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by Lucas DeRuyter,

Garouden: The Way of the Lone Wolf

Anime Series Review

Garouden: The Way of the Lone Wolf Anime Series Review

Juzo Fujimaki can kill a bear with his bare hands! While his mastery of the Takemiya Ryuu martial arts style allowed him to accomplish such an incredible feat, it also brought hardship into his life. Juzo is on the run from the police after he used his martial arts to kill a home invader. While he tries to live as a recluse, he becomes entangled in the seedy web of the world of underground fighting.

With the promise of his freedom and the opportunity to earn forgiveness from those closest to him, Juzo dukes it out with other fighters who are desperately trying to escape their own maligned fates.


The best and worst thing I can say about Garouden: The Way of the Lone Wolf is that it feels like an 80s movie. This track as this anime is an adaptation of the quietly seminal Garōden martial arts novels written by Baku Yumemakura, the first of which premiered in 1985. If you like shows and movies where burly men expose their meathead philosophies on life and punch people instead of going to therapy, you'll probably have a good time with Garōden and its throwback vibes. If you want a fresh take on the martial arts anime genre or even just a story that feels informed by decades worth of iteration and exploration, you'll not find that here.

Focusing on the positives first and foremost, Garouden: The Way of the Lone Wolf is made by people who love martial arts or at least love martial arts stories. The time characters spend practicing, discussing, or analyzing different forms of martial arts rooted in real-world disciplines conveys animation studio NAZ's passion for this subject matter. This appreciation also manifests in the show's animation. While it's usually stiff and unremarkable, the show pops during fight sequences. Takedown techniques seem to be rotoscoped, and the realism makes Garōden feel grounded compared to other Netflix martial arts anime like Baki and Kengan Ashura. The anime also does a great job of conveying the impact of punches and other blows, especially when they connect with a character's face. When a character takes a blow to the head, a slowed-down sequence of their eyelids, cheeks, and other face meat shifting around often follows, and it never fails to capture the weight behind such a hit.

The opening and ending sequences are also memorable and atmospheric. Matching increasingly volatile real-world vistas with growingly intense rock music got me pumped at the beginning and end of each episode. The soundtrack for Garōden is also solid, and while I doubt I'll listen to it recreationally, it fits each episode and bolsters the emotions and happenings therein. If nothing else, Garouden: The Way of the Lone Wolf made me want to get into martial arts again or, at the very least, hyped me up for a workout, and that's something all sports or martial arts media should strive for.

However, the character writing and overall narrative are so dated and lackluster that I cannot recommend anyone to watch Garouden: The Way of the Lone Wolf. The most frustrating element of this anime's writing is that a young woman's sexual assault is the inciting incident for Juzo Fujimaki's character arc. While this kind of plot point was a lot more common in the older media from Garōden's original publication period, women enduring sexual violence so that men can figure their shit out is not cool and deeply misogynistic.

Furthermore, the show's tension would not exist if the characters just talked to each other. Juzo is wanted by the police not because he killed a rapist in self-defense but because he fled the scene and evaded questioning for years. Similarly, Juzo could have avoided years of wallowing in guilt over murdering a man and possibly terrifying a sexual assault survivor if he had just talked to her, as the final episode reveals she bore him no ill will. Perhaps this dialogue deficiency also explains why lines in the English dub and original Japanese come across as stilted and clunky. Even with a filled-out cast of big names, including the internet favorite SungWon Cho/ProZD, it's pretty clear these actors weren't given much to work with.

The martial arts world has also largely moved on from the world depicted in Garouden: The Way of the Lone Wolf. A tournament to determine the best martial arts style is a focal point of the middle batch of episodes, and characters regularly espouse how novel it is to see different fighting styles clash. In the real world, the best martial arts style is MMA, and you can see people test out their variations on a higher number of ESPN channels thanks to the ubiquity of UFC matches. While the show dabbles a little bit in what different fighting styles represent culturally and spiritually to add depth to these bouts, the central hook of the show is pretty old hat.

On paper, Garouden: The Way of the Lone Wolf should deeply appeal to me. It's a reinterpretation of an influential Japanese novel and focuses on the exact kind of dude shit that I spend way too much time thinking about. But, even with some more inspired animation choices, its weak story, characters, and dialogue make it a mediocre slog. With more anime available and easier to view, you can easily find something better to watch.

Overall : C+
Story : D+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C+

+ Technically proficient animation when it comes to martial arts moves, and inspired depictions of emotions and internal strife.
The story is dated and unoriginal, characters are all similarly bulky and bland despite Baki author Keisuke Itagaki illustrating the manga adaptation of the book.

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Production Info:
Director: Atsushi Ikariya
Series Composition: Sadayuki Murai
Atsushi Ikariya
Daisuke Mataga
Tetsuya Tatamitani
Episode Director:
Ai Asari
Atsushi Ikariya
Takayuki Kuriyama
Daisuke Mataga
Mika Takahata
Unit Director: Tetsuya Tatamitani
Music: Takeshi Ueda
Original creator: Baku Yumemakura
Character Design:
Atsushi Ikariya
Momoko Kawai
Chief Animation Director:
Ai Asari
Atsushi Ikariya
Momoko Kawai
Animation Director:
Ai Asari
Atsushi Ikariya
Momoko Kawai
Daisuke Mataga
Hitomi Takechi
3D Director: Kunihiko Mita
Sound Director: Kisuke Koizumi
Director of Photography: Tsubasa Takagi

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Garouden: The Way of the Lone Wolf (ONA)

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