Review/discussion about: GARO THE ANIMATION
When you think about what you want most in life — be it a nice job, a wonderful family, or simply that shiny new smart phone — it’s often not an easy task to acquire whatever it is. Normally, it requires sacrifice, the loss of something to gain something else. This isn’t sacrificial in the sense of people; it may be giving up going to a party in order to focus on work to get that job or choosing to reduce food spending to save up for that next piece of technology. Sometimes, what we sacrifice is more ethereal: our time, our well-being, and our goals can be what are discarded. And as GARO THE ANIMATION shows, regardless of what it may be, such sacrifice almost always brings with it something greater.
GARO stars a father and son duo, Herman and Leon Lewis. As the Silver and Golden Makai Knights, respectively, it is their duty to eliminate the Horrors that plague the land.
GARO starts off on a relatively shaky foot. The first half of the anime focuses mostly on giving the audience everything that is needed. The characters, the world, the setting, the rules; it’s all laid out in one form or another. To achieve this end, the show adopts a “monster-of-the-week” direction, having Leon and his father travel across the land to deal with the various Horrors — the demons that manifest due to negative emotions. While these earlier segments work in introducing the multitude of details that pertain to GARO’s world — the ice ring Zaruba, who the Makai Alchemists are, and the political subterfuge occurring in the castle — such segmented mini-arcs don’t serve the narrative anything special. The Horrors themselves never persist across episodes, with Leon and Herman dealing with the atrocities in the same typical manner: enter new place, learn of Horror, and then defeat said beast. Unfortunately, this repetitive nature is a detriment, causing the anime to favor flashy fight scenes instead of telling a coherent plot.
But in a nice turn of events, the second half of GARO does away with this notion and begins to use its time in a meaningful way. The Horrors still exist, and the group still fights them, but instead they’re used as catalysts for the situations at hand. Leon experiences unbelievable grief, Alfonso uses such time to (ironically) stave off boredom, and Ema rectifies her past. The characters begin to grow because of the Horrors and the fights they have, and not really using such encounters as mere entertainment. And in order to bolster the development of the characters and the storytelling further, GARO employs heavy use of flashbacks. But not merely referencing previous shots from within the show; rather, the flashbacks are constructed to demonstrate where the characters were and where they are now. These existed during the beginning of the anime, but were drowned out by the aforementioned spotlight on monster killing. The second half instead combines both ideas. Leon’s relationship with his father is given context, Ema’s previous dealings are finally revealed, and even Octavia’s upbringing is shown in all its brutality. This newfound focus on the narrative, both in terms of the story weaved and the characters developed, gives GARO the kind of structure it always had but never utilized from the get-go.
Throughout the entirety of the show, GARO actually holds quite a strong theme. And that is what was talked about in the introduction; sacrifice is the name of the game in this world. It doesn’t matter who it is: Leon’s close “family” is slaughtered, Alfonso loses his mother, Herman leaves behind Ximena, and Ema lays to rest her former lover. These are the good guys performing such noble feats, but the bad guys do just the same, for sacrifice isn’t so morally constrained. For example, Octavia kills a girl and “chops” off her leg, Bernardo gives up himself to save his friends, and Mendoza murders countless people to obtain the revenge he seeks. And the Horrors can even be placed within this same category; the sacrifice of nice thoughts, optimism, and strong will causes the abominations to take shape. In all cases, the sacrifice does exactly as it intends to do, and that is bring about something better. But even that is subject to construed meaning; Leon’s suicidal sacrifice lets him see the true meaning behind the flames that consumed him whereas Octavia’s sacrifice allowed her to become immeasurably more powerful. At all points and at all times, GARO’s motif of sacrifice is never left in the shadows.
One of GARO’s strongest aspects is in the art and animation that it employs.
The art for the show adopts a rather soft look. The world, like the monsters that inhabit it, is dark, desolate, and deplorable. As such, many venues take on such details: foreboding forests, broken villages, and underground caverns are the norm. At the same time, the Spain-like setting provides older buildings, stunning castles, and pastoral landscapes that captivate the audience. Combined with the lighting and the often insane fight choreography, the anime is a sight to behold.
The character designs likewise receive the same treatment. Leon’s changed robes from anger to purpose, Alfonso’s red cloak, Ema’s green hair and purple lipstick, Mendoza’s god-like transformation; everyone involved is rife with detail and a kind of uniqueness that only GARO could pull off. Even the Makai Armor is given a large amount of attention, with their snarled teeth and sheen making them that much more intimidating.
As for actual animation, it is normally above-average in all cases. Initially, the use of CG is jarring. But it’s actually used quite nicely throughout all of the show. Ema’s air battle against Luciano and Alfonso’s duel against Leon to prove the latter’s resolve were incredibly well-done instances that deserve special recognition.
GARO contains a nice cast of characters that at first don’t seem to be anything special. But that’s only because the first half of the anime, like with the story, weighs them down.
