People don’t always fall under the influence of Horrors because they are inherently evil. Sometimes, people will give up their humanity just to right some wrong — just to achieve some sort of justice in this cruel and bleak world. That’s why justice is often pursued in such an evil and twisted way. By any means necessary. The blacksmith is perhaps killing innocent soldiers left and right, but he isn’t doing it without cause. He knows something terrible had happened to his son. More importantly, he is powerless by himself. He is nothing more than a blacksmith. In contrast, last week’s Count Romero was already a noble; he already lived in the lap of luxury. But despite this, a Horror managed to corrupt his mind, and thus his once prosperous land fell into disarray. Those like Count Romero are truly reprehensible.
On the other hand, you can’t help but feel sorry for the blacksmith. Even though we know relatively little about him, he was probably a good man up until the events in this week’s episode. He took in and raised a street urchin when he didn’t have to. In the process, he’s probably raised two upstanding young men. Nevertheless, the death of his son shook him so hard that he became another agent of evil. I don’t condone his actions, of course. Rather, the implicit suggestion here is that good men turn to evil because they are powerless as good men. We can’t all be Garo. We can’t all don a shiny suit of armor and wield a giant fuck-off sword. The blacksmith is a simple, hard-working man. By himself, he doesn’t stand a chance against mere nobles, much less a schemer with otherworldly powers like Mendoza.
Likewise, Alois didn’t stand a chance. He was just a kid who wanted to achieve justice for his father’s murder, but what can a kid honestly do? What can we take away from these two seemingly minor characters within the overall story? It’s that good people aren’t invulnerable. Good intentions won’t protect you. Good people can be driven mad and turn to evil because of the world around them. They seek unholy power because they can’t empower themselves otherwise. And this feeling of helplessness forces us to become stronger by any means necessary. Ultimately, this is all a lesson for Leon. This is all about teaching him how to use his powers responsibly. Santa Bard is an important location for our hero. It’s where his mother was killed. Naturally, he is eager to jump right into the action:
Leon: “How are we going to enter the castle?”
German: “Hey, now. We just got here!”
Like always, German jokes that he’s going to flirt and sleep with some pretty girls. But the truth is that he has a very important lesson for Leon: you can’t just rush into battle. You have to be mindful of your surroundings. You have to study your opponent. You have to learn the lay of the land. You have to know what’s going on with the people. But more importantly, you can’t let anger blind you even if this anger is born out of a pursuit of justice:
Ema: “Here on out, unnecessary anger will blind you from important things.”
Leon: “What do you mean?”
Ema: “It means you should hurry up and become an adult.”
Yes, she’s also teasing him about the fact that he’s still a virgin, but her words nevertheless ring true on a more important level. In an ideal world, children can afford to be children, and Leon would normally be allowed to go through his emo, I’m-angry-at-the-everything phase. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. Like I’ve said, it’s a cruel and bleak world where the strong preys upon the weak every single day. And unfortunately, the weak can’t do anything to defend themselves unless they turn to evil, which they often do to disastrous results. The point is, even good people can go down the wrong path. It doesn’t matter how noble your intentions are. It doesn’t matter if you are just trying to right some wrong. Take the blacksmith as a shining example. He’s just trying to avenge his son, and likewise, Leon is trying to avenge his mother. But even if you think you’re on the side of justice, you can be corrupted:
German: “People are really fragile creatures. Their strong emotions can crumble with the slightest crack. The people who are left behind should be thinking of what they can do from now on, instead of bitterly thinking about what has already passed.”
So what can Leon do? Don’t think for a second that you can’t break bad just because you have good intentions. Instead of bitterly obsessing over his mother’s death, what can he do for this cruel and bleak world? When he used his money to save a street urchin from being brutalized by some vindictive shopkeeper, that was a start. He needs to emancipate the people, especially the weak. This has been the true goal this entire time. German hasn’t trained him to become Garo just so he can satisfyingly thrust his sword through Mendoza’s chest in the name of vengeance. Then what, y’know? It doesn’t change the fact that a cruel and bleak world like this would just allow someone else to rise up and fill the void where Mendoza used to be. Rather, German trains Leon to become Garo so that he can free and protect the weak from the ills of the world.
Yes, this includes slaying Mendoza and his army of Horrors because, at the end of the day, this is an action anime about heroic knights. But freeing and protecting the weak also also includes fighting against those nebulous evils of society like poverty and ignorance (the latter was what doomed Alois’s father). There’s a reason why Alfonso is going through his very own The Prince and the Pauper scenario. The oft-coddled royalty now gets to see the state of the world with his own eyes. And it’s up to him — and Leon — to do the right thing, which isn’t just to slay Mendoza.
Stray notes & observations:
— The animation quality took a big hit this week. There are hilarious moments in which the characters don’t even move, so we’re treated to still shots for awkward lengths of time:
— But the Horror-of-the-week being able to temper his sword on the fly was pretty cool. As was seeing German actually do battle for once.
— Leon’s coyness about his virginity just cements in my mind the idea that he brings a sort of femininity to a story seemingly dominated by a cast of men on the surface.
— There are complaints about Mendoza not being a compelling villain. Sure, but not every story needs a compelling villain, especially when the focus is on society and its flaws. The true antagonist here is human weakness. We strive for greatness, but our human attachments allow things to quickly turn tragic. You don’t need a great villain for that. Lots of Shakespeare’s plays don’t have great villains.
— Are the fight scenes too generic? Is the Horror-of-the-week thing far too formulaic for a story of this quality. Sure, the ideal version of Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames would succeed on all fronts. I acknowledge that the adaptation is weak on this front, but at the same time, I’m enjoying the human side of its story. As such, the rather perfunctory battles against the Horrors don’t bother me too much.