The Rising of the Shield Hero – 04 – A Companion in Hell

At a royal gala celebrating the defeat of the latest Wave of Catastrophe, there might as well be a black cloud hanging over Naofumi. He doesn’t want to be there any more than anyone there wants him to be there. Raphalia tries to cheer him by offering him food, but when the Spear Hero…[checks MAL] Kitamura Motoyasu sees her, he challenges Naofumi to a duel on te spot.

Motoyasu doesn’t like how Naofumi is using a demi-human as his slave. Even if it’s legal in this world, he doesn’t think it’s right. Of course, he’s coming from a position of great ignorance in terms of the actual nature Naofumi and Raphtalia’s relationship. Myne eggs him on, and even when Naofumi refuses to fight Motoyasu, King Melromarc intervenes, ordering him to accept the challenge and arresting and gagging Raphtalia.

Clearly there are two sets of rules in this world: those Naofumi must follow, and no other rules. A duel between two people shouldn’t be something that can be thrust upon an unwilling participant, even by a king. But Melro straight up abuses his power, and nobody stops him, because he is king. All the while everyone, from the heroes to the assembled nobles, practically pelt Naofumi with a hail of insults and exhortations of disgust.

But if he has to fight, Naofumi is going to fight to win, something that might actually be possible since he’s leveled up and gained so many skills, including several that transform the shield into an offensive weapon. He has Motoyasu off balance until Myne interferes with a wind magic spell. The blatant cheating goes utterly unnoticed by everyone but Naofumi, but as a result he loses, and “Myne” makes sure to rub it in his face.

I put “Myne” in quotes because that’s not her real name; turns out she’s Princess Melty, the king’s daughter. Naofumi goes over in his head how he was set up every step of the way by Melty, using the power of her pops and manipulating Motoyasu into thinking Naofumi was The Worst. Even the other two heroes…[checks MAL] Kawasumi Itsuki and Amaki Ren saw that Myne interfered, making Motoyasu the loser.

But no one else will speak up about the cheating, and however ill-begotten the Spear Hero’s victory was, it was still a victory. That means Raphtalia’s slave contract with Naofumi is terminated. As she turns away to leave, Naofumi is consumed by some kind of miasma. But she doesn’t really leave; she admonishes Motoyasu for freeing her when she never actually asked to be freed, and tells him the truth: that Naofumi has only ever been kind to her, and she owes him her life.

Some time ago, in a moment of vulnerability when Raphtalia broke down, Naofumi was there to hold and comfort him. Now it’s Raphtalia’s turn to comfort him. He may think he’s in Hell, where no matter what he says or does, everything will be stacked against him, but that’s only the case if he completely disregards one very important fact: Raphtalia is his sword, and if need be she’ll follow him through Hell itself.

As she embraces Naofumi she levels up, growing into a grown woman in the process (a quirk of demi-humans and one reason they’re oppressed). The miasma is lifted, Naofumi rises, and is free to leave not with his slave, but with his ward, companion, and sword.

Motoyasu still suspects Raphtalia is somehow being brainwashed, but Ren and Itsuki don’t see how he can think that after hearing Raphtalia pour her heart out so publically. The King skulks away, either disappointed the plot didn’t work out or disappointed in his daughter (or both).

Best of all, when Raphtalia gives Naofumi a sandwich she made and he tastes it…he can finally taste it. It’s as if she broke the curse that made everything taste like nothing for him, either through a passive practical spell, or simply by being there for him when no one else was. Even if they got off to a rough start, he was there for her too. And so they’ve saved each other.

This was a standout episode that really got my blood boiling when things started again piling up against Naofumi, but things more or less worked out in the end. There was definitely some catharsis to him finally being cut some slack. I’m still not quite sure why Malty is so obsessively committed to making Naofumi’s life hell. It’s because she’s just, well, bad, that would be slightly disappointing. But what else could it be? She barely knows him.

After being so pissed off with the other heroes that I didn’t even bother to learn their names, Ren and Itsuki showed promising signs that their opinion of Naofumi was improving, or at least that they’d entertain his claims of unfair persecution. Perhaps that’s the first step towards the four heroes eventually working more closely together for a future Wave.