As the father to his son Leon, Herman is a man of duty. As one of the Makai Knights of legend, he upholds their creed to the best of his ability, doing what he can to protect the people of the land from the Horrors that roam it. But like all fathers, that title comes first; he keeps a watchful eye over Leon, making sure that he grows into not only a fine Makai Knight but also into a fine man. And that’s in every sense of the word: he guides him along the right path by having him find his own way; he acts irresponsibly to give Leon the vantage point of exactly what not to do; and he always does what he can to make sure his son is kept safe. He’s a true father, for above anything else, no matter what happened to him or to Leon, from Leon’s birth until his own death, he loved him from the bottom of his heart.
He’s been brought up continuously thus far, so it’s only right to talk about Leon now. He begins as extremely abrasive, rude, and difficult to handle, loathing the dad he thinks he has to protect while hating the world around him. Having lost his mother the moment he was born, the power he has is something he wants to use for nothing more than revenge; to kill the man who wronged him, his father, and his dearest mother. But his quest to that end ultimately ruins him, consumes him in the very flames that birthed him, forcing him to fall further than feasibly considered fine. Up to this point, Alfonso, his cousin by blood, was the person he should have been. Alfonso was resolute, strong of mind, and used his power in an unselfish manner. This dichotomous pairing helps to accentuate Leon’s folly, and therefore making his near suicide seem sensible. Yet, he is saved by the people who he never thought of protecting. His time with Lara calms his mind and gives him renewed vigor; he finally found something more than just petty revenge. After the events that unfold, his new passion isn’t fighting for himself nor is it necessarily fighting for everyone. It’s simply fighting in the moment, doing whatever he can to protect even a single, solitary person from having to experience the same anguish he had lived with for so long.
The rest of the named cast — specifically speaking, Ema, Alfonso, and Mendoza — each represent the same values that the previous two men understood. And that is the notion of protection. All of them are either a Makai Knight or a Makai Alchemist — Mendoza is just an Alchemist that has taken a wicked path. They are each characterized and developed in their own, respective ways, but it’s this theme of protection that ties them all together. Ema’s only purpose was to take out her husband that became a Horror. She was protecting not only the people he preyed on, but also him, too. For besides wanting to be the one to kill Luciano, she also wanted to atone for her own self-placed sin of not being able to save him when he needed it most. In similar fashion but on a much larger scale, Alfonso is literally the next king-to-be. To him, and as he was taught, it’s the people that need protecting. Not only in terms of their health and status, but also in terms of their personal lives. Thus his transition from prince to warrior is an easy one. Even Mendoza protects, but not in the traditional sense. He doesn’t protect Octavia or the populace. No, he protects himself. Murdering, conniving, tricking; he does whatever he can to further his own desires. And technically, it works. But that same never-ending protection (immortality) is his downfall. For through Leon’s mother Anna and her protection, Mendoza suffers the same fate he brought upon her: an eternal bathing of flames.
Each of the OPs and EDs are some of the most experimental in the medium. Each has their own distinct sound, normally incorporating hard metal, techno, and some English lyrics. The first OP is more hopeful sounding whereas the second is simply “cool.” The first ED is quick and hardcore; contrarily, the second ED slows down, utilizing a dual rough and soft vibe. They’re each rather fun to listen to, but not particularly strong songs on their own.
The rest of the soundtrack does a good job of fitting the mood when it matters. Acoustic guitars fill the more laid-back moments, heavy flute-playing resound during the touching times, and hard drums and other strange sounds follow the wake of the Horrors. Also of note are the sound effects for the cast while inside the armor; they are given a distinct, metallic sound that is a nicely added detail.
Voice-acting sees about above-average performances across the board. Special shout-outs are in order for Daisuke Namikawa as Leon and Katsuhito Nomura as Alfonso for their constant screaming.
To be honest, the first half of GARO is quite boring, grating even. Leon is always complaining, the weekly Horror fighting isn’t enticing, and the three-dimensional “everything” takes some getting used to. It was certainly interesting, but it wasn’t doing anything that was really worth talking about.
But the second half did an about-face and stepped up its game. The fights were crazy to watch, the character development was in full swing, and the interactions were at an all-time high. I distinctly remember being quite upset at Lara’s passing because it seemed that Leon just couldn’t have anything nice. So watching him use that sadness to finally overcome his inner turmoil was great to see.
GARO THE ANIMATION may have had a steady beginning, but it rears its head halfway through and never stops roaring. Its interesting storytelling, nice cast of characters, and well-done animation make it one part cub and one part lion.
Story: Fine, world-building but repetitive first half, strong second half, with sacrificial theme throughout
Animation: Great, very nice art style, good character designs, above-average actual animation
Characters: Great, Leon is great, Herman, Ema, Alfonso, and Mendoza are good, with each connected through protecting
Sound: Fine, okay first OP, okay second OP, okay first ED, okay second ED, okay soundtrack, above-average VA work
Enjoyment: Fine, rather boring at first but quite fun to watch unfold by the end
Final Score: 7/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3