Garo: Honoo no Kokuin is an anime from the mid 2000s. It was created by Amemiya Keita (who’s done a lot of work on Kamen Rider). Although the anime was written by Kobayashi Yasuko (who also worked on the anime for Claymore & Shakugan no Shana) and was brought to us by MAPPA. A studio I only know because they worked on Sakamichi no Apollon, which was pretty crap.
We open with a very pregnant witch being burned at the stake for “causing disease.” Although she was probably just a woman who owned some land, given the history of actual “witch” burnings. She gives birth while in the fire and an armoured knight moves past the soldiers, in spite of their best efforts, and snatches the baby, swiftly disappearing on a mechanical looking stead. We watch a brief compilation of more witches getting hunted down and slaughtered. Cut to years later, horrific monsters are feasting on humans. It turns out the so-called witches were protectors who hunted down these horrors and the hunts have been orchestrated by the king’s evil advisor, Mendoza. Why is it you get so many fantasy-based works where the king’s advisor or chancellor is just blatantly doing something malevolent but no one notices except for a small band of heroes? In any case, it’s up to the armoured knight from before, Germán & his now grown son, León. Can they stop Mendoza and bring peace back to the land?
Here’s the fundamental problem with this series. It tries to be a super dark, edgy and adult version of a sentai show. But sentai shows have a lot of elements that don’t work well in media for older audiences. The monster of the week format, the one-dimensionally evil antagonists, the really obvious and formulaic plots. And all of those are in this series. But it also has brief depictions of sexual assault that never even come close to being handled in an adult, mature manner. So, there’s that.
Let’s go into the issue of the plot being really obvious in a little more detail. This is something that’s fine in a work for children because they haven’t seen a whole lot of media and probably won’t see the obvious plot flags as easily as an adult would. But this series is definitely not for children, so let’s be as harsh as it deserves. So, we have a young, optimistic prince who finds himself betrayed by the big bad in this world of knights with magic armour. You see that happen, you know he’s becoming a major character. Or how about this one. The big bad seems to be killed in battle, but you don’t see him actually cut down. Obviously, he’s not dead and is going to return. How about this? You have a series that’s really trying to be dark and adult but one of the main characters seems to find peace with a nice, accepting family that oh so kindly takes him in. That ends in the exact way you would expect. Seriously, it’s not just so trite it’s obvious, it’s so trite it’s painfully obvious. I’ve actually spoiled that part just by describing the very basic set up. The ending is a bit shit too. It’s an obvious ending but one where it briefly seems like they might show some ovarian fortitude and take a bit of a risk but then comes the ass pull. Well, that was close. They almost did something interesting.
That being said, most of this series isn’t bad. Yeah, it’s really predictable and about as interesting as waving tissue paper around but, with a few exceptions, it’s not actively annoying or infuriating to watch. Even the obvious “we found a book on writing formulae and decided to follow it to the letter” bits aren’t bad. They’re just uninspired, unoriginal and uninteresting. Think of it as unseasoned white bread with no schmear or anything else on it. It’s edible but not exactly appetising.
Speaking of unoriginal, let’s look at our cast of characters. We have the protagonist who carries a deep, burning anger over the past. The more hopeful, paragon character. The irresponsible father who deserves a hard kick to the bollocks but we’re supposed to forgive because “he actually really cares about his son even if he doesn’t always show it very well.” We have the action girl who’s motivated by something that happened to a man in her life. Can’t forget the enigmatic supernatural being who offers guidance. We also can’t forget the villain who just considers himself above everyone else. To extrapolate the issue here, all of these characters are clichés. And this isn’t one of those series that starts with clichéd characters and then develops them into something more. Goodness no. They either get developed in the most bog standard ways or they don’t get developed at all. Friendship is Magic has more character complexity than this and it’s a show for young girls about multi-coloured cartoon horses.
Here’s one element that I can give a good amount of credit. The action sequences have a strong sense of spectacle to them. The art style is rather nice in general. Particularly when it comes to the armour and monsters. There are some exceptions. Anima looks really bleeding stupid. And the CG may look good on its own but it doesn’t always mesh with the regular art style particularly well.
MAPPA got some strong actors for this. Paku Romi, Namikawa Daisuke & Horiuchi Kenyuu are all good, seasoned actors. Nomura Katsuhito may not have as many roles, but he’s pretty good in this. The group MONACA handles the music and they do a pretty good job.
There isn’t any to be found.
Garo is a series that suffers a lot from a complete reliance on clichés. Which just makes the issues with the writing all the more apparent, since it isn’t offering you anything unique to distract your attention or compensate for them. The best element, by far, is the sound but having good sound and decent art can’t make up for a narrative that’s, at best, sub-par or characters that have nothing to them. Ultimately, I give it a 4/10. If you really want to see the style and the lack of substance isn’t going to bother you then you might enjoy it. You may also enjoy it if it’s quite literally your first dark fantasy story and you haven’t seen everything it does before but, as a whole, I can’t recommend it. The writing is simply too mundane on the whole. Next week we’ll have our film festival week, starting on Sunday.