Review/discussion about: Garo: Vanishing Line
The phrase “drawing a line in the sand” is used to represent the spot or the threshold that somebody should not cross for fear of consequences.
Garo: Vanishing Line, true to its name, brushes the sand away to pretend as if that line never existed. All so that it may go where it wishes and do as it pleases.
The anime was under the false pretense, though, that nobody would notice its transgressions.
Makai Knights and Makai Alchemists. Horrors borne from the sin of humanity. A talking silver ring. While each anime iteration of the Garo universe has been disconnected from the others, they have at least shared these common traits in their proceedings. Garo: Vanishing Line does the same as the third season in the franchise. The first surprised as an interesting underdog, but the second failed as a travesty within the medium. So, where does this next one land?
Somewhere in-between – which isn’t saying a whole lot.
With the medieval and the classical settings already used, Garo: Vanishing Line now opts for a modern setting, placing the Golden Knight and his brave cohorts in what appears to be New York, New York with its diverse people and its sprawling cityscape. This change allows its other major change to stick: the so-called “rule of cool.” Buff men, hot babes, motorcycles, cars, guns, over-the-top action, explosions. With the return of the usual darkened violence, the anime gives off a vibe of coolness that helps separate it from its previous incarnations.
This time around, a mysterious term known as “El Dorado” turns into the backbone of the plot as Sword works to uncover its connection to the uptick of Horror-related problems nearby. Yet this one is also the most non-Garo iteration to date insofar as it seldom delves into the lore of the franchise. Whether a result of banking on the audience already having prior knowledge or purposefully expanding beyond its niche, a slight identity crisis enwraps the story as Garo takes a backseat to a kid and her brotherly problems.
Nonetheless, and true to Garo form, several episodes go into the eviler side of what humans are capable of. From a crazy actress to a misguided town, Garo: Vanishing Line does not lose sight of its signature blend of everyday people and the terrors that haunt them. Although, truth be told, these instances tend to remain rigid in their monster-of-the-week formula, so it can be tiresome to see the repeated setups.
These mini-arcs still succeed on some thematic basis anyway. Succumbing to immense loss. Dealing with anger. Needing greed. The rule usually takes precedence during the season, yet its exploration of these ideas as a means to highlight the goodness and the optimism required to get by in life at least earn some appreciation.
Its specific narrative parts can hold up, too. For instance, it understands how to balance the emotional scale when episode eight is mostly one giant fight scene and then episode nine reels the intensity back with a countryside montage. Plus, its true ending is nice enough to not leave a huge question mark up in the air, letting Garo: Vanishing Line conclude with a comedic angle that oddly befits the tone thanks to some of its other outlier comedy moments.
Other parts of the narrative surface as weaknesses instead. Some of the pacing comes off as botched since the flow and structure of the events have awkward timings: the first third of the anime takes place within the main city, the second third follows their escapades at different locations, and the last third only concerns itself with the final confrontation.
The latter there is especially troubling. El Dorado – the major end goal for the whole story – isn’t exactly the most interesting concept once the finale gets underway. A problem exacerbated by the poor execution in its plot points, the ridiculous scenes that transpire, and the useless direction it doubles back on.
Main characters tend to come and go as well, leaving a disjointed framework regarding their inclusion and the group mentality the show semi-strives for. And, in general, the dramatic weight of Garo: Vanishing Line cannot quite reach where it wants. Immediate follow-ups to scenes reduce tension, and not only because the plot makes it difficult to care for the characters but also because that fundamental rule impedes its chances at a grounded approach to said drama.
Thus, over the course of its twenty-four episodes, the anime dodges any outright terrible pitfalls. However, the cumulative story stays below a mediocre level.
ART & ANIMATION
Garo: Vanishing Line attempts to stay on track with effort given towards its artistic direction.
Once again following in the footsteps of its brethren, this iteration uses CG for the Knights and the skirmishes they get into. It lets them stand out in a defining manner, giving them a presence on the battlefield that equates to their importance overall. Sword and his motorcycle (armor or no), Gina and her decked-out car, various enemies, weapons, and explosions likewise receive the CG treatment, most often when a lot happens to be going on. Episode seventeen, when the gang fend off against a horde of baddies, is a perfect example of the CG presented.
It’s not the the best CG ever (even after Garo has implemented it for the past several years), but it holds in quality throughout the season and almost never feels distracting while watching. Plus, the anime refrains from relying on it overly so, keeping its artistry attached to traditional 2D roots for the majority of its tale.
These roots include passable actual animation for both the ensuing skirmishes and the downtime which Sword and the others share together. However, their designs garner the most intrigue. Stronger linework and defined features increase the maturity of their appearances, and they each remind the audience again of the “rule of cool” going on. More specifically, Sword fills out his jacket and slicked-back hair with a buff bod; Gina flaunts her wonderful assets; and Luke has the mysterious, suave vibe down pat. As for Sophie, baggy clothes, a pair of headphones, and her tied-up hair uphold her tomboyish looks and her teenager background.