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The Rising of the Shield Hero – 03 – The Grateful and the Ingrates

Only a week has passed after the fight in the mines, but Naofumi and Raphtalia have leveled up to a respectable degree. The armorer says as much, and all the extra discounts and freebies the demi-human gets confirms to Naofumi that this world is full of lolicons.

Still, he seems pleased that Raphtalia is less timid and is now able to stand and speak up for herself. She even negotiates to get new custom-made armor for Naofumi that he thinks makes him look like a bandit, but also doesn’t want it going to waste.

It’s a good thing they mentioned the Waves to the armorer, because he points them in the direction of the church where the Dragon Hourglass counts down the time until the next Wave, which will come in less than a day.

Unfortunately the other heroes are there, and the Spear even tries to steal Raphtalia away, but she rebuffs him. They can mock him all they want and even bring up the “rumors,” but Naofumi won’t say a single word of attack or defense. He’s long since done talking with these assholes.

Raphtalia wants to know what happened between her master and the other heroes, but Naofumi isn’t ready to tell her. Regardless, when dawn breaks and they prepare to be transported to the location of the Wave, Raphtalia formally reiterates her undying loyalty to Naofumi. She is only alive because of him, and so she’ll be his sword and never leave his side.

After transport, Naofumi gets a close look at a Wave of Catastrophe for the first time. The other heroes rush ahead, but he notices they’re leaving a nearby village unprotected from the hordes of undead soldiers and swarms of giant wasps.

So he and Raph head there, he orders Raph to evacuate the villagers while he tries to kill as many monsters as he can. It’s tough work, as there are hundreds of them and he can’t seem to get their numbers down. Luckily the bulk of them mill around beneath a watchtower that Naofumi sets ablaze and brings down on top of them.

When the royal knights arrive and firebomb the place to mop up, they don’t bother to warn Naofumi, who gets Naphtalia under his shield just in time. When she hears the knights talking shit about her master, she threatens to take their heads off, and Naofumi has to order her to stand down.

Still, despite the knights’ utter disgust of Naofumi, he protects them all the same, and in turn, some of them stay behind to help him and Naphtalia even after their commander orders them to meet up with the other heroes.

With the knights’ help, Naofumi and Naphtalia are able to fend off the remaining monsters, while the other three heroes defeat the “boss”—a chimaera, from the look of it—with their much flashier-looking attacks. All of a sudden, the skies clear and the threat has passed. And Naofumi has passed his first Wave test.

A massacre of innocents such as that which claimed Naphtalia’s parents thus averted, the raccoon girl is overwhelmed by the relief and starts to cry, but Naofumi’s heart isn’t made of stone, especially where she’s concerned, so he puts his hand on her head to comfort her.

Naphtalia may have been a slave purchased to be used a a tool, but even Naofumi has to admit she’s much more than that. By not treating her like a slave but like any other person, he’s helped bring about her transformation into a formidable warrior with the heart of a true knight.

Naofumi has also gained the gratitude of the entire village, none of whom still harbor any animosity towards their hero. There are still a lot more people to convince that he’s actually not a rapist swine, but it doesn’t really matter. He’s not here to make friends or clear his name. He’s here to save this world from the Waves, then go back home.

Sousei no Onmyouji – 19

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Uhh…that ohagi will have to wait.

Roku and Benio give it their all, but they haven’t seen the true breadth and depth of Yuto’s power until now. He gives Rokuro the choice to join him or die (typical villain offer) and when they don’t cower before him, he actually loses the goofy grin and gets angry.

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Don’t get me wrong, Yuto’s still a major drag, but at least he’s showing other emotions in the face of his foes’ defiance. But as I suspected, this isn’t a one episode-and-done battle (no way it could be), and as powerful and determined as the Twin Stars have become, they still only had one day to prepare. It just wasn’t enough. Not by a long shot.

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Yuto is somewhat surprised by what the duo’s resonance can do, but even their finishing move only causes him to momentarily shed his human skin, revealing his entire body is riddled with Kegare corruption, just like Rokuro’s arm. That’s gotta mess with a guy, which at least explains what a manic, sadistic creep he is.

Once his normal body is back, he separates his two opponents, making sure to get some good devastating putdowns of his sister in before destroying her legs and leaving her to wallow in her weakness and be devoured by some passing Kegare. Rokuro can do nothing, as Yuto puts him in a chokehold.

