Garo: Crimson Moon
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Garo: Crimson Moon ?
It's time to introduce another primary cast member, Yasusuke Hakamadare! Now this is the guy I really had trouble finding stuff about. He's apparently a folkloric outlaw, most famous for a confrontation with Minamoto no Yorimitsu. He was a character in lots of kabuki plays and had some early Japanese live-action films made about him. None of them are very well represented on the English-language internet. I'll update you if I find anything else on the historical figure, but his legendary confrontation with Yorimitsu hasn't happened yet, so I'll wait to clue you in on that when it happens.
As Garo depicts the character, Yasusuke is a highborn member of the Fujiwara family who defects after falling in love with a poor girl, Kosode, and realizing the plight of the disenfranchised. He's been around for a while making various cameos, but I didn't recognize him because his hair, unlike the promotional art, isn't teal. It's grey and looks brown at night, so he was indistinguishable from mooks. It doesn't help that Yorinobu, another important-seeming character (who happens to wear the exact same outfit) got periwinkle hair. Properly color-code your characters for immediate recognition, dammit! Yasusuke is a royal magistrate (the Heian equivalent of a high-ranking police officer) who's also the equivalent of Kosode's parole officer. Yasusuke was prepared to give up his title to be with her, but Kosode felt too guilty and inadequate to let that happen. She has both internalized her inferiority to the nobility and resents them for subjecting her to comically extreme poverty.
By chance, Kosode strikes up a friendship with Seimei, who offers her favors. With this connection, Kosode is able to pose as a noblewoman for a short period of time. However, the experience just leaves her feeling more alienated. Eventually, her inner turmoil turns her into a vicious Horror who lashes out against the wealthy. Seimei and Raikou are forced to dispatch Kosode, whose Horror form is a sentient summer kimono – a symbol of the luxurious lifestyle beyond her reach. Yasusuke, ignorant of his lover's death, forsakes his connection to the Fujiwara family and takes on the name Hakamadare. He's now a Robin Hood-style outlaw, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. This new role will make him Raikou's ally soon enough.
I call Kosode's poverty “comically extreme” because she appears to live in Corpse Town. This section of town is so poor that a bunch of people starved to death on the streets outside. Nobody's bothered to clean them up for so long that they've ended up totally desiccated. That's a major health hazard. Also, Kosode is so poor that she didn't have a name before meeting Yasusuke. Is that a thing? Can you be so poor that you don't have a name? Names don't exactly cost anything. It's also pretty weird to be the one to name your girlfriend, but maybe that's just me. Garo: Crimson Moon's depiction of poverty is just really cartoonish and weird. Then again, it's a weird cartoon trying to impart archetypal messages about good versus evil in a twenty-minute time slot. These gross oversimplifications are to be expected, but that doesn't mean I can't scratch my head at some of the stranger details.
Other tidbits – Raikou is either totally ignorant of or does not care about the social niceties of Heian society. For example, he doesn't see any problem with Yasusuke leaving the Fujiwaras to be with Kosode. Seimei responds that it's not that simple, which is funny considering that she pulled the exact same thing. It looks like Seimei has some unchecked baggage surrounding her high birth. I wonder what made her leave? Was it her ambitions, or perhaps it was a man? That sounds just sappy enough to happen in Garo. (I hope it's because of Ashiya, that would be hilarious.) Meanwhile, Raikou's blindness to social status looks like it will be a consistent force for good. It allows him to form connections with people from all walks of life, from Kaguya to Yasusuke to Kosode. Layered social decorum is just something that keeps people apart. People are most authentic when they're being rude, dirty, or goofy. Garo: Crimson Moon is very much a modern anti-classist take on Heian society, fascinated by its decoupage but critical of its social stratification.
In the sharpest deviation from its predecessor, Garo: Crimson Moon consistently ties episodic storylines into the overall narrative. This one served as the introduction to an important recurring cast member. The story was cliché but functional. The fundamentals are competent, but Garo really has a chance to shine depending on where it takes these characters.
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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