Stylistic segments also pop up now and again, too. The physical depiction of the Internet explodes with color and populates itself with a melting pot of “citizens” to capture what such a zany place would look like if one could actually visit it. Some neat in-between frames for the A and B parts of each episode also catch the eye with either crisp portraits or groovy shading of the characters. And specific sequences, like the transformation of the runner in episode two, prove the show can run wild with imagination when it so chooses.
In general, though, Garo: Vanishing Line picks up several negatives. Its background art seems like an uninspired afterthought to the CG and the designs. Also, standard cinematography stops the anime from having a creative appeal to its artistic direction. Worse still, some fights are very lackluster. Horrors in particular fall prey to many a slash-and-done scenario, causing the show to skimp out occasionally on detailed choreography and flashier abilities. The use of shaky cam doesn’t do it any favors either; it can be disorienting when it tries to overcompensate for some of the movements taken.
A few errors jump out infrequently, counting against the anime under nitpicky circumstances. Excusing them as forgivable hiccups or not affects the outcome very little, for the visuals here hit that passable marker regardless.
In the other Garo stories, a main group takes center stage. Garo: Vanishing Line continues with this same route as it places emphasis on four separate individuals: Sword, Sophie, Luke, and Gina.
Much like his name, Sword is a straightforward person. He loves his food (minus spinach), puts his friends’ well-being before his own, and has a happy-go-lucky attitude that keeps him in high spirits. He’s also clearly a strong dude, and he respects breasts not as a symbol of perversion but as entities to revere, saying, “Boobs are the source of life and the mother of everything.”
Being the Golden Knight is his claim to fame above anything else. And he really is the Golden Knight. Contrary to past iterations of Garo, Sword basically encounters no issues with his destiny. It displaces his arc away from the usual realization or reaffirmation of his role and towards simply acting as a positive influence on the people around him.
His biggest influence is over Sophie, a teenage girl who just-so-happens to tag along with him as part of their coincidental need to learn about El Dorado. Sophie lives at an orphanage, embraces technology, and carries a fierce determination that pushes her forward. She witnesses death and hardship, growing out of a naïve shell and maturing into someone wanting to prove their own worth.
These changes stem from a core motivation: the loss of her older brother. In dichotomous fashion, Sword lost his younger sister. It would make sense, then, that Garo: Vanishing Line bonds the two as a faux-sibling pair. Yet it doesn’t. While such a relationship seems almost obvious, they care about one another just to the point of dear friends, for their real siblings could apparently never truly be replaced.
This divergence from the “norm” in the writing can be seen elsewhere, too. Sword himself almost always wins. Luke, the man with blunt emotions and who must always payback the debts of those who have helped him, goes through the most interesting arc with flashbacks and changing ideals despite being a quasi-side-kick guy. The main evildoer is not some devil incarnate filled with hate and anger and other harsh emotions.
Going against common ideas for a different edge is one thing; whether this edge works as interesting writing is up for debate. Sword hardly lets his personal conflict affect him, so he remains static throughout the story. Luke has this shift and buildup to his person, but it’s pretty much squandered without payoff. The ultimate villain must be destroyed, but he is so goofy that he can’t be taken seriously.
At the minimum, the anime deserves some respect for putting itself out there. Plus, it coincides with the notion that this season of Garo is, yet again, not like its counterparts in this meta field.
Moreover, the anime puts stock in some finer character moments. Sword and Sophie surely have theirs when they fight over chocolate and they think about regrets. But Gina and Luke earn their opportunity to shine with specific scenes as well. Gina will prove her resolve and herself at the Land of Guidance, and she’ll break away from her femme-fatale status with romantic gestures towards Sword. As for Luke, he may wipe memories clean with a downpour of rain, but the small family he befriends on his travels will in turn be a memory he is grateful for forever.
Sword, Sophie, Gina, Luke, and the relationships they share between them and others find solace in that human condition as well, a throughput strengthened by the Horror-and-human contrast the Garo franchise fosters. The show also includes a few side characters such as the waitress lady and the female cook who help at certain intervals and let the mains do their jobs as the stars of the show.
What cannot be justified are the villains. To call them lame would be a massive understatement, for not even one of them has a semblance of value. Disregarding the final boss (who arrives way too late into the game anyway), the rest of these “chess pieces” are more like “checkers,” given their dull and monotonous “gameplay”. Sure, they have a pseudo-semblance of camaraderie and an identifiable menace to their presence, yet no impactful backstories or information jump up for any of them.