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Except Benio isn’t devoured. Instead, Kamui appears, having been drawn to a “cool battle” he’s sore he wasn’t invited to. He offers Benio one of his trademark 10-second decisions: he’ll give her new Kegare legs to replace her ruined human ones. But it will mean taking on a curse just like Rokuro and her brother, and she might get lost in the chaos.

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What breaks her out of becoming totally consumed by her new legs are the cries of her name from Rokuro. When he pulls her out of the darkness and into the light, she realizes why it is she feels so warm and at peace whenever she’s around him: she’s fallen in love with the guy.

That love forges Kegare legs that Kamui admits look the furthest thing from impure, as if the love took the raw Kegare material and made it something beautiful and good. Rokuro laments Benio’s decision right up until she darts around like a lightning bolt and shows everyone what those new legs can do.

Thanks to the wild card Kamui—and Benio coming to grips with her feelings—Rokuro and Benio are still in this thing. But Yuto seems pretty dang pissed his sister was “chosen,” and isn’t just going to lay down and be easily defeated.

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P.S. I’ve finally learned how long SnO will be: 50 episodes. That means barring any season-long hiatuses, the show will continue through Fall ’16 and Winter ’17. I’ll be sticking with it to the hopefully-not-bitter end. The extra length bodes well for Rokuro and Benio’s slowly-brewing romance, for which this episode was definitely a landmark.

Sousei no Onmyouji – 18

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This episode followed up on Rokuro’s vow to take care of Yuto by having Benio right by his side every step of the way. After all this time together making each other stronger, it would be silly and futile for him to fight Yuto alone.

We also got a respite episode this week after two straight battles, and the physical and emotional training the Twin Stars do in the 24 hours before the showdown thankfully isn’t limited to a montage, but occupies the entire episode.

Lots of Rokuro and Benio on their own bouncing off one another is always good, and they manage to get over how nervous they are to be holding hands by learning the broad strokes of their resonance ability.

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But Yuto (busy placing lilies on school desks in Magano, the twerp) isn’t just the fuel that allows the Twin Stars to resonate better; he’s also a demon in Benio’s dreams that leads her to run to the dorm for granny’s comfort and advice.

Granny tells Benio it’s fine to run, but warns her not to do anything she’ll regret, as regrets bind you tighter and tighter throughout life. Benio is scared shitless of the battle to come, but she also knows she’ll deeply regret leaving Rokuro alone.

So she re-resolves to fight with him, and Granny sends her on her way. She finds Rokuro still in the basement, asleep after testing his new Red Talisman (which packs such a punch, I worry for their lovenest’s structural integrity).

Rokuro may be impulsive, rude, and a pervert, but Benio still appreciates all the times he and only he showed her “the way out of the darkness.” She’s never expressed herself as brightly before they met. She realizes he makes her better as a person, not just an exorcist, and she does the same with him.

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It’s a relief, then, that when she nods off beside him and they wake up together in each other’s arms, their mutual shock soon turns to laughter. There’s a quick bit more backstory when Rokuro reveals to Benio that his real right arm was eaten by his friends, and while he underwent corruption, he didn’t fully turn, only his arm.

Having learned he had to exorcise a friend of his (a girl who seemed to like him, to boot) on top of everything else, Benio tries to offer apologies both for her initial dismissal of his determination and for her brother’s sins, but there’s no need. Rokuro and Benio are through apologizing to one another. It’s time to get out there, beat that prick Yuto, come home, and eat some ohagi!

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 17

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Like Roku and Benio, I was tired after last week’s battle, hoping there’d be a respite…and then Ijika Yuto had to show up…again. I know he’s pretty much the big bad of this show so far, but I’ve been on record since he showed up that I simply do not care for the singsongy little twerp, because unlike other well-worn elements of SnO, he hasn’t been able to expand or subvert his generic smirking villain nature. I don’t like how he talks, and I don’t like how he holds back for dramatic effect.

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Seigen looks more than capable of overpowering Yuto, and Yuto’s expressions suggest the same. However, Yuto’s just messing around; in reality, he’s far more powerful than Seigen. But he’s just too in love with foreplay and dragging a battle out. In addition to Yuto, I also don’t like it when the show spends extended periods in Magano—it’s cool-looking, but too abstract and fantastical to carry much weight as a setting.

