The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Garo: Crimson Moon
How would you rate episode 1 of
Garo: Crimson Moon ?
Though the imperial palace is guarded by its retainers, out in the countryside, the common people live at the mercy of Horrors, strange demons with an appetite for humans. Fortunately, the people have their own heroes - the reserved Makai Alchemist Seimei, and the knight Raikou, who wields the legendary golden armor. In this first episode, Seimei and Raikou follow up on a mysterious walking statue, which has apparently been commandeered by a horror of some kind. Tracking down the sculptor Junkei, they learn he's been using beautiful women for a bit more than inspiration.
Technically a sequel to last year's Garo anime, this new Garo shares little in common with that one. The period is different, of course, but so is the tone - while that Garo exploded out of the gate with babies being rescued from burning pires, this one is far more slow-burning (no pun intended). Its characters are more reserved, and the story comes off more like a sleepy middle episode in an established monster-of-the-week show than a premiere with something to prove. The stilted pacing doesn't help things either, and the fact that this episode doesn't really introduce any hooks beyond the essentials of the premise places the show securely in “unobtrusive genre entry” territory.
The aesthetics are also quite different here, though compelling in their own way. These designs are far less unique than the first season's, and some of them trend to generic or silly (like Raikou's hair-spikes), but Seimei has a strong look and a very expressive face. Seimei's likely the biggest hook so far, in fact - her almost deadpan personality is basically the one unique thing livening an otherwise textbook episode. Aside from her expression work, the animation here is pretty minimal, and that CG suit still looks out of place next to the traditional drawings. But outside of the animation and a couple character designs, the aesthetics here are solid - the music is a great mix of diverse guitar tracks, and the backgrounds are lovely.
Overall, I can't really describe this episode as anything more or less than “reasonably competent.” It exists, it's watchable, it's probably not going to excite you.
Garo: Crimson Moon is available streaming at Funimation.com.
Review: Haven't seen the first anime series (from the Fall 2014 season) or the original tokusatsu series? No problem! Crimson Moon is set in an entirely different time (and perhaps also continuity?) from its predecessors, which suggests that there will be no connection to the other properties beyond the fact that the hero is manifesting a similar suit of armor with an animal head motif. In fact, even the artistic style is quite a bit different.
This time around the setting is the much-storied later Heian period, a time when Kyoto was the capital, long hair and heavy make-up were in style, and legendary figures like Abe no Seimei, Minamoto no Raikou, and Kintaro (aka Kintoki) roamed the land; in fact, characters bearing those names appear in this series, though whether they are meant to actually represent their historical counterparts or emulate them is unclear at this point. (And presumably it's only a matter of time until characters named Urabe, Watanabe, and Sadamitsu show up.) Besides, this Seimei is a youngish woman, though with no less of a mystical aspect to her. In this version of the tale she performs at homes of the wealthy while also working on the side with young adult Raikou and the much younger Kintoki to combat Horrors (the translation used here for “mononoke”), skeletal-like evil spirits who can suck victims into themselves and seem intent on getting into the capital. While Kintoki serves as support and Seimei does the magic, Raikou can use a special ring to manifest powerful armor. The only problem is that there seem to be some limitations on its use. Still, it proves useful when they investigate a wood carver whose obsession with making a perfect bodhisattva (i.e., statue of Buddha) leads him into some bloody practices and makes him vulnerable to becoming possessed by Horror.
The first episode does not waste any time worrying about establishing the setting or characters; it just jumps right into things and lets the artwork elaborate on the setting. (And the artistry does a pretty good job at that.) We get enough of an introduction to the apparent three main characters to get a basic feel for their personalities, but that's about it; the episode has to leave plenty of time for the action, mysticism, and quasi-horror elements. Although those elements are pretty standard fare, they do well enough and are respectably animated, allowing both Seimei and Raikou to show off what they can do in impressive fashion. It also creates some character designs that are beautifully elegant (Seimei, Raikou in armored form, which is done in CG) but others that are almost cartoonish (Kintoki). In fact, that inconsistency shows up in the overall tone, which is mostly very serious but can shift to almost goofy in places. The musical score is also quite eclectic, including a decidedly old-school opener.
A couple of blatant anachronisms in clothing and armor that otherwise stick very tightly to the time period are irksome, and the scenario cries out for more elaboration and development, but the first episode doesn't stumble badly on anything. Nothing spectacular overall, but good enough to be worth checking out more.
First things first: this year's Garo is not last year's Garo, and you don't have to be a prior fan to check it out any more than you had to be a fan of past Black Jack anime to follow this season's Young Black Jack. That said, it is a lot of fun to compare the two. Specifically, it was interesting to see how much Garo: Crimson Moon plays to a general Japanese audience, as opposed to the more artistically ambitious and adult-focused previous series, Garo the Animation. MAPPA is shooting for the cheap seats this time, but that's not a bad thing! It's actually resulted in a fairly comparable Garo experience, flawed perhaps in its conventionality where the first series was flawed in its troubled aspirations. This simpler shonen-monster-battle style is a little less to my personal tastes as an artsy-fart, but it's still a solid premiere for more animated serial tokusatsu adventures in this potential-filled universe.
