I don’t know anything about the Garo franchise, but this is what I can gather from the first episode. If you’re a big fan of the drama series of which this anime is based upon, feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken about anything. In the Garo universe, the land is beset by Horrors, and they appear to be… hm, demons of some sort? They’re evil creatures, basically, and they want to devour humans. We soon learn that shortly after devouring humans, Horrors are able to take their victims’ forms. Perhaps you can walk by a whole bunch of Horrors-in-disguise on your way home from work, and you won’t even realize it until it’s too late. But all is not lost; both the Makai Knights and the Makai Priests (or Priestesses) can hunt and seal these Horrors away so that they will never hurt anyone. Unfortunately, the king has fallen ill. And like most stories involving a king, he has a Machiavellian advisor who leads him astray. King Fernando is convinced that his illness is due to a witch’s curse. And oh, would you look at that? According to his advisor, it would seem that many of the Makai Priestesses are witches. Likewise, the advisor convinces the king that the Makai Knights are demons. A witch hunt ensues, and it presumably purges the Valiante Kingdom of most of the Makai Knights and Makai Priests. A few heroes, however, do remain.
So our story focuses on Leon, his father Herman, and Alphonso, the king’s son. Anna, Leon’s mother and also a Makai Priestess, had been accused of cursing the king, so she was burned alive at the stake. But while the flames raged around her, she somehow simultaneously gave birth to Leon and protected him from being harmed by the fire at the same time. Pretty impressive, I’d say. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think she was a witch too. Herman, a Makai Knight, was able to arrive in time to save Leon but not Anna. Since then, the king’s advisor has searching for the father-son duo ever since. It’s been seventeen years, in fact. Needless to say, Herman has been training Leon to become a Makai Knight, too. In fact, he becomes the Golden Knight Garo, whose mission is to slay Horrors across the land… or something. I mean, c’mon, we’re battling demons. The exact details aren’t terribly important. According to a synopsis I’ve read elsewhere, Alphonso will eventually request the help of Leon and Herman, because, y’know, the king’s advisor is an evil bastard. I wonder if the advisor is a Horror himself, or if he’s just a particularly unsavory character who’s taking advantage of the situation for power. He seems to have the ability to send Horrors after our heroes, so I’m leaning towards the former for now.
Like Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis, MAPPA’s other series airing this fall, Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames looks to have plenty of slick action. At one point in the episode, Leon transforms into Garo in order to defend himself from a Horror, and the ensuing battle does not disappoint unless the CGI bothers you. Like in other shows, the 3-D does stick out a bit like a sore thumb, but I can tolerate it here because the fight choreography looks impressive. And this is minor in the grand scheme of things, but I also like the fact that the story doesn’t shy away from sex. For the majority of the episode, Herman lies in bed with a Horror disguised as a prostitute. I’m pretty sure she even gives him a blowjob at one point. And while the prostitute spends much of her time in various states of undress, it’s not as if Herman isn’t buck-naked himself. Of course, we don’t get to see anything explicit occur onscreen, but when so many shows shy away from sex, it’s nice to see an anime come along and doesn’t pretend as though grown-ass adults don’t have natural grown-ass urges. Peculiarly enough, these other, oh-so-mature shows often only ever make any mention of sex when someone’s getting raped. And yes, there is implied rape in Garo’s first episode. It’s unfortunate that rape rears its ugly head so often in anime, but as always, it becomes a serious problem when its portrayal is gratuitous. It’s also bad when rape is used as a plot device to make a protagonist seem more heroic or badass. You know exactly what I’m referring to.
Unlike the MAPPA’s other anime, however, Garo does appears to be a bit more exposition-laden. Nevertheless, I wasn’t bored. Why? What saves Garo is the fact that the exposition isn’t completely straightforward. Characters don’t just sit there and talk to themselves. Characters don’t just ask each other obvious questions that make the ensuing conversation seem stilted and unnatural. Herman does tell the prostitute a story, but he tells her one side of the story at first — the side that the king and his advisor would want you to hear. From there, using scenes from the anime as clues, you’re supposed to piece together the true story behind the witch hunt. Of course, there’s no grand mystery here. It’s plainly obvious that the king is a fool, innocent people have been killed, and the advisor is pulling all the strings. Nevertheless, this one small storytelling tweak prevents Garo from being too dull during its more conversation-heavy scenes. Like Shingeki no Bahamut, I don’t expect this anime to be incredibly deep or thought-provoking. I suspect I’m not going to be writing 2000-word entries on this show like I did with Terror in Resonance. Nothing so far suggests that we’ll be racking brains over Garo’s story or its themes. Still, it’s early so the show could very well surprise us in the weeks to come. Furthermore, even if you tell me that all we’re going to get is a story about a guy and his father kicking some demon ass, that’s not such a bad thing. This is especially true if Garo can keep its atmosphere up.
Why am I not impressed by a show like Hitsugi no Chaika, but I think I can enjoy Garo? After all, if the latter really is just a story about saving the kingdom from an evil advisor and his army of Horrors, aren’t they both simplistic tales about heroism, action, and adventure? Honestly, it’s all about the atmosphere. I feel that something like Chaika too often gets bogged down by stupid bullshit “anime-isms,” so it has a very anime-like atmosphere if you know what I mean. And duh, we’re watching anime, so anime shows should have all share a particular atmosphere! Or should they…? Anime is essentially just cartoons from Japan. Certainly, if anime should have anything in common, it should be the fact that these shows all come from the same culture. But at the same time, it’s silly to me that a story that takes place in a semi-European setting like Chaika will nevertheless have a ton of anime tropes and conventions that I’d expect to find in, say, a harem anime. For example, all of the girls in his party are practically in love with Toru, including his own sister. Or how the Fredrika’s human form is a midget, tsundere loli with blonde hair. I wouldn’t say Garo feels more grown-up or anything like that. Rather, when every show out there seems overly burdened by anime tropes and conventions, Garo thus feels like a breath of fresh air.
Again, it doesn’t look like we’re getting another Terror in Resonance from MAPPA, but if they can properly execute both this and Shingeki no Bahamut, give me a ticket to board their hype train. I’ll gladly ride it all the way until the studio inevitably sells out and starts making shitty LN adaptations because they need money. Ah, it’s the anime dream. Speaking of which, what’s Manglobe up to these days? I haven’t heard anything about them since Samurai Flamenco came to an end…