The Fall 2014 Anime Preview Guide
GARO THE ANIMATION
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)
Review: Anime is based on many diverse sources – manga, novels, visual novels, and various types of games – but an anime derived from a live-action series is a rarity. That is the case with Garo, however, which is a an animated spin-off of a live-action tokusatsu (i.e., special effects) franchise spread over various TV series, miniseries, and movies from 2005 through 2014. It is apparently going in an entirely different story direction than any of the live-action versions, however, as German Luis was never previously associated with the title of Makai Knight and Leon Luis was never previously associated with the title of Golden Knight. Nor was the kingdom of Variente and witch hunts ever associated with the original stories. The concept of Horrors at the primary antagonists is retained, however.
In this version, King Fernando of Variante has a pregnant witch burned at the stake in the belief that it will cure him of a dire affliction. It does, but the child the witch Anna was carrying is born in the conflagration and rescued by a bestial-faced knight who emerges from within the castle and then flees untraceably. A veritable crusade against witches and warlocks follows, with scores being hunted down and tortured and/or executed within Variante; it even becomes an excuse for Variante to meddle militarily in neighboring cities. But the effort to find the escaped child fails, and seventeen years later, as the prince of Variante is coming into his majority, that child is also coming into his power as the Golden Knight, while the one who rescued him reveals that the witch hunts were likely all a sham, for it was the witches and warlocks who were keeping the Horrors (an old name for demons) contained rather than calling upon them for power.
Much like Karas (whose action scenes this one's more than superficially resemble), Garo use regular animation – and very uninspired regular animation at that! – for its non-action content but goes into Shiny CG Mode for depicting its knights and key action sequences. Though the stylistic effect is somewhat cool, it is also somewhat overkill. Beyond that, its main hooks are the interesting notion that the witches and the warlocks are actually the good guys and its push to seem adult, such as the lengthy scene with the naked man and the sexy prostitute or the extremely harsh nature of the graphic violence. (One scene shows a character getting his arms pulled off, though only in shadows.) All the writing really does is establish the premise, so any hope of character development will have to wait for future episodes, as will a clear indication of where the story is going beyond a probable eventual conflict between Leon and the prince.
As action fantasy series go, this is pretty basic stuff beyond the heavy CG use. More time will be needed to see if it will amount to anything or just remain a one-trick pony.
Garo the Animation is currently streaming on Funimation.com.
In the kingdom of Variante, the King Fernando is executing a literal witch hunt. As this episode begins, we flash through dramatic shots of a woman tied to a stake, an armored man held in chains. The king's counselor gives the signal, and the flames rise - suddenly, the man breaks free, and storms through palace guards to reach the burning witch. Claiming her newborn child, he flees the city. Cue a seventeen-year timeskip, a whole bunch of exposition describing Variante's anti-witch efforts, and a seventeen year old boy who seems ready to inherit the CG-armor mantle of his father.
Garo comes from a time when men were men and women were hourglasses. Its character designs are sharp and angular, its CG action is gratuitous and exuberant, its color work is dark and vibrant. Garo is Metal As All Hell and wants you to know it - and in its metalness, it embraces both the earnest over-the-top aesthetic and inherent silliness of Manly Action Fantasy. It features a CG knight who literally lifts a baby from a burning stake, leaps onto his also-metal horse, and horse-surfs away from the roaring guards. It adopts Game of Throne's patented sexposition trick, relaying most of its exposition through a central scene where everybody is always naked. I'm pretty sure a dude gets eaten by a vagina.
Garo is absurd and indulgent and a fair amount of fun, is what I'm trying to tell you. Like MAPPA's other current production, Rage of Bahamut, it seems determined to avoid relying on current anime-fantasy staples - instead, it seems more akin to stuff like Heavy Metal, for better and for worse. It's not nearly as fast-paced or generally impressive as Bahamut, and its CG integration is much less graceful (likely because it just uses too much CG), but it's still a unique property in its own right. If you want to watch a show that's basically a lengthy guitar solo in the middle of a song about dragons, Garo is essentially that.
GARO the Animation is available streaming at Funimation.
If you have to watch one crazy high budget, high adventure risk-a-doodle from Studio MAPPA this season, make it Rage of Bahamut over Garo. You really should check out both if you have the time, but right off the bat, Garo has some...issues.
