Garo: Crimson Moon
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Garo: Crimson Moon ?
I'm proud to announce that Garo: Crimson Moon has finally achieved visual par with an average episode of the first season. It's a Halloween miracle! I'll admit that even I gave up hope for a while there. There's not much action on display, but the lighting, cinematography, and design have finally reached the evocative levels on display in GARO: THE ANIMATION. I hope that this keeps up, and it's a shame that Garo: Crimson Moon made such a bad first impression. It took four episodes to get there, but it's no longer a serious downgrade from the first season, and it still has the potential to surpass it with a more compelling narrative.
To be fair, there are other things keeping viewers on this side of the Pacific away. Garo: Crimson Moon is extremely steeped in Japanese folklore, and it's none too eager to help the viewer out if they don't know jack about that. It's like the equivalent of setting a work from the U.S. during the Civil War – you wouldn't need to give American viewers a mini-lecture on slavery and Abraham Lincoln for them to get it. Here, every kid knows about Lincoln. It's the same in Japan with the Princess Kaguya. While the Wild West is our mythical playground past, stuff like the Heian or Warring States periods are Japan's. Before getting this assignment, I had luckily read enough of the Tale of Genji to know that terms like minister of the left and light palace weren't just fantasy terms made up by this anime. Between this and Noragami Aragoto, writing up this season will basically count as a degree in Japanese Studies for me. Just keep in mind that there may be a point when my Google-fu proves inadequate, as (for some reason) Heian Era Japan is a poorly documented topic on the English-language internet.
My point is that the Japanese audience would already be familiar with the legend of Kaguya, aka "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter." As a result, they don't spend much time explaining it in any way that might help a Western viewer. The long and short of it is that a childless bamboo cutter finds a baby girl in a bamboo shoot. She grows up to be inhumanly beautiful, and they move to the imperial capital so she can live up to her obviously noble heritage. She's confronted with five highborn suitors who are assigned impossible tasks for her hand in marriage, but they all fail. Eventually, she even attracts the Emperor's attention, but rebuffs him as well. In the end, it's revealed that she was sent from the moon, which is a sort of utopian society, as a temporary punishment for some sort of heavenly infraction. Her time runs out, and the moon people take her back, erasing her earthly memories in the process. It's a sad ending where Kaguya is separated from the people she loves forever. (This legend was also recently made into a very good film by Studio Ghibli's Isao Takahata. If you want a more in-depth telling, check out The Tale of Princess Kaguya.)
This take on the legend cuts off before her acquaintance with the emperor, during the period when the five suitors are squabbling over her. The biggest change made is that Kaguya's adoptive parents were corrupted into Horrors by their greed, getting eliminated before she returns to the moon. It looks like Garo: Crimson Moon isn't done with this legend – the finale is inconclusive, and Kaguya is present in the ED sequence. Already this suggests less episodic storytelling than GARO: THE ANIMATION. That's the main thing I wanted out of this season, and I'm happy to see that my desires are (so far) being fulfilled.
So Kaguya's suitors are dying in droves and Raikou is sent to investigate. He manages to get in line to see the Princess (her parents are pimping out glimpses of her like she's a Disney ride) and finally encounters her face-to-face. He whisks her away to do some totally chaste investigating, where they have a meet-cute. She knows that someone will “eventually come to bring her salvation” and assumes that it's Raikou. While Raikou is convinced that she's innocent, Seimei thinks that Kaguya is a Horror and tells him to be more severe with her. Either way, another one of her suitors died while they were talking, so the situation hasn't improved. When the final suitor goes on a mad killing spree to obtain Kaguya's hand in marriage, Team Raikou enters crisis mode. It turns out that Kaguya's parents are Horrors who manipulated and killed her suitors so that they could continue to profit off their daughter. Raikou takes them out. Later on, a heartbroken Kaguya meets with him, says that she was mistaken about him being “the one,” and floats off to parts unknown. Rejected.
More than anything, I'm glad that Crimson Moon has maintained the Garo tradition of making fun of the main character's virginity. Like León for most of THE ANIMATION, Raikou still clutches his v-card, although he seems to wear it proudly, unlike his predecessor. Time to place bets on the circumstances of Raikou's deflowering, if it happens at all. I say that it's Colonel Mustard, in the kitchen, with the candlestick. There will be prizes.*
But seriously, this episode was an improvement all around. It's still only a modest success – it's a stock procedural plot with writing that's more charming than innovative – but I'll take it. The production has also begun to live up to MAPPA's reputation as a studio that loves putting together striking anime regardless of their limitations. Their distinct visual ideas for Garo: Crimson moon are beginning to stand out. Entire character interactions are often framed in a long and theatrical distance shot where the camera is level with the floor. This emphasizes the unity of background and character in a manner reminiscent of Japanese paintings. Examples of this include Raikou's scene with Kaguya and the final suitor's confrontation. It's a small thing, but it tells me that the showrunners thought about how best to present Garo: Crimson Moon as a holistic visual product that's both continuous with the existing franchise and distinct in its own right. Even the CG Garo suit doesn't look as bad as it did starting out. I credit this to the glittery texture they gave it in this season. Sure, it's kind of goofy, but it clashes much less with the traditional animation than the previous series' harsh metallic sheen.
Garo: Crimson Moon is only getting better. It still has quite a bit of ground to recover from its disappointing debut, but each episode just makes me more excited. The show can be saved yet! It just needs to keep exerting the effort.
* (I have been informed by my editor that there will not be prizes.)
Garo: Crimson Moon is currently streaming on Funimation.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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