Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Garo: Divine Flame
BLURAY + DVD
Four years after the alchemist Mendoza nearly brought about the end of days, the kingdom of Valiante has returned to being a warm and peaceful place. While Leon prepares to assume the mantle of the king, his cousin Alfonso helps to raise Roberto, the son of his late father. But when the two are summoned by their Makai contact Garm, they learn that the lingering embers of Mendoza's defeat may still spark new ruin for their peaceful land. And to defeat this new threat, Leon and Alfonso will have to recruit allies both old and new, as well as reunite with a great hero they never thought to see again.
Garo: The Animation was a welcome surprise when it came out a few years ago. Combining the classic live-action Garo franchise with a fanciful narrative set in an alternate inquisition-era Spain, it offered an action spectacle full of colorful characters and beautiful dramatic setpieces. Though the show's CG Garo costumes were a little clumsy, the show used those models to enable dazzling action theatrics, and the overarching art design was top notch. From its uniquely angular character designs and gorgeous layouts to its distinctive cast and ambitious narrative, Garo offered a thrilling spectacle from start to finish. It wasn't a perfect show, but it's one of the first that come to mind when people ask me for action shows that fall outside the standard shonen template.
Arriving four years after the original Garo, Garo: Divine Flame also picks up four years after the in-show climax. With Mendoza defeated and Germán having sacrificed himself to ensure peace, we open by catching up with all of Garo's other stars, learning that Leon is balancing kingly and Makai Knight duties, while Alfonso helps to raise his new brother Roberto. Of course, Garo stories demand a great deal of peril, and so it isn't long before a threatening new horror sends all our leads off into battle. With the addition of a new knight known as Dario, Alfonso and his old friends will fight to preserve peace once again.
Garo: Divine Flame's narrative is frankly not all that compelling. Though it takes place years after the events of the show and follows up on all our leads' continuing lives, it doesn't really feel like a meaningful sequel so much as a movie-length episode of the show itself. The characters we know don't really grow across the course of this narrative; this is basically just another job for them, and so while seeing characters like Ema and Alfonso bicker again is inherently endearing, there is little emotional or thematic punch adding much gravity to the proceedings. And the actual task they have to handle is also pretty routine Makai Knight work, with a few flashback scenes failing to really sell the Dario-focused angst that this story's conflict hinges on.
Fortunately, a Garo movie doesn't really have to be a brilliantly plotted page-turner to succeed. While Divine Flame's narrative is fairly routine, its visual execution echoes and often surpasses the many strengths of the show proper. Garo's first and greatest strength as a show was its staggering layouts, something I'm very happy to say carries through into this film. The film is utterly stuffed with beautiful wide-shot compositions that carry an inherent sense of gravity and drama, matching a rich palette of color compositions to striking layouts that turn natural landscapes, crumbling architecture, and the resolute heroes occupying them into truly majestic images. Garo possesses a look like little else in anime, and Divine Flame is just as grand a visual production.
Divine Flame doesn't just look great in its still moments, either. The show's rare yet spectacular traditionally animated fights also carry through to this film, as swordsman perpetually dance and slash faster than the eye can see. The sharp angles of Garo's character designs are echoed in the angular ferocity of its fight scenes, and staying on-model is often (rightly) deemed less important than leaning into the flow of character motions. Divine Flame manages a difficult balance of embracing exaggerated, faster-than-life motions while still imbuing its battles with a sense of weight and consequence, something that likely comes down to the film's careful negotiation of floaty, effects-heavy clashes and grounded choreography. And Divine Flame constantly comes up with new ways to frame its fights, flipping from claustrophobic hyper-closeups to steady mid-shots emphasizing character weight to shots which spin and flip right along with their occupants.
Speaking of spinning and flipping, Garo's CG models are back, and are once again largely used to carry the audience on a delirious visual roller coaster ride. Cameras spin and zoom wildly around Garo's relatively convincing models, and a number of key fights here manage to combine CG and traditionally drawn elements to arrive at spectacles impossible with either alone. There's a sequence of Ema flipping manically through ruins seemingly designed to one-up Attack on Titan's signature cuts, and another where Dario's rage is portrayed through morphing animation that echoes the show's iconic OP. And of course, all of this beautiful choreography and scene-setting is applied to fight scenes that embody Garo's gleeful excess - this is the kind of movie that finds time for not one, but multiple sequences of characters using chain blades to water ski behind a surfing metal horse.
Divine Flame's soundtrack is less of a highlight than its beautiful layouts and dazzling fights, but it still provides a very natural accompaniment to the film's drama. Fitting but unremarkable orchestral tracks are supplemented by welcome dashes of spanish guitar, along with occasional roars from electric instruments. Garo's unique setting is also celebrated by the film's dub; though few of the original cast members outside of Ema had a particularly noticeable accent, I appreciated that both Omar Padilla and Christina Vee leaned into the show's setting as newcomers Dario and Sara. And accents aside, the dub overall remains as strong an effort as ever, boasting a natural script and compelling performances across the board.
Outside of that dub, this collection doesn't contain any noteworthy extras. Still, if you enjoyed Garo: The Animation, I definitely recommend checking out Divine Flame. The film's narrative is pretty thin, and ultimately felt more like a film-length episode than a meaningful or emotionally satisfying sequel, but the show's technical merits are as strong as ever, and it was nice simply to see this very engaging cast again. Divine Flame isn't a truly great film, but it's a beautiful work that is sure to please anyone who missed these bickering cousins and their roguish friends. Solid entertainment is its own reward.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Garo's visuals are as dazzling as ever, beautiful layouts and copious fight animation elevate a generally welcome reunion
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