Has Alfonso surpassed Leon in such a short time? Maybe, maybe not. It’s something I’m still mulling over long after the conclusion of the episode. But even though neither hero could defeat this week’s Horror on their own, there is still something for Leon to learn from this experience: it isn’t about personal strength, and it certainly isn’t about who has the higher “power level.” In a hypothetical duel between the two cousins, Leon would probably still win. Nevertheless, who would currently stand a better chance against Mendoza? I think it would have to be the prince. There’s more to such a fight than pure strength, and Leon would fall victim to his personal shortcomings. On the other hand, Alfonso doesn’t have those same issues to worry about. After all, he fights with a selfless purpose, and Leon does not. It really is just that simple. For Leon, this week’s Horror is just another prey to him — a boss to fell so that he can magically get stronger. For Alfonso, however, it’s about finding strength in your convictions. He has a duty to protect others, and even though he still needs Rafael’s sacrifice to overcome the mighty Orvien, he has the right mindset.
At the start of the episode, Rafael looks to Garm for guidance, because he needs a Horror that can push his protege to the limit. Rafael is not long for this world, and he knows that if he doesn’t hand his Gaia armor down now, there will be no later. Unbeknownst to the dying mentor, however, Leon also pays Garm a visit shortly afterwards. It’s the first time he’s ever met the Watchdog, too. Nevertheless, she also sends him after the same Horror. Did she do it because it would be amusing? Or is she just too lazy and apathetic to dig up another Horror for Leon to challenge? Oh well, it doesn’t really matter in the long run. As a result of Garm’s shenanigans, the two cousins run into each other in a nearby village. Alfonso has not had much experience in the real world, so he almost falls victim to two different scams. Luckily, Leon is around to help the hapless prince out. At the start of this weke’s episode, it thus feels as though Leon is the battle-hardened veteran whereas Alfonso is the clueless newbie. But the tables are quickly turned when they both stumble upon Orvien, and discover that it is not quite the chimera that they initially had in mind.
The key difference here is that Alfonso is fighting to save not just his parents, but his kingdom as well. Again, it’s about finding strength in his convictions. He already knows what it takes to be a Makai Knight, and that is to protect others. So even though he gets knocked around at the start of the fight, when Alfonso finally gets his hand on the Gaia armor, he effortlessly destroys the Horror. Leon, on the other hand, still hasn’t quite grasp what it is that he’s missing. Instead, he treats this as if he’s an RPG hero. The Black Knight humiliated him, so naturally, he needs to get stronger so that he can get his revenge. He feels, however, that he can’t attain great power from just grinding on weak Horrors. He needs to defeat a super powerful Horror in order gain of lot of experience points and “level up.” And to a certain extent, taking on difficult challenges is certainly one possible way to get stronger. But life isn’t a video game. There are no experience points to get or levels to attain. Just because you can defeat a powerful Horror doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll actually get stronger. That’s the juvenile mistake that Leon makes.
Leon isn’t completely immature, though. Hearing Alfonso’s story, he initially decides to take a supporting role. The Horror, however, is a lot stronger than anyone could have expected, including Rafael. Both cousins find themselves unable to do much against Orvien. Leon even dons his golden suit of armor, but he quickly finds that it is to no avail. He knows they have to stop Orvien before the nearby villages are threatened, but his conviction is not quite there. To me, it feels as if Alfonso is desperate to protect his kingdom. On the other hand, Leon lacks clarity in his heart. I’m not saying that he doesn’t want to save innocent people. He certainly does try to help others whenever he can. But deep down inside him, his number one goal is still vengeance, and because of this, he can’t fight with a pure heart and mind. Leon thus falls victim to both self-doubt and hesitation. It doesn’t surprise me, therefore, that he couldn’t overcome this week’s Horror. Hell, it almost crushes him to death until Rafael shows up. This is where our hero gets lesson number two.
Rafael’s life is certainly not without its tragedies and hardships. His son died young, so the Makai Knight was left without a progeny to inherit his armor. Nevertheless, Rafael accepts his fate. Had he chosen to linger around, his regrets might have chipped away at his soul until it was possible for him to one day fall victim to a Horror. Rafael thus accepts fate. It was his time to go, so he doesn’t fight it. As such, he willingly sacrifices himself in order to weaken the Horror, knowing that this would allow Alfonso to rise to the occasion and finish the job. So even though Alfonso couldn’t defeat Orvien by himself, Rafael’s selflessness helps the prince find strength in himself — the same strength that Leon is missing: “I will be sure to defeat the Horrors of this country and protect its people.” Up until now, Leon has been taking the Garo armor for granted. He thinks he’s undergone all these years of training to avenge his mother. Garo, however, also has a duty to his people. Perhaps now that he’s met Alfonso, Leon will finally wake up. After all, it’s already the ninth episode. He hasn’t got much time left.
Stray notes & observations:
— So what will the two cousins do now? Form a team and become the best of buddies?
— This episode certainly has its odd moments. Orvien is quite a spectacle. I mean, just look at it. And look at how it moves. The whole thing is kind of cool in a macabre sort of way. At the same time, however, the battle against the Horror suddenly turns into bullet hell near the end of the episode. It is like I just took a hit of acid. At some point, there is too much going on for the compression to handle. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of all of this.
— Still, I like the way the episode led us to believe that our heroes would just be fighting some boring chimera. Instead, the real thing feels like something out of a silly Devil May Cry video game. Its goofiness might be a bad thing to some people, though.
— Also, should I have laughed when the Horror bit down on Rafael before he could finish delivering his inspiring speech? It feels like something out of a dark comedy, doesn’t it? But nothing else about the episode is particularly ironic, so…
— Leon: “The villages and towns nearby are in danger, too!” Well, I hope nobody was living in that castle, then!
— I do rather enjoy the animation during Alfonso’s training session. As an anime, this show will never really impress with its production values. Nevertheless, the episode does what it could to make the sparring here seem dynamic. I especially appreciate the use of parallax scrolling.