Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Garo The Animation
BD+DVD - Season One Part Two
Mendoza has been defeated, but at a heavy cost. Having surrendered entirely to his thirst for revenge, Leon set fire to the city and ultimately lost his golden armor to the prince Alfonso. In the wake of that battle, both Leon and Alfonso must rebuild in their own ways, as Alfonso struggles to repair his kingdom and Leon questions his very identity. The two young men do not have time on their side; although they may have stopped Mendoza, Horrors still lurk in the shadows, and a new plot will soon threaten Alfonso's fair kingdom.
Garo's first half offered a distinctive and engaging slice of fantasy-action. The show's vaguely Inquisition-era setting and beautiful art design matched perfectly with its sordid tale of justice and revenge, offering rip-roaring adventure rewards from start to finish. It wasn't a perfect show, but it was an ambitious fantasy with strong characters and a very unique personality. It was an easy general recommendation.
The show's second half largely follows in those footsteps, though it's unfortunately not as tightly composed of a story. It begins where the first half left off, with Alfonso standing in the ruins of his city and Leon having lost all sense of identity or purpose. From there, the two men will work to find their places and eventually come to stand as brothers once again - that is, if neither of them are undone by the Horrors that still threaten Alfonso's kingdom.
Garo's first half interspersed episodic Horror-hunting conflicts with segments of its larger conflict, contrasting Leon and Alfonso's very different paths towards justice. These episodes follow a similar structure, but with Leon already having surrendered to his rage, there's not nearly as strong a contrast to be drawn between the two of them. Lacking an existing variable that might guide Leon toward a more healthy sense of self, the show introduces Lara - an upbeat farmgirl who teaches Leon to appreciate the value of simpler things and gives him the idea to be a protector instead of an avenger.
Lara's ultimate role in this story devolves into lazy cliche, and that unfortunately holds true for the story's later beats as well. Garo's ultimate conflict doesn't pit the ideals of Leon and Alfonso against each other; it instead relies on a wholly external conflict that repeats many of the ideas of the first season and relies on sequences of absurd narrative convenience. German is at one point pitted against the two heroes simply for failing to explain his larger plan, making for some deeply unsatisfying dramatic turns. Even the Makai association itself briefly becomes evil, embodying a utilitarian pragmatism that was never even hinted at in the first half. When it comes to the larger narrative, Garo's second season can't live up to the standard set by the first.
Fortunately, those larger plot beats are more or less this season's only weakness. On an individual level, Garo is still full of distinctive characters and compelling episodic narratives. Leon's relationship with Lara may be a somewhat cliche device, but it does ultimately result in him gaining texture as a person. Ema receives a standout focus episode and contributes in a variety of compelling ways to the ultimate conflict. The king's duplicitous handmaiden Octavia actually stands as one of the show's most intriguing characters, acting as a sympathetic and tragic villain throughout these episodes.
Additionally, Garo still offers a terrific visual and musical package. In terms of both characters and monsters, the second half is full of distinctive and often bizarre designs. The show's looser strictures on human anatomy allows for some very distinctive profiles, and Horror designs range from the legitimately menacing to the creatively absurd (one former doctor morphs into a creature with a medicine cabinet for a chest, which he can't help but use to treat German's injuries even as they're fighting to the death).
Even better than the show's character designs is its overall direction and art design. Garo's direction has a theatrical bent that nicely mirrors its narrative aspirations; shots are framed through windows or across wide open planes, evoking tension or suspense or scale to fit the scene's needs. Shadows and lighting are used to great effect, and sequences like the approach of winter on Lara's farm are brought to life through distinct color palettes and the hush of falling snow.
The show's animation is also impressive, though not entirely consistent. Garo often plays conservative during its more mundane scenes, but the major fights are lifted through gorgeous animation. In both the traditionally animated and CG sequences, Garo favors active and frenetic camera work. Shots will zoom in on characters as they charge or swoop around them to match their sword swings. One later CG sequence involves Alfonso and his opponent sparring on a giant beam as it spins to the ground, complete with sliding angles and sudden flipping of perspectives. Though some fights do rely on still frames, on the whole this is an impressive performance by studio MAPPA.
The music is similarly strong, though more of a role player. The second opening song isn't as distinctive as the first (and the ending song is outright bad), but the in-show music is a rich blend of orchestral songs, spanish guitar, and many other influences. The show somewhat overuses its “ominous!” musical cue (an echoing electronic gasp), but aside from that, the score is both diverse and well-suited to the show's material.
Garo's packaging is a mirror of the first release. Both DVD and bluray versions are included on four discs, featuring clean opening/endings and a pair of commentary tracks by the dub voice actors. The dub remains strong here, though a couple of actors occasionally struggle with the show's spanish names. Performances like German's perfectly evoke his character's rakish appeal, and some actors even seem more appropriately cast than their Japanese counterparts (like Jimena, who comes off as oddly childlike in the original version). The commentary tracks offer the usual mix of reflections on the production and general thoughts on the dubbing life. David Wald at one point compares getting parts on Attack on Titan and Fairy Tail as a Funimation actor to the inevitability of New York actors ending up on Law and Order, while Colleen Clinkenbeard (Octavia) admits that, like her character, the only part of the story she's totally clear on is Mendoza's plot.
Overall, while Garo's second half definitely isn't as consistent or smartly written as the first, it's still a fine conclusion to a unique and entertaining anime. Garo is a show largely free of the narrative quirks that define many light novel and manga adaptations; its influences are tokusatsu shows, adventure serials, and theatrical tragedies, a wide and engaging field of inspiration. It has a rich cast and a lovely aesthetic, and even if its ultimate narrative fails to impress, it's still a very engaging ride. It's definitely worth a look.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Maintains the same excellent art design and direction as the first season, full of engaging characters and thrilling fights
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