In the end, Leon ends up doing more damage to Santa Bard than Mendoza or his newly summoned Horror ever could. Our troubled protagonist also suffers a dramatic defeat at Alfonso’s hands. On the other hand, Mendoza gets unceremoniously eaten by his own creation. It’s a silly and comic demise… even the Horror itself looks rather silly, doesn’t it? It looks like a joke, and likewise, Mendoza’s death is a joke. The contrast between Leon and Mendoza’s fate thus suggests that Leon is actually the villain in our finale of sorts. No, this episode isn’t the end of the series, but it does feel like the end of some significant chapter in the story. The difficult truth for our hero is that he’s the really the one standing in his own way. Perhaps that is why Mendoza has never looked too threatening over the past three months. Perhaps that is also why every single Horror we’ve encountered has always been corny. It’s because at the end of the day — as cliche as it might sound — humanity is its own greatest enemy.
Early in the episode, Alfonso tries to keep his cousin on task. The prince’s goals have always been clear from the get-go, and that is to protect the people. He is the prototypical Makai Knight from start to finish, so it’s not surprising that Garo eventually accepts him. After all, the guy was willing to set aside his own mother to fulfill his greater duties. When our heroes first infiltrated the castle, Leon suggested that they could rescue Esmeralda first. His cousin, however, quickly shot down that idea. Alfonso’s not heartless; there’s no doubt that he loves his mother. But as both the prince and a Makai Knight, he knows that he has a greater duty to protect the people. Leon and Alfonso are foils, and there is thus no greater distinction between them than this one. Alfonso can let go of his mother long enough to fulfill his mission. Leon never could. In fact, he literally carries his mother’s legacy with him through those markings that threaten to consume him. As a result, his mind is dead set on revenge.
There’s another thing from two episodes ago that continues to linger in my mind. Shortly before they parted company, German and Ema talked about the markings on Leon’s body. They both acknowledged that those markings protected Leon, but at the same time, they could consume him. More importantly, however, Anna left those markings for her son. When Leon loses control of himself in this week’s episode, his mind is obvious some place else. In fact, we see him wandering through the flames, looking and searching desperately for his mother. When he finally comes upon her, he finds nothing but a charred husk that instantly disintegrates in his arms. While this is all happening in Leon’s mind, Garo continues to wreak havoc on Santa Bard in the real world. For me, it would seem as though Anna’s rage has taken over. The two heroes at the center of this story are representative of their mother’s feelings, so it is hardly surprising that Anna lashes out at the very people who have betrayed her.
Anna was unlucky in a lot of ways. If you’ll recall, only one of the sisters had “the duty to fight as a Makai Priest, and pass down the golden armor through her bloodline.” Anna had to make that sacrifice. Meanwhile, Esmeralda was taken in by an aristocratic family and eventually married the king. For the majority of her life, Esmeralda got to live in the lap of luxury. And at the start, this was okay. Someone had to take on the family burden and protect the people, but Anna was probably initially happy to take on this duty. But look where it eventually got her. Not only did she get hunted down by Mendoza’s men like dogs, the easily-frightened people jeered and insulted her at her own execution. The very people she tried to protect ended up turning on her. Yeah, Leon isn’t strong enough. In the end, he couldn’t steel his resolve against Mendoza’s dirty tricks and manipulations. But how much can we blame him? He ends up seeing and perhaps even feeling the injustices committed against his own mother.
There’s really no one to ultimately blame in this story. Well, if Mendoza hadn’t gone nuts, none of these tragedies would’ve ever happened. But my point is, it’s hard to really blame Leon for his failings. Alfonso certainly tries his best to berate the now former Makai Knight: “You don’t even have the courage to [take Garo from me by force]? You’ve let me down, Leon!” But at the end of the whole ordeal, he must admit he’s not sure what he would’ve done differently if he had been in Leon’s shoes: “If Mendoza had used you as a hostage… I wonder if I would have still been able to chastise Leon.” That’s what it really comes down to. Leon and his mother were dealt a bad hand. Alfonso and Esmeralda got a good hand. Given enough time, Leon might have been able to overcome his handicaps in life. Given enough time, German could’ve helped his son get over Anna: “I wasn’t able to put out the flames burning within you these 17 years.” But there wasn’t enough time.