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Seigen is down, but not out, so after taking another hit for Roku and boxing up Roku, Benio, and Mayura in a protective barrier, he launches an apparent suicide attack in order to stop Yuto from harming the future parents of the Miko. I do like how Seigen, for all his bad attitude, has become a believer in the Twin Stars, which I guess is why he felt confident that the end of his life wouldn’t mean the end of the cause.

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Naturally, his near-suicide attack has little to no effect on Yuto, meaning Yuto is clearly strong enough to have already done everything he could want to do—including kill everyone here in the first minute of the episode. But he doesn’t, because he still wants to see Roku unleash the full potential he sees in him…if only to turn him into a corruption as he did the Hinatsuki dorm kids and Mayura.

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One more gripe against this episode: it pretty much sidelined our Twin Stars, who for most of the running time can only react to Yuto and Seigen, and in Rokuro’s case yell and scream far too much for one episode. However, when they finally get some time at the end, they don’t waste it.

Jiisan gives Roku what Seigen prepared for him—a special elite exorcist armor that’s hella cool-looking—which Roku quickly puts on and tells Benio (still grieving over what’s become of her brother) he’s not going to wait for a four guardian task force to arrive and deal with Yuto. It’s something “he has to do himself.” Hopefully, he actually means himself and Benio.

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Ushio to Tora – 30

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With Mayuko doomed to live the rest of her life replacing Ushio’s mom, Asako in the hospital still growing her skin back, and a lot of people either dead, turned to stone, or unable to remember Ushio, this entire second season has been one big fat DOWNER.

There seems to be no end to Ushio’s torment, as one thing after another crops up to make his life that much more dark and tragic. Just take Nagare, who “frees” Ushio and Tora from a JASDF transport taking them who knows where.

As was teased previously (by his evil grin), Nagare is now on Hakumen’s side. There’s no explanation why, nor why he retreats as suddenly as he appeared when a HAMMR helicopter approaches (he sliced an armored humvee in half; he can’t take out a chopper?)

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So yeah, there’s been a lot of piling on this season, and each episode has dug deep into the vast repository of Ushio to Tora characters from the first season, dusting them off and putting them back on the game board, like the two HAMMR scientists who didn’t die.

All the negativity of compounded ordeals early on made it hard to enjoy this episode, but the show does,to its credit, throw us a few bones of both hope and levity, which are much appreciated—though Asako getting out of bed and wandering around town with her skin still healing, looking like a damn mummy, is definitely not one of those bones. For the love of God, Asako, go back to the hospital!

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Rather, Ushio’s first bone is the Rock Eater armor HAMMR procured from the Kouhamei Sect before shit went down. They believe it will help them in the latest trial he must face: stopping the JASDF, all the brass of which have been fooled by a false Jei Mei, to launch missiles at the stone pillar at the bottom of the sea where Hakumen is (barely) being held.

It’s pretty obvious by how she speaks and looks that this Jei Mei is not Ushio’s mother, but a Hakumen fake, and it’s just as clear destroying the stone pillar will have the opposite effect of destroying Hakumen’s power.

You know you’re in a plot-heavy show when a fleet of submarines makes an appearance in your supernatural action fantasy shounen rom-com-a-drama! So much stuff going on.

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After Nagare’s tease and HAMMR, Ushio decides to stop by at home to…clean his room for some reason. Naturally, he runs into an ambush by more agents of Hakumen determined to crush the stone Azafuse before they revive and join the fight.

In the process, Ushio’s house is fucking destroyed (I can’t believe that hasn’t happened like five times already, considering all his dangerous adversaries!), and even when he dons his arguably badass Rock Eater armor, he and Tora end up in a tight spot.

So it falls to the shattered bits of petrified Azafuse to glom onto Tora like armor which, while lamer-looking than Ushio’s, enables Tora to take out the baddies with ease.

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After that, all that’s left is for Ushio to collect a couple of mementos from previous episodes and go down to the cellar to re-enact the scene where he first met Tora, which was….weird. I guess it speaks to how on-the-same-wavelength these two are—and how desperate for a moment of fun and levity among all the destruction and despair—that they’d do such a goofy thing.

