Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

Garo Season Two: Crimson Moon

BD+DVD - Part One

Synopsis:
Garo Season Two: Crimson Moon BD+DVD
During the Heian period, strange monsters known as Horrors are attacking Kyoto. Only those with the spiritual powers of a Makai Knight, Alchemist, or Onmyouji can combat them, but the other plagues of poverty and sickness often distracting from these Horrors. Seimei, daughter of the Abe household, has left her family to become a practicing Alchemist rather than an Onmyouji, and alongside Raikou, a Makai Knight who controls the golden armor Garo, and Kintoki, a mysterious young boy, she combats the Horrors at the behest of the goddess Inari. But with Seimei's enemies working against them, will the three of them be enough to defeat evil?
Review:

Garo: Crimson Moon is the second anime adventure revolving around a tokusatsu suit of golden armor that might best be compared to the recurring Italian cinema character of Maciste, a hero who simply appears randomly throughout time whenever he is needed. The golden knight first appeared in 2005 and has since had a variety of spin-offs both live-action and animated. The major distinction between the tokusatsu series and these new anime is that these anime are set in the past, while the original TV shows are set in the modern day. Garo the Animation took place in a medieval pseudo-Spain, and now Garo: Crimson Moon moves the action to Heian Japan, where historical figures Abe no Seimei and Minamoto no Raikou use the wolfish armor to combat supernatural baddies for the fate of Kyoto.

The incorporation of well-known and semi-mythic historical figures is actually one of the most interesting aspects of Crimson Moon, as it gives the story the same feeling as the usual catalogue of Heian-era fiction while also grounding the show in a more specific history than its predecessor did. Many anime fans are familiar with Abe no Seimei, the famous practitioner of onmyou, and those who have seen Otogi Zoshi may remember Minamoto no Raikou and Kintaro (here renamed Kintoki). But Crimson Moon also adds in the Fujiwara clan, Izumi Shikibu, and Emperor Michinaga, filling out the cast and giving us a more settled idea of when the story takes place, roughly around 1000 C.E. Not only does this make the premise more fun for history buffs, it also allows for the faint air of plausibility that accompanies good historical fiction – it's far enough back that we know who was alive, but not enough details to deny all possibilities.

Of course, re-imagining Abe no Seimei as a woman and having her run around in a leotard and heels does take a bit of that historical feeling away. In some ways, this sums up the biggest issues facing Crimson Moon's first half – it hits a strange mix of going too far and trying too hard while simultaneously not doing enough to make itself stand out. This renders the first half of the show both dull and confusing, with small moments of interest to make you think that getting through the other parts might be worth it. Episodes such as the interesting take on the famous legend of Princess Kaguya show what this season could do if it maintained consistent quality in its plotlines. It successfully revamps the folktale into a mild horror story, using misdirection that makes sense in hindsight. Likewise, the Yasusuke episode where he falls in love with a peasant woman and learns that the aristocratic system may be the real Horror in Heian-Kyo is better done, sending Yasusuke on his Robin Hood quest in a more believable way than Seimei's backstory about why she left her noble family, for example. (It helps that Yasusuke's love interest in the dub is excellently voiced by Anastasia Munoz, who has been turning bit parts into scene stealers since Princess Jellyfish.) But for each of these stories, there are just as many uneven throw-away episodes, where Raikou gets shrunk down to doll-size or a silly grudge gets blown out of proportion, not to mention sequences where Seimei tries to pass off being obnoxious as funny.

The characters themselves form another barrier to enjoyment. Seimei lingers somewhere between immature and sexual, never quite landing on one or the other. Her penchant for imperfect things, such as cracked bowls or soggy doll clothes, is never really explained, which makes her obsession seem weird and irritating, like a quirk thrown in simply to make her more interesting. Raikou's hero complex renders him flat; all that he seems to want to do is fight Horrors, preferably in his golden armor. His relationships with Seimei and Kintoki feel fully based around this, which doesn't always make sense, given that Seimei saved him in childhood. It's also unclear how much older Seimei is compared to him; at times it seems like the age gap is wide, while at others they appear to be almost the same age. This is more an issue of characterization than artwork, although Raikou's dead crab hairstyle doesn't do him any favors.

Fortunately, the backgrounds and Heian details fare better than Raikou's hair or Douman's scars. (He looks as if someone randomly pressed open scissors into his face a couple of times.) There are some beautiful river scenes and effective shots of the poor neighborhoods, and the clothes can be really lovely and period accurate to the point where you wonder why the women don't blacken their teeth with ink. (Yes, that was an actual beauty practice.) The Horrors range in design from hungry ghosts to more modern monsters, which makes for an interesting visual, and even if the golden armor moves stiffly, some of the traditional animation used for bows being pulled or other action scenes makes up for it. Music mostly follows the needs of the plot, feeling all over the place between the theme songs and the background music, sometimes sounding Latin, sometimes more traditionally Japanese, but rarely making much of an impression.

Garo: Crimson Moon's first half never really establishes itself. The story is largely episodic in feel (if not in intention), and the characters are difficult to care about, with Yasusuke being the major exception, and even he follows a course we've seen to the point where it feels unremarkable. The use of historical and mythological figures is interesting, as are the folkloric retellings, but they don't meld well with the main plot about Seimei and Raikou. Both language tracks have their highlights (I preferred the old-womanish voices of the sub Inaris to their more childlike dub counterparts), but neither make a major impression. That's ultimately the real problem with these twelve episodes. Despite making flailing attempts to be unique, they fail to stand out in almost any way, making this feel like a bog-standard supernatural historical fiction show.

Grade:
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : C-

+ Interesting selection of historical and folkloric elements, some nice background visuals, a few standout roles in each cast
Never really comes together into a cohesive show, questionable artistic choices, story feels too episodic for a show that isn't meant to be

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Production Info:
Director: Atsushi Wakabayashi
Series Composition:
Shou Aikawa
Toshiki Inoue
Script:
Shou Aikawa
Shinichi Inotsume
Toshiki Inoue
Toru Kubo
Seishi Minakami
Shigeru Murakoshi
Masaki Wachi
Takao Yoshioka
Takawo Yoshioka
Storyboard:
Masami Hata
Aki Hayashi
Takashi Igari
Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Osamu Kobayashi
Shun Kudō
Fumie Muroi
Kenji Mutou
Shinpei Nagai
Tetsuji Nakamura
Shinji Satoh
Masami Shimoda
Atsushi Wakabayashi
Unit Director:
Yasunori Ban
Masami Hata
Aki Hayashi
Shotaro Hirai
Takashi Igari
Jubei Ino
Dong Sik Kim
Dong-Jun Kim
Min Sun Kim
Kenichiro Komaya
Shun Kudō
Kaori Makita
Jiansae Mudang
Kenji Mutou
Yūsuke Onoda
Hiroki Sakai
Mihiro Yamaguchi
Music: monaca
Original creator: Keita Amemiya
Character Design: Masakazu Katsura
Producer: Masao Maruyama

Full encyclopedia details about
Garo: Guren no Tsuki (TV)

Release information about
Garo Season Two: Crimson Moon - Part One (BD+DVD)

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