Just after praising the CGI integration in Rage of Bahamut (the low lighting and huge contrast in scale helped), I sadly have to turn my grump on for the less successful (and much more brightly lit) CG power-suits of Garo. It seems like "giant superpowered bodysuits" are the most common use of CG in anime these days, and they're usually employed in childrens' animation like the recent Majin Bone, or at most, anime for teens like Tiger and Bunny. This is the first time I've seen the technique attached to a show that is definitely for adults, from the heavy Berserk-esque setting and subject matter to various scenes of people getting drawn and quartered, long naked chats with prostitutes (the male hero is also naked, complete with ghastly chest rug,) and even some implied rape. (It's tasteful, actually! Just a few seconds of men fastening their belts while walking out of a barn filled with shackled women, but still, "trigger warning" definitely applies.) I was confused at first after hearing this was based on a tokusatsu property, but apparently the original was a horror story aimed at an adult audience as well. Adult toku! Didn't know that existed until today, the more you know!
Unfortunately, it's also the first time I've seen a 2-D aesthetic and a 3-D aesthetic this poorly matched. The body armor suits are all high-gloss, sharp-edged models with bright colors (even if that color is silver-gray!) and metallic sheen. The human character designs are hyper-simplistic in a way that reminds me of Casshern Sins or Fantastic Children and on their own, I like them a lot! They've given themselves a lot of room for both cartoony and subtle facial expressions to exist on the same models, but they definitely don't go with those CG suits. The CG is stilted, cut-frame, and questionably integrated, but even if it was Hollywood-tier in execution, the two design aesthetics would be incompatible, and that's the real problem. The CG in Garo always looks like it exists in a completely different world from the 2-D animation. It needed a drawing-table redesign, but that didn't happen, so we're stuck with something that looks like two nice-looking shows that don't belong anywhere near each other.
If the visual disparity isn't a problem for you, the story of Garo is once again ringed with promise but also riddled with problems. The basic premise and characters we've met so far are great, (I especially like the "bored 90s goth" expression in Octavia's character design,) but the execution is a little unusual. I appreciate Garo's attempts to blend action and storytelling, but the framing device here is literally the Zorro Sr. of our two heroes telling a random prostitute the story of how he acquired his Zorro Jr. It's an interesting story, and the way the flashbacks are intercut with modern action is captivating and distinguished, but it's still an odd and forced choice: we spend fully half the episode with Zorro Sr. and his paid lay. By episode's end, she turns out to not have been a random prostitute, but the revelation of her identity only begs the question of why Zorro Sr. would ever tell her this story. Of course, it was for the audience, not her, but it's still a little tryhard.
For as much as I harp on Garo's hiccups, I am excited about its unique and generally well-told story, and am looking forward to more before settling on a final judgment. This is not a "middle-of-the-road" 3.5, but a "high highs vs. low lows" 3.5. If you're looking for something unique in the action-fantasy-horror anime sphere, Garo is definitely that, and its ambition could either sink its potential or send it soaring given a few more episodes.
GARO the Animation is available streaming on Funimation.
Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)
It's 2014 – shouldn't we be beyond the idea that female sexuality = evil? Apparently the creators of Garo don't think so, and while there is a slim excuse in that it is clearly a historically set fantasy, the excessive use of such an equation makes the show rather distasteful. Taking place in a pseudo-Spanish kingdom known as Variante, King Fernando has declared that witches are responsible for all of the ills in the land – epidemics, his own medical condition, you name it. Naturally the only thing that he can do as a king is to have all witches and warlocks destroyed, beginning with Anna, a pregnant witch he blames for his current wheelchair-bound state. As the flames are lit on her pyre, a mysterious knight in silver wolf armor comes riding up, however, and Anna forces her (fully formed) child from her body. The knight rides off with the infant and no one can catch him. Seventeen years later, after years of ongoing witch hunts, a man named Germán (pronounced as in Spanish, with the “g” said like an “h”) is in bed with a prostitute explaining all of this while trying to convince her to give him a freebie. Meanwhile down the hall a man is lured to another woman's room by the Evil Aura oozing from her nipples and vagina. (See screencap.) When he enters the room, the evil solidifies and he is consumed by her inherently evil female sexual organs. Later in the episode, Germán exorcises his lady of negotiable virtue with the purifying power of his male sexuality. (We don't know for certain that he penetrates her, but the implication is certainly there.)
Oh, and the witch's kid? That's Léon, who is currently traveling with Germán as his son. He has magical gold armor and he kills bad guys. He also gets far less screen time than his naked dad and the women.
While Garo does have a slim leg to stand on, its gratuitous approach to the idea of women harboring evil within their mysterious organs makes it hard to take with the required grain of salt. This is a pity, as the art is quite interesting – it has a slim, 1970s quality to it that is both appealing and fascinating, and the opening credits' style is totally different from the rest of the show, which in this case makes it an added bonus rather than a weird distraction. There's a lot of implied violence in terms of the witch hunting that wisely leaves the worst up to our own imaginations, which really works well in this particular case. Unfortunately the bulk of the episode appears to espouse outdated and repulsive ideas of sexuality and to treat them in such a way that the semi-historical setting cannot condone it.
GARO the Animation is available streaming on Funimation.
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