“People may not understand what they don’t experience themselves,” says Prince Alfie, in during his surprise visit of the lands where Leon has settled into a new life. Let me preface this review by noting that I’ve never experienced so much harrowing emotional turmoil from an episode of Saturday morning animation in my life. That alone would have warranted a high score, but it’s far from all Garo No. 17 has to offer.
I will also admit, despite all the evidence suggesting Lara would remain by Leon’s side for some time to come ever since her story didn’t end with one episode (as is usually Garo’s M.O.), every scene with the two was tinged with dread, like there was a target on Lara’s back, as well as the members of her family.
Alfie doesn’t visit Leon’s village for him; he had no idea he was there. That being said, their meeting in the lord’s manor is a fantastic scene for both of them. There’s no chest-thumping or rancor; only reminicing and apology. Leon recalls how sheltered and oblivious he though Alfie was (and Alfie admits, he was), but now he admits he was just as clueless. Furious at the world he was meant to protect as a Makai knight—because that world allowed his mother to burn—Leon didn’t feel he had anything worth protecting, which is why he failed.
Now he’s just a regular man, but he’s finally found something to protect. Lara, her family, her farm, and her simple, peaceful way of life. Speaking of which, hey, why’d you leave her out in the cold? At least invite her in for a cup of tea!
When Lara sees that Leon knows frikkin’ Prince Alfie, she’s filled with dread that he will leave her for bigger, more important things, but she’s misread the situation: Leon has no intention of going anywhere. He’s going to stay right here, with her. My heart lifted when Lara’s face brightened up at this news.
In what would tragically turn out to be their final day together, Leon and Lara spend the eve of dusk on the roof of the house, where Leon no longer sees “nothing.” They’re no that high up, but in the countryside where buildings are scarce, there’s still a unique thrill to being up there, having a more commanding view. He sees the world he belongs in, and the person he wants to protect.
But just as Lara’s visible breath portended, the first fluffy flakes of winter snow begin to fall, heralding the worst night in Leon’s life, and a pretty shitty one for Alfie too.
Alfie is here to hunt a burrowing horror who has been eating villagers. One night Leon and the dog get a bad feeling, and the horror appears on the doorstep of Lara’s house. And the age-old irony takes form: just when Leon has found something to protect, he is powerless to actually protect it.
He begs Lara and the others to race to the fairy mound—which is really an anti-horror barrier where they’ll be safe, while he races to warn Prince Alfie. But then the horror sets the barn and house aflame and threaten their stores of food for the winter—which are no less than their very lives, to say nothing of paying off debt. Lara’s grandfather races back to their home, regardless of the futility, and Lara and the others follow her.
So often in anime buildings are leveled and crops burned and entire cities or even planets wiped out, but it’s rare when the destruction of something so relatively small as this family farm carries so much emotional weight, but it does. These buildings prove to really be not only the entirety of Leon’s new world, but the entirety of their inhabitants’ lives.
When the buildings burn, so does Lara’s family, and Lara herself is burned and crushed under the rubble. We saw that target on their backs, clear as day, but couldn’t have predicted such a bitterly awful, merciless end for them.
Even then, I held out hope that because Leon found Lara, her injuries could be healed, and they’d leave this place in search of a new home, together. But it isn’t in the cards, as Leon is forced to say goodbye to the girl he never confessed his love to, nor her to him, but at the same time never really had to, because it was plain. Lara feared Leon would leave her for somewhere far away, but it ends up being her who leaves him, and at this point my tears were falling as steadily as the snowfall.
The final shot is of Lara and her family’s would-be refuge, the fairy mound the villagers had forgotten the true power of because their home had become so peaceful, and instead assigned a folktale to it. At this point Leon could blame throwing his powers away for this tragedy, but the truth is he wouldn’t even be here if he hadn’t fallen. And even Alfie, a full-fledged Makai knight, couldn’t be everywhere or protecting everyone at once. But the brothers must not lose heart, even though they’re broken along with mine.