Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames Ep. 4: Reflections

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The village in this week’s episode is a microcosm of the world around them. Hell, the story in this week’s episode is a microcosm of the entire series. This episode may as well be Leon’s own reflection on not just his past, but his present and future as well. In that sense, the episode is almost dream-like in nature, wherein every character represents something important in Leon’s life. I mean, just look at Alois and his mother Aurelia. They’re essentially Leon and German respectively. Alois wants revenge; the villagers killed his father, and he wants them to pay a blood price for that heinous crime. Leon wants revenge; the Valiante Kingdom killed his mother, and he wants… well, what does he want? He wants someone to pay, but the truth of the matter is, society is what’s broken. Society is what allows these terrible atrocities to occur. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to square one.

The villagers are superstitious folks. They don’t take kindly to outsiders, and to make matters worse, they’re quick to point fingers. The situation here is like The Wicker Man in a way. Should misfortune ever befall the village and its inhabitants, the latter will conduct a ceremony to exorcise the demon from the town. But obviously, this is no exorcism. Obviously, they have no idea if anyone in the village is truly a demon or not. But it doesn’t really matter to them. They simply want a scapegoat to “sacrifice;” they need a scapegoat. Life in this universe is brutish and ugly. When something goes wrong, it’s often easier to just blame someone else for your problems. As a result, the village chief murders people to appease a bunch of easily-frightened, superstitious folks. And honestly, you can blame the village chief all you want, but he wouldn’t be able to do what he does without a mandate.

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Alois’s father was hardly innocent himself. He participated in these heinous exorcism ceremonies too. One day, however, the guilt got to him, so he tried to out the entire fucked-up practice to the outside world. Needless to say, he didn’t succeed. He got taken out to the woods where the rest of the villagers punished him by bludgeoning him to death. Unfortunately, Alois had seen the murder of his own father, and since then, he’s harbored a deep hatred in his heart. He’s consumed by revenge, and as a result, he has fallen under the influence of a Horror. You can thus see the parallels between the kid and Leon. Leon also lost a parent to a rotten, broken system, and he’s gripped by anger in every waking moment. The obvious lesson here is that he may very well end up like Alois if he isn’t careful. So when he says, “No, you can’t think that way,” his words barely come out. He can’t speak with conviction, because deep down, he knows he needs to follow his own advice.

Likewise, Alois’s mother is no different from German: “Alois. I’m sorry. Mother couldn’t do anything for you!” Then right on cue, German walks up to the crestfallen Leon and puts a hand on his son’s shoulder. They’re in the same damn situation. Recall German’s words near the start of the episode: “What’s the point in rushing like that?” Leon replies, “Isn’t it obvious?” German then says, “You’re not going to say revenge, are you? Goodness. You’re not possessed by a Horror, are you?” This emphasis is mine. So what do we see next? A story about a kid who is more or less possessed by a Horror. German isn’t a perfect father by any means; by sleeping around so much, he’s eroding what little respect Leon has left for him. Nevertheless, German is trying his damndest to keep Leon on the right path. That’s why he seems so lax with Leon. He takes Leon’s outbursts of hate and anger in stride, because he knows his son needs patience more than anything.

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What makes the episode truly poignant, however, is the blatant hypocrisy at the end of the episode. The village chief, now implicated for his crimes, are led away to the shed where he’ll likely be murdered. The village chief is now the scapegoat. Don’t get me wrong; he certainly isn’t innocent. But justice won’t be served by killing one man the same way all those previous murders didn’t exorcise demons. The reality is, the village chief was merely echoing the desires of his people. He’s just one man. He can’t make an entire village scapegoat anyone. The latent fear, hate, and distrust in people’s hearts is what makes it possible for the heinous ceremony to even exist in the first place. The village chief killed people to appease his people. If he hadn’t, they would’ve just appointed someone else to do his job. And if this episode is supposed to be a microcosm of the entire story, you can see the darker implications at hand.

Suppose Leon and German succeed in deposing the king and taking down the evil, manipulative Mendoza. Then what? My point is, will that get us to the root of the problem? Where do Horrors even come from? They are attracted to humanity’s negative feelings, are they not? Sure, Mendoza orchestrated the massive witch hunt, but we can’t assume that the citizens of Valiante are completely and utterly powerless. We can’t assume that they are simple bystanders who cannot resist a corrupt government. Like with the villagers in this very episode, fear, hate, and distrust is what makes it possible for so many innocent lives to be lost. Ultimately, Horrors exist in our world because society is fundamentally rotten. Rewatch the start of the first episode and listen to the people attending Leon’s mother’s execution: “I heard the last epidemic was her doing. Death to the witch!” Their beliefs are no different from the villagers we just watched.

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German tells Leon that it isn’t their place to judge humans. Their job is to exterminate Horrors, and that’s all they will do. They won’t interfere even though it’s clear that the villagers will torture and murder the village chief. At the end of the day, our heroes can only go after those that are clearly evil. Horrors are clearly evil. As for humans… well, evil in this case is a little more insidious, isn’t it? This evil is a little harder to pin down — a little too nebulous for the likes of a warrior to combat. And that’s all Leon is. He’s a warrior; nothing more, nothing less. You can almost feel this insidious sort of evil taunting our heroes from a distance: “You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength.” And that’s the truth. Leon can only strike down the Horror that has possessed Alois. He can’t, however, heal the boy’s heart. Likewise, he can kill Mendoza, but he can’t stop Horrors from appearing in this world.