While you don't have to know anything about Garo to follow this show, I would still suggest googling up the basic franchise terms like Makai Knights, Makai Alchemists, and Horrors, just to give yourself a good bedrock for the who and what of any given Garo. Consider them like Red Rangers and Putties as "terms that might help you follow the episode" for a later season of Power Rangers or something. This story also takes place in Heian-era Japan, which could be another barrier of entry. Japanese viewers will instantly recognize references to history and aspects of culture, but American viewers may be left scratching their heads occasionally. I mention all of this because despite those potential barriers, the story here is really easy to follow, clearly aimed at a much broader audience than MAPPA's initial effort, which had a more daring art design and more challenging concepts right out of the gate. For a "horror toku" series, this is the cuddliest version of Garo yet.
This season's Makai Knight hero isn't a tragic young fool with a tortured family history, but an upstart shonen hero with a tacky hairstyle and a protective brother complex. His little bro isn't an essential part of the Horror-hunting team, but he's genuinely cute instead of annoying, adding a little levity to his brother's stern and responsible demeanor. Unfortunately, big bro Raikou still can't become the Golden Knight on his own for unrevealed reasons, so he needs the help of the bubbly-yet-cutting Makai Alchemist Seimei. Her magic and combat skills dominate most Horror battles, and her upbeat attitude dominates any conversation she blazes into, so Raikou relies on her even though he probably doesn't want to. Together, the trio make an immediately compelling and lovable group, even if the battles they're fighting seem like boilerplate monster-of-the-week fare right out of the gate. Also, the animation isn't going to be as good. This episode looks okay and gets the job done just fine, but it's C-list for my MAPPA expectations.
This is solid entertainment for new viewers ready to jump into the series, but I do already miss the dark ambitions of last year's Garo the Animation. Crimson Moon isn't as visually interesting or thematically unique as the franchise entry before it, but maybe that means it will be less financially disappointing in the tradeoff. This season is more broad-audience fun, and I also think it has a more interesting soundtrack. Anachronisms be damned, Garo: Crimson Moon decided it needed a ton of spanish guitar and industrial rock to blend into its old-world Japan setting, and I'm totally down with it. The one thing both Garo anime have in common is a likable cast and a winning tokusatsu concept for those who like their Japanese superhero cartoons dipped in fresh hellspawn. It's not the kind of show everyone is going to bite down on, but it knows how to deliver the goods to its own little niche, and that's good enough for me.
The first thing you need to know is that Garo: Crimson Moon is not a direct sequel to Garo the Animation; it simply is taken from the same franchise and has pretty much nothing to do with the 2014 series. What it is appears to be a paranormal fantasy set in Heian Japan, featuring a female Abe no Seimei, the greatest and most often depicted onmyouji in anime history. At least, I'm assuming she's going to turn out to be Abe no Seimei; at this moment she's just “Seimei,” a lavender haired beauty who has great skill on the biwa, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument. Seimei and her companions Kintoki and Raikou work to banish the monsters known as Horrors that are terrorizing Heian Kyo, and this week they have possessed a Nio statue at one of the city gates, causing it to walk at night. One plan to stop it is to place a bodhisattva in its enclosure, but wouldn't you know it, the best bodhisattva carver in the city, Junkei, has been murdering beautiful women to give his statues life rather than using a bit of his own to give them power, making him not only kind of foolish (how is murder going to empower a bodhisattva?), but also ripe for Horror possession.
This is a fun episode in a kind of campy way. Seimei is quietly over the top rather than overtly wacky or outrageous, and I have to say that I really love Romi Park's voice for her. The Horrors (the actual English word is used in the dialogue) have an interesting look that is somewhere between a Western demon and a Japanese hungry ghost, or gaki, with their swollen bellies, skull faces, and bat wings. Horrors appear to suck the essence out of their victims until they dissolve into bruise-colored light, which is far less gruesome than I was expecting; in fact, there's very little gore at all for an episode about murdering beautiful young women. In some ways this is too bad, because it makes Crimson Moon feel a little fluffier than it is. I don't want to say that it wastes potential, but I do feel like the Horrors and Junkei could have been used to more, if not a better, effect.
Be that as it may, there's still plenty that's interesting here. The episode does a decent job of introducing us to the story's world without overdoing anything, although if the name “Seimei” doesn't mean anything to you, it might feel a bit less understandable, since the plot relies heavily on us knowing the power(s) associated with it. The Golden Knight in all of his CG glory is a little weird, but not to the point where he feels totally anachronistic. (The battle clothes worn by Seimei and Raikou are a bit moreso, but that could be my costume accuracy pet peeve kicking in.) It does make for a sort of funny juxtaposition with the more historically faithful segments, such as the comment Michinaga makes about visiting a lovely lady at night, but if you want that kind of Heian show, you should probably go back to 2012's Uta-Koi. There are some moments of odd animation, and mouths don't move quite right, though I can't put my finger on why. Other sections look very nice, such as Raikou and Kintoki repairing or making what look like biwa parts, so it's kind of a mixed bag visually.
On the whole Crimson Moon looks like it could become a solid monster-of-the-week show, and Seimei is interesting enough that she may make it worthwhile to come back. I'm not sold on her companions yet, although it is interesting how exhausted and apparently painful the transformation into the Golden Knight is for Raikou, and the names may indicate a folkloric background that hasn't yet come clear. To put it succinctly, this seems to have the potential to be a decent show, whether it goes the new monster each time route or a more linearly plotted one.
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