Review: Garo: Honoo no Koku

[Synopsis]: Under the influence of his trusted adviser Mendosa (Hashi, Takaya), the king of Valiante initiates a massive witch hunt in order to exterminate both the Makai Knights and the Makai Alchemists after the king’s health was threatened by the curse of a witch. As she was burned at the stake, the witch in question gave birth to a son, Leon Luis (Namikawa, Daisuke) who was then spirited away by his father and Makai Knight Luis Herman. Many years later Leon returns with his father to exact his revenge on those responsible for his mother’s death and a young, escaped prince, Alfonso Variante (Nomura, Katsuhito), seeks to take back his kingdom from Mendosa’s twisted influence.

[Characters]:

I think that Garo had a perfectly sized cast for the story it set out to tell. It concerned itself most with the two protagonists Leon and Alfonso however a good deal of screen time is also given to Herman and a Makai Alchemist named Emma Guzman. The other members of the cast vary a decent amount however a good many are citizens of Valiante and help to reinforce the themes of the show in different ways without needing extensive character investigations themselves.

Leon is a pretty decent character overall and has considerable and overt development over the course of the show. He occupies a fairly static attitude and mindset for the first half of the show however the latter half spends a great deal of time nurturing his development and he ultimately becomes a better character because of it. While he is bent on revenge, he doesn’t quite embody the trait to the degree some other protagonists have and while his revenge may consume him from time to time, it does not define him as it does some characters from other shows.

Alfonso brings with him the usual traits of the crown prince of a kingdom – he is righteous, courageous, and a skilled swordsman and so in this way he is a little typical while being appealing for the same reasons. He isn’t as complex as Leon nor does he have the same level of development because of how his character starts off however he is not unpleasant and his straightforwardness alongside Leon helps contrast the two characters quite well. He improves a decent amount for me once he takes on a mentor and his active pursuit in saving his kingdom makes the character quite endearing

Herman, Leon’s father, is mostly a comedic character because of his relaxed attitude and his frequent visits to town brothels however he has a few serious moments throughout the show and possesses agency within the plot. I didn’t care for him very much because he had more screen time than I thought his antics deserved, much of it taking place during a slight lull in the show’s pacing where I think it would have been much better for the show to have focused on Leon or perhaps Alfonso.

Lastly, Mendoza, like Alfonso, strikes me as a pretty typical character – this is not the first time we’ve seen a twisted, needlessly evil, adviser to the king and his ambitions and goals are nothing to write home about either. While he is pretty simplistically evil, his backstory is interesting enough and makes the character more acceptable in my eyes however it too is not great work of fiction. Someone I want to make special note of is Mendoza’s attendant Octavia who also serves as a maid to the king. She has nearly no presence in the first half of the show however in the second half she shows surprising innovation and intelligence in her actions. Because of these traits, I found her to be one of the more compelling characters around at that time despite her infrequent appearances and her light presence in the earlier half of the show. Her worship of Mendoza and her reasons for doing so are well-founded and sincere and made her quite an enjoyable character after she starts receiving some attention.

[Art/Animation]:

The first thing to talk about when it comes to the animation in Garo is most definitely the suits of Makai armor donned by the main characters – Garo, Zoro, Gaia (to name a few). While they look fantastic by themselves, their CG depiction by is both hard to initially swallow and contrasts heavily with the show’s environments and sometimes enemies. I wish I could say it gets easier to watch as the show progresses and that you get used to the over-the-top, brilliantly shining, metal suits however I never really felt at home with them and ultimately found them a bit distracting – somewhat damaging the otherwise well executed action sequences. The show also uses CG for the Horrors, the often present enemies of the Makai Knights, and so when both the heroes and enemies are done in CG it makes the whole scene a tad more acceptable as they are no longer clashing however this is not always the case and it still doesn’t fix the stark difference between the armors and their animated environments.

