing anything brave or noble. No, just receptive from convenient latent powers he had nothing to do with.

How can Garo call this an ending? Did the author think about the ebb and flow of the show? Why couldn’t Ema, writhing in agony over her situation on being the outside of the portal Leon went into, at least offer a little romance for her troubles? Garo was perfectly fine giving a dead father time, but for Ema, nothing!

Perplexingly, why all the talk by Mendoza about having sex for posterity, if neither one of the couples in the show obtain anything! Leon apparently has no sway with his estranged lover after this epic battle and German never will be there for his pregnant wife. Is this the extent of the shows’ morals? Leon did sleep with Ema, yet is that all the goodness it can muster?

So, are the knights just lascivious fools, who happen to fight for justice? I recognize that Leon is not like his father, but in effect, how can you say otherwise? If sleeping with someone does not afford more than a platonic pretense of romance between Ema and Leon…the show lets the viewer down on cement, without any care to how depressing and dissatisfying the ending was!

Emotional Draw – 3.5

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For Adults, By Adults. From Garo, with Love:

Not to say Garo was truly unsuccessful in its ambitions. Rather, it made a colossal mistake towards the end by focusing on vague concepts of love for the dead while ignoring the living souls whose lives were of interest to the audience. The result capitulated, rather than promoted, the romantic, softer elements of the show.

That said, Garo is definitely an adult show with adult humor. Providing deeper observations about our sexuality and emotional makeup through its humor and sexy dialog, Garo moved the conversation about who we are to our core to phenomenal effect. Sure, considerable amount of the humor is at the expense of German, but ruminate on the situation: Leon is barely into man-hood, so utilizing a character with experience and age allowed Garo to explain who Leon was, without getting too creepy with Ema’s romance.

Taking a step backwards, consider the episode involving Alfonso the Prince and German with that warring Lord and his daughter. As it happens, the Prince escaped the boring, vain position as political king, into a carriage of the Lord, who has caught the man who dared to fall in love with his daughter. Nothing is wasted in this episode, as German is a guest at the same Lord’s mansion, searching for some white flowers that the lady he fancies had expressed desire for. Even the moral of the story was deep, as people lionizes certain historical heroes in order to escape the reality of our fallen state. After all, everyone knows how to fail…

Remarkably, Garo was exceptional in whenever it tried. Whether it was German’s romance with the landlord he ran into during that fateful naked episode, and the reason he retrieved the white flower, or Leon’s friendship with Lara, those scenes were so powerful. In particular, my favorite scenes include the banter between German and the landlord, and watching German be stymied by her wit and self-confidence was satisfying.

Ema’s Romance: A Missed Opportunity

              Take Ema’s story on the search for her husband, where the show made her frustration ours, her despair ours, and the way the horror dies seemed to string our hearts. Add to the fact Leon, now grownup after the death of Lara…is capable of empathizing to a level, as Ema put it: “how can you sound so grownup!” It was powerful!

So then it becomes a sore point when Leon is patching up Emma after her fight, who by then is kind of drunk, Leon allows himself to kiss her…and more. Even if you want to fantasize about how “Leon is growing up”, what happens when he tries the hardware before marriage? The romance is given zero room to grow. Having one quasi funny comment about fornication, and a great scene from Ema towards the end before Mendoza is defeated, but nothing else.

No payoff, no hints, nothing that reminisces to what was special before. If Garo wished us to envision a drunken romance, hurt by amnesia, fine. But instead of giving the viewer any hope, the show drops the audience by the curbside, wondering why both characters cannot be honest with themselves around each other, not even an adorable embarrassment trope to spare the viewer.

Characters 3.82

Leon Luis – 3.9

A boy, and yet a man, Leon’s temper and quest for vengeance has him unable to wield the Makai Knights’ power, let alone even be useful for half the show. His enduring struggle to let go of his mother, to find joy in others was ours. Particularly, his attempt at suicide pushed the boundary for heroes, and hit well. The English actor, Ricco Fajardo, played well, nailing almost every opportunity he had. Some favorite scenes where our hero shows real maturity include the epic burial scene with Lara and facing off Mendoza before the portal.

Lara – 4.0

Lara is a character that only appears between the epic portions of the show, but do not let her sweet personality catch the viewer off guard. This farmer’s girl had a cute romance with Leon and perhaps had her greatest achievement in her death and burial, then in life. Lara is innocent and brave, noble and kind, and seeing her in the ending song for the second season was rather bittersweet. Kudos to Brina Palencia, a fantastic actress in her own right, for taking advantage of her limited role and left Lara as one of my favorite characters.

German Luis – 4.0

Pronounced jer-mayne in the show, German is an eccentric, womanizer with noble aspirations. Often scandalous with the ladies, German is simply looking for an heir to his Makai Knight armor, and finds love in the oddest of places, a landlord.

Now, David Wald captures the essence of this lovable pervert, who unknowingly is searching for love in all the wrong places. Catchy with every woman, bold in all his lines, German ends up being one of your favorite characters towards the end….so it is a shame he does not survive.

Alfonso San Valiante – 3.2

Justin Briner tries to do his character justice, and is generally successful in the second season. A Prince forced into tough times when Mendoza steals the thrown, Alfonso finds his niche after Mendoza’s first downfall, growing into a great, noble character who befriends Leon.

Ema Guzman – 4.0

Right away, I knew Monica Rial‘s rendition of Ema was golden, though we do not see her enough in the series. As an Alchemist in search of her lost former husband, Ema gradually allows her heart to soften for a young man…. if only the show did something with this. A shame for a solid character and even better voice actress.

Mendoza – 4.0

Vic Mignogna has been in Anime for a long time, and he is no stranger to fantastic roleplaying. As a crooked Makai Knight gone wrong, Mendoza’s lust for power and immortality leads him to desire the end of the world, almost as maddening as the gods themselves, who seem not to care. By far, the greatest strength of Vic was making senseless musings at the end sound interesting, even if the show collapsed around it.

Creativity3.3

Overall, Garo is fairly imaginative, a kind of gothic look that falls off from weak limits of the awful CGI it chose to render the Makai Knights and a few Horrors (boob monster and airplane horror the worst). But don’t let that mislead you into thinking Garo is a kids’ show, as many of the horrors take legitimately creepy forms.

As for the scenery, the landscape and architecture were often memorable and pleasant to the eyes. An example is Lara’s farm, where looking over the hilly farm land against evergreen trees was grand as it was conducive to the story-telling. Also, Mendoza’s god form was stylishly tremendous, and conversely, from a stylistic approach Garo captured the human emotions throughout the show.

Musically, Garo the Animation has classic fight music, and a decent opening intro song with “Honō no Kokuin -Divine Flame-” by the vocal giant JAM Project and an even better second edition “B.B.” by the same after the first season. Ending Songs include a forgettable performance by “CHIASTOLITE” by Sayaka Sasaki and a rocking hard-rock song “FOCUS” by Showtaro Morikubo, sure to be a favorite for some time to come.

Grade Overall 3.50

(Garo the Animation ventures often outside the normal bounds of a show, developing deep and mature conversations around despair and our own human sexuality. However, Garo is short of a classic since it deviates from its own winning formula by giving an end that is more reminiscent of two philosophers bickering than a fitting battle between two ideologies.)