In the end, Leon must divorce himself from his emotions. Of course, this means getting rid of the hatred in his heart. He needs to give up his mad quest for revenge. But divorcing himself from his emotions also means something else. He has to rid himself of both his compassion and his mercy. When the Horror flashes Alois’s face a second time to avoid certain death, Leon hesitates. He eventually gets the job done, but for a second there, his heart falters. Our hero eventually murders a part of his innocence, but it doesn’t come easy. If there’s anything that we can know for certain, it’s that Leon isn’t quite ready to become a hero of justice just yet. His quest to stop Mendoza is still a personal vendetta. And of course, in our hearts of hearts, we may find it incredibly satisfying if and when Leon does stab Mendoza right through the chest with a blade, but that’s not what a hero of justice is supposed to think.

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I think Leon is coming into his own just fine. He’s not the most charismatic hero, but his development is compelling. Not every hero needs to be this badass, cocksure protagonist who has it all together. I’m a little disappointed that Zaruba didn’t play a role in this week’s episode, though. We went out of our way to get the ring, and he doesn’t offer our hero any advice or guidance! Do your job, man! Also, I wouldn’t mind seeing Alfonso take on a bigger role. At the moment, we’re only getting breadcrumbs at best about his fate. But anyway, even though this may seem like a one-off episode at first glance, it ends up meaning so much, much more. I gotta say it is a strong episode.


11 Replies to “Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames Ep. 4: Reflections”

  1. I definitely agree with this being a strong episode. I love your analysis of the episode being a microcosm for the entire series; it seems like people are being too harsh on the series when they claim it has no thematic value.

  2. The one complaint I had with this episode was the horror. Unlike the spontaneous and overt demon figures we’ve seen so far, this one took the form of a carved doll and very gently, over a long period of time led a small boy down a dark path. If it just wanted him to do evil things there are much quicker ways. I can only conclude that it took such pains to corrupt this particular child in this way because it enjoyed doing so. That’s really neat.

    So what’s the problem? Well, that level of subversive plotting requires… thinking. It’s a kind of malice that doesn’t exist in beings without intelligence. For the doll to manipulate the child, it has to be smarter than the child – smart enough to find pleasure in the act for abstract reasons. Hell, Alois speaks to it and answers back as though he can hear it, so it must have learned human language.

    Yet when confronted by the knights, at the first sign of trouble it just transforms into a mindless growling skeleton thing and charges suicidally into a fight it has no hope of winning. Sure enough, it gets killed in record time. Where did all that cunning go? Did we really need another mindless throwaway monster so badly, or does Garo just not have any other ideas when it comes to these horrors?

      1. I figure more than a mindless beast possesses, at least. We’ve seen a bunch of horrors now and they’ve all done more or less the same thing: transform violently, roar, attack, repeat, die. This one shook up the pattern at first, which was promising, then it transformed for another ho-hum battle and just kinda fell back into the same old formula.

        I know the real antagonist is Mendoza and the social order that allowed him to take power, but still, if we’re going to have monsters of the week I’d like to see some variety and personality to those monsters. They shouldn’t all repeat the same head to head fight at the tail end of an episode.

        1. I don’t disagree. The show isn’t perfect, and the villains could be more interesting. I only replied to your previous comment because I never got the impression that the Horror in this week’s episode was particularly clever.

    1. Weak horrors like that one tend to know they are screwed when a Makai knight is after them, so all it could do when discovered was to fight it off, and it even then was smart enough to take advantage of Leon’s inability to harm children.

      1. That’s just it, though. Weak doesn’t have to mean dumb. Often the weaker something is physically, the more it needs to compensate for its lack of brawn with an application of brain. Showing a child’s face is a start, but I feel that was done more for the sake of Leon’s character than as an attempt to diversify the conflict. I’d need a lot more than that to really get much entertainment out of this fight. The horrors so far have all been too perfunctory for my taste, and seem to exist only to give the heroes something to battle at the end of the episode.

        Not just that, but the battle itself is always the same: a CG armour dude and a horror in some woods yelling and jumping around before one decisive blow wins it. I could go for some variety. Just a thought, but say… a horror that poses as the town’s founder and does actually protect them from outside threats (it wants to corrupt them and needs them alive), so they defend it with their lives. Some of them even know that it’s not their leader. Our heroes then have to deal with a situation that can’t be fully or immediately solved by fire-punching the bad guy in his ugly bad guy face.

        The above horror could be so weak that undisguised it’s literally made of glass and unable to move by itself, yet it’s still a credible threat. The situation all but requires the heroes to show us different aspects of their character and ideals. Everybody wins?

        Anyway, this is more a nitpick for the series as a whole. I actually quite liked this episode, lazy horror aside. I suspect I wouldn’t even care if the battles were framed better by the story and actually fun to watch (ala Chaika, Shingeki no Bahamut), but they’re really not. It’s a lot of work and a lot of compromises spent setting up a fight every episode, but not much in terms of making that fight interesting.

  3. Only anime I think pulled of the 1 episode arcs this well was Casshern SIns. Actually the seem better here. May check out the live action thing this series is based off of. Does anyone who watches this know if it has out of suit fighting.

  4. You know when a episode is good when you don’t pause it until is over, this episode slipped through my fingers, very intriguing and thought provoking and your insight is spot on, my favorite episode of Garo to date.

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