CG aside, the character designs in Garo have an interesting style to them. They are vibrant designs which go together with the over-the-top nature of the show however at times I felt things started to look and feel a bit ridiculous. The characters are extremely simplistic in their design points however also outlandish enough with their hair and body proportions to be called vibrant. The Horrors are not always humanoid and are often more bestial in design; I would even go as far to say they are somewhat abstract at times which makes them feel a bit odd given their large range of depictions and as an antagonistic presence within the show it was hard to pin them down and even take them seriously at times. The character designs would occasionally falter in quality but not too noticeably and not enough to continuously distract the viewer. The action sequences had good animation, somewhat attributed to their use of CG, however there were a few notable fights of importance that I would even call excellent in their execution.

[Story]:

The story was not the area where Garo most excelled as the show primarily felt like a vehicle for glossy, stylistic, CG action sequences with some added backstories, character interests, and plot points to frame them. This is not to dismiss the attempt that Garo made to build a narrative framework for its action scenes and it doesn’t do an abhorrent job of it as the overarching story is not all that bad however it lacks complexity in an extreme way. Where the plot of the show really suffers in my opinion is in the episodes that feel a bit episodic and self-contained.

There is a clear story being told between Leon wanting revenge for the death of his mother, Alfonso wanting to take back his kingdom and restore it to glory, and Mendoza wanting to… commit atrocities – however every few episodes (and sometimes more frequently) we are given a story about a local demon that needs to be dealt with and we watch how the characters cope with it. The horrors don’t have any direct relevance to the greater plot however their extermination falls under the tasks issued to the Makai Knights and so it feels like we are doing necessary work when we watch our heroes confront them despite the fact that they have no explicit ties to a greater enemy. This combined with the lull in pacing around the midsection of the show can make the greater narrative feel a bit distant at times however when it shows up it is not displeasing and the short stories are by no means unwatchable (at least the majority of them). I will submit that the slow pacing in the middle gives birth to some of the better scenes in the show when all is said and done and that once things pick back up that the show gets progressively better and finishes in good form.

One problem I did have was with the way the show laid out its concepts. It does a decent enough job of establishing what the Makai Knights are and even Makai Alchemists however beyond that the Makai Rings, Leon’s markings, and the Watch Dogs are all a bit under-explained and a little hard to make sense of when they are introduced. The rings especially confused me because as Zaruba, Leon’s ring, is introduced, it seems like it is supposed to manage his emotional state however the other Makai Knights also have them and Zaruba’s own purpose within the show seems to alter drastically in the second half where he receives far more dialogue and can actively aid his wearer in combat.

[Music]:

The music was pretty decent all throughout and was probably what one would expect given the nature of the show. The music is often played up during the action scenes (appropriately so) but also did well during the more dramatic and somber scenes. In short I would say that the soundtrack felt at home within the action of the show and avoided falling short or feeling out of place when the show was focused elsewhere. A success coming from MONACA and a strong point for the show.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

I think Garo was a fun show despite its often dark tones and tragic circumstances. While it was a little hamfisted in the way it explored it’s themes, they meshed well with the characters and provided at least something of interest that ran throughout the framework of the narrative. At the end of the day I can’t help but feel like the show was more or less an action showcase however I find myself somewhat surprised by how well it did in other areas while still not quite impressing me to the point of the show being ‘good’.

Rating: 6

I gave Garo a 6 because of its fun and over-the-top action scenes, it’s sometimes dark subject matter, and because of a few infrequent triumphs within the plot. What held it back was its sometimes poor pacing, its lackluster characters outside of the main duo and the occasional side character, and because of its rather jarring implementation of CG. It was a fun show and I don’t regret watching it however it lacks both a solid presentation and other areas of interest in order to make it out.

[Recommendations]:

As long as they aren’t turned off by the overt use of CG to accomplish the task, I would recommend Garo to any fans of the action genre because the fights are both frequent and fun. Fans of fantasy and magic would not do wrong to pick up the show however there wasn’t as much magic as I myself was hoping for – the show opting to mainly focus on the armored Makai Knights rather than flame-throwing magicians. The drama is by no means bad and a few of the more memorable moments of the show exist in this area and so I feel confident in recommending it for this reason although it is intermittently present in the show and not the ultimate focus.

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