Mendoza threatened to plunge the entire world in darkness, so German had to do what he had to do. He trained his son to become Garo, because he didn’t have any other option. To be more accurate, there were no other options at the time. He didn’t know that Alfonso also had the right to wear Garo’s armor, and even if he did, it was unlikely that he could train the prince to become the Golden Knight. As a result, German did what he thought he had to do, and that was to put the burden of becoming the people’s savior on Leon. The old man had hoped that he could keep Leon on the right path, but there just wasn’t enough time. That’s the funny thing about traumas. Despite what other anime series might want to suggest, it takes time to heal from these great mental and emotional wounds. Throughout his journeys, Leon encountered a lot of life lessons, but to a 17-year-old boy, they just weren’t enough. The kid was dealt a bad hand and he couldn’t recover in time.
Leon’s fate is a stark reminder that we don’t all start out in the same place in life. It’s easy to sit here and champion Alfonso as the true champion of the people, but everything did kind of fall neatly into his lap. Of course, we should give him credit for making the most of his opportunities. There’s certainly no doubt about that. Alfonso’s a hero through and through. But at the same time, we have to be empathic towards those like Leon. He’s never really had a place to call home. He’s never had a normal upbringing. Since he was young, he was groomed to be the selfless defender of the people, but these are the same people who had a hand in killing his mom. Most of all, Leon never had any say in the matter. When you start out at the bottom of the ladder, it isn’t always easy to overcome your resentment at the snap of the fingers and just climb your way to the top. This doesn’t mean that we have to excuse Leon’s actions, but it’s important to understand where those actions stem from. This applies to all walks in life.
When an underprivileged person starts lashing back against society, it’s easy to just sit back and tut at the transgressor with self-righteous disapproval. “Gosh, I know you have it bad, but this is no way to solve the problem!” Sure. Of course it’s not. But have you really sat down and considered the injustice that they’ve been dealt? And what have you done to help them? Lately, this sort of inaction has been happening all too often in the real world. Too many comfortable people are content to sit back in their chairs and smugly condemn those who are already suffering. It’s also easy to walk away from the situation and say, “If I help them, they’ll never learn.” So naturally, I must wonder if it is really the right thing for German to leave Leon to his own devices. We can’t always be there to catch people when they fall, but isn’t that what a parent is for? He acknowledges that he failed to quell the rage in Leon’s heart, but with Mendoza (supposedly) dead, doesn’t he now have all the time in the world to help his son?
Whatever’s the case, Leon’s journey is only half over…
Stray notes & observations:
— I’ve written enough above, so I’ll just mention a few quick things.
— Leon’s journey is only half over unless he actually dies. Then boy, would the egg be on my face! But honestly, it would be a waste to kill off his character. People have complained in the past about Leon being the main character of the story, but I actually like it. He’s full of imperfections, which is a great breath of fresh air from all the Gary Stus we’ve been seeing lately.
— Oh man, the animation is so good for 90% of the episode. Everything is sharper and cleaner than it has ever been. Sure, the duel between Leon and Alfonso in the torrential flames isn’t perfect, but I’m sure the idea sounded awesome on paper. Unfortunately, we hit the last couple of minutes of the episode, and all of a sudden, the animation quality drops like a rock. Welp… Just imagine this show with a good budget.
— Oh, it seems that this girl will play a bigger role in the second half of the story.
— Two weeks ago, I had this to say about Esmeralda:
“The noblest sacrifice Esmeralda can make is to give up her own life. She knows that Mendoza intends to use her as a trump card against her own son, so why not deny the evil man this pleasure?”
Alfonso draws inspiration from her selflessness, and her death only makes perfect sense.
— Last but not least, this is quite the episode preview…