GARO -Vanishing Line- Episode 9
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Garo -Vanishing Line- ?
After the stellar high-octane climax we got last week, it only makes sense that GARO -VANISHING LINE- would take its next episode as an opportunity for a breather. “SETTING OFF” provides just such a moment of respite for its battered and bruised heroes by abandoning the recently rattled Russel City for the open road. The result is an episode that's surprisingly tender and sweet, a welcome change of pace for a series whose main motifs consist mostly of the cleaving of blades or breasts.
Honestly, it's refreshing for the show to provide a story that focuses less on monsters and mysteries and more on serving its characters' emotional needs. Sophie's life was literally torn apart over the past couple episodes, and GARO makes the wise choice to dive headfirst into exploring her grief instead of ignoring it, with a patience and sensitivity that goes very much appreciated in the wake of such a heavy focus on unbridled rage and bloodshed. The best part is that, up until Sophie's moment of catharsis much later in the episode, GARO doesn't have to rely solely on the on-the-nose emotional dialogue that a lesser show might fall prey to. It simply lets Sophie have a quiet moment alone in the house that is no longer her home, giving her a few final minutes to appreciate the life she's lost. The scene's setup is its own kind of cliché to be sure, but it's executed gracefully. Much of the episode works best without dialogue, choosing instead to let its visuals and monaca's appropriately moody Americana-inspired soundtrack do the emotional heavy lifting.
This is most apparent when Sophie and Sword take off on their road trip out west in the search for El Dorado, as the episode devotes an unexpectedly large portion of its runtime to an extended musical montage of Sophie and Sword bonding as they slum it across a landscape that bears a notable resemblance to the American Midwest (though the map Sword and Sophie follow make it clear that this is a decidedly fantastical world). The mix of the soundtrack's soft pop vocal melodies and the weird mix of Americana-inspired vistas from the industrial to the wilderness gave me strong Final Fantasy XV vibes in the best possible sense. GARO is able to make good on the promise of Sword and Sophie's surrogate brother/sister relationship over just a few minutes after months of hinting at this dynamic but never quite delivering. There's genuine familial warmth and sweetness to the simple tableau of the two sharing a meal in a roadside diner or roughing it in sleeping bags out in the middle of the desert, doing more to cement the pair's bond than anything we've seen from the show before now.
The final third of the episode brings back the dialogue, which works about as well as conversations ever do in GARO -VANISHING LINE-; it's fine but not exceptional. The one exception is probably Sword and Sophie's run-in with an injured baby deer, whose departure with her mother finally gives Sophie the opportunity to overtly express her grief over Sister's death. Rie Kugimiya pulls off one of her best performances yet, perfectly selling Sophie's understandable distress. She accomplishes the rare feat of playing a teenage girl who actually sounds and behaves like a real kid, and not a twenty-something masquerading around in a high-school uniform. Neither this episode nor GARO -VANISHING LINE- as a whole would work as well if Sophie fell flat as a protagonist, but thankfully Kugimiya and the rest of the team consistently put in the work to make sure that doesn't happen.
As enjoyable as this episode can be, it's unfortunately held back by a downturn in artistic quality. A character-driven road-trip isn't going to be the action-heavy extravaganza of last week, but it's still a shame to see the animation falter so frequently. It's never atrocious, but it is very inconsistent, with pretty much any shot of Sophie or Sword that isn't a closeup varying drastically from one scene to the next. Poor Sword gets the worst of it, as the size and shape of his body shifts visibly depending on whether he's riding his bike, walking around, or just lying down, and the effect is too distracting, especially in an episode where both the characters and the audience are supposed to be impressed by the stark beauty of the landscape ahead.
A proper introduction to Knight's comrades in arms for the King makes this episode not entirely without plot revelations regarding El Dorado, but this is one time where I'm honestly okay with the show taking its time with the pacing. This was an imperfect but necessary episode, an opportunity for Sword and Sophie to take a much-needed journey with one another. They're making headway in their quest for El Dorado, but they're also finally becoming the team that GARO promised they would be from the moment they met back in episode 1. Zaruba can complain all he wants, but Sword and Sophie's fates are finally intertwined, and GARO is better off for it.
Garo -Vanishing Line- is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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