The sole exception is maybe Dark Knight, but even the attempts for him are super-lame and boil down to wanting strength and fighting strong people and other trite phrases. Indeed, Dark Knight is especially lackluster for how much Garo: Vanishing Line props him up on a pedestal only for him to act as a mild nuisance that spews the same nonsense about power ad nauseum.
This problem goes back to that earlier edge. In a way, Dark Knight, being the informal main bad dude who gets trounced and does not have much to contribute, adds again to that sense of the show wanting to be different, both on its own and especially in relation to its previous counterparts. However, the execution, like most of the rest of the characters, remains wishy-washy at best.
MUSIC & SOUND
Like many two-cour anime, Garo: Vanishing Line puts together two opening tracks and two ending tracks, one apiece for the first twelve episodes and the second twelve episodes. They cumulatively strike at an average place.
The two OPs signal this striking well enough. “EMG”, the first on the list, sticks with that “rule of cool” as its ethereal layering and its guitar playing form a neat mood to the song. The back-and-forth vocalizing, as well as the later female vocals that cause everyone to sing in unison, further establish its cool persona. In comparison, “HOWLING SWORD”, the second on the list, has a nice section with some acoustic strings, but the rest of the piece feels rather plain, a definite downgrade from the first OP.
“Sofia” and “Promise”, the first and second EDs (respectively), follow a similar path but in opposite fashion. The former track is much daintier than the OPs, leaning more so into a piano-infused R&B structure. A drumbeat, xylophones, chimes, acoustic guitars, and airy vocals give the song a sad trajectory, but the combination doesn’t grab a lot of attention from the listener. The latter track, however, takes on both a soft and a grandiose atmosphere. Its first half fills the space with gentle choices, like a slow pace and light vocals, to soothe the ear. Its second half then includes violins and stronger notes to a more prominent degree, pulling the listener in.
The original soundtrack has the usual sorrowful melodies and heavy compositions when it needs to support its drama and its action (respectively again). Yet there’s an apparent issue with the audio direction in general.
For example, in episode nineteen, Sophie and Sword talk to one another, making for a nice moment between the two friends. But the music heard in the background just cuts off randomly, as if it didn’t know when to stop based on the emotions and the flow of the scene. It’s not only this one instance; Garo: Vanishing Line has multiple such instances throughout the season. It’s so noticeable and so distracting that it makes one appreciate good (or at least competent) audio handling.
Nevertheless, it’s nice to hear some of the returning voice actors and actresses from previous seasons. Hironobu Kageyama as Zaurba, Romi Park as Queen, Takaya Hashi as Fei-Long. While the new additions to the casting bring with them their own styles, hearing these veteran voices induces a sense of consistency within the franchise that is welcome anytime.
They often say, “Third time’s a charm.” Unfortunately, after its third attempt, this franchise still hasn’t charmed me as much as it possibly could.
At the minimum, unlike last time and despite its dramatic troubles, the characters were generally likable on some level. Sword is a fun dude who does what he can to protect and to help his friends. Gina is darn attractive in all the right places. Luke is an aloof guy with a good heart. Sophie is somebody just trying to find truth among the madness.
None of them were particularly annoying, and they provided their own brands of entertainment, be it with Gina’s romantic angle or with Sword’s comedic timings. Plus, some of their action bits had their pizzazz, if only because of the absurdity and the over-the-top decisions often involved. And, true to myself, I took a liking as well to the thematic parts at play, specifically the musings on humanity and fighting for goodness when and where capable.
Otherwise, the anime wasn’t the most exciting project imaginable. I cannot claim to have frowned upon the entire experience, but there are enough qualms here and there that prevent it from standing out as outright favorable. So, to reiterate the very start of this review, it ends up not as well-received as its first foray and not as demonized as its second. It instead lands about in the middle of the two sides, careening towards the negative.
Garo: Vanishing Line does what it can to instill some much-needed magic within its overall series, yet it sadly still falls short. The production values have a few noteworthy elements, and it entertains with a likable cast, but the mishaps in its narrative and the odd writing routes for its characters harm the total cohesion. In other words, that line in the sand has most certainly been crossed.
Story: Bad, the “rule of cool” and humanistic themes cannot stop the missing identity, the rigid format, the awkward pacing, the poor last arc, and the weightless drama from suppressing this adventure
Art & Animation: Fine, CG elements, defined features, and stylistic choices combat the middling artistic direction and some disorienting fight scenes
Characters: Fine, Sword, Sophie, Gina, and Luke sidestep the norm by not following their franchise’s usual conventions, but the villains are inexcusable in execution
Music & Sound: Fine, a mixture of OPs and EDs work alongside a mixture of VA performances, but the mishandled audio direction blunts the effectiveness of the OST
Enjoyment: Fine, “Third time’s a charm” is not the result for this next iteration
Final Score: 4/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review.
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