However, after seeing Asako wander the streets in her bandages, I was really hoping she’d end up at Ushio’s place, even if, realistically, she’s still probably too frail to make it there. But she didn’t, which sucks, because now Ushio is off to the Okinawan Sea to stop those JASDF subs from doing something stupid.

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One Punch Man – 12 (Fin)

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With just one episode left, One Punch Man doesn’t waste any time with an OP or recap; we’re plunged right into the hugely-anticipated Saitama-Boros bout. It’s everything I could have hoped for. As Saitama claims an early arm from Boros, below the ship the S’s finish off their opponent, led by Silverfang/Bang, who grabs the foe’s core before he can regenerate his body around it, showing sprightliness beyond his years. Drive Knight also warns Genos not to trust Metal Knight, potentially presaging interhero treachery.

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Meantime, it’s back to the Main Event. Yep, all my shows are ending the same way, but that’s okay, as they’ve all used slightly different approaches to the Final Epic Duel. OPM gets into abstract territory by unleashing a lush and dazzling rainbow of colors, textures, movements, and styles of line, with ironically very little damage being done to either combatant. Hell, Saitama is punched literally To The Moon—what I assume is an equally iconic image in the manga.

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But it’s no big; Saitama takes advantage of the Moon’s weaker gravity to blast himself right back to ex-City A (causing the alien ship to list in the process) and the battle continues. It’s clear both combatants are having a lot of fun, now that they’re fighting opponents who won’t go down instantly. And many a frame in the fight would make a great piece of art to hang on your wall.

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After hearing about so many special moves from so many foes, Saitama decides to break out his ulitmate move: Killer Move: Serious Series…Serious Punch. And No, he doesn’t need to work on that awful name; the fact that it’s awful matches his persona perfectly…not to mention reminds me of “The Paddling of the Swollen Ass…With Paddles.”

Whatever it’s called, it’s the punch that defeats Boros, who remains alive long enough to thank Saitama for a good fight, happy that the prophecy proved true, but also very cognizant of the fact Saitama had plenty of strength to spare and held back; Boros never had a chance of beating him. It’s nice to hear an enemy admit defeat so graciously at the end, rather than cursing and fuming his way to the grave, as many a final boss are wont to do.

As for his surviving crew? The Class S’s round them up and take them into custody, but before that, Amai Mask confronts them and tells them what a terrible job they did due to the destruction of City A and resultant damage to the Hero Association’s reputation. He doubts the media and public will buy that they “did their best”, even though they did.

Amai Mask thus reveals himself as the ultimate villain in OPM; the guy who’s never satisfied with a victory he did not himself create. Metal Knight swoops in like a vulture to pick the bones of the alien ship and develop new weapons…for, uh, for peace. Right.

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Due to coincidence, Tornado happens to be floating right by the exact spot where Saitama bursts out of the wreckage of the ship, where he’s met by an elated Genos. Both of them ignore the little green esper until she protests, and Genos shows some rare saltiness by calling her a spoiled brat and ordering her silence (Bang breaks up an extended fight).

While Amai Mask is initially right and the destruction of City A remains in the headlines for months, news about it, and any public disgust that went with it, eventually fades. The Hero Association builds an even bigger, stronger headquarters, and builds highways sprawling out like spokes from a wheel to every city for quick dispatch of heroes. Humanity comes out of its clash with Boros’ ship stronger than ever.

And, in a comforting epilogue, Saitama and Genos remain Master and Apprentice in mopping up baddies who’d threaten humanity. Sure, there’s still a lot of collateral damage in such battles, but buildings and infrastructure can always be rebuilt. Evil must be punched, and Saitama and Genos will keep punching, for fun and profit. Here’s hoping someday we get to watch them punch more.

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One Punch Man – 11

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I’d call this episode a non-stop action thrill ride, but to its credit, it’s not exactly non-stop. Sure, millions of lives hang in the balance as the Class S heroes fight the alien invaders, but there’s a lovely nonchalance about how they’re fighting, almost like another day at the office, while the ship up above also offers moments of workplace comedy and the inefficiencies of bureaucracy, even on a space pirate ship.

Saitama is laying absolute waste to the ship, but the alien leader’s lieutenants are either off doing their own stuff, hiding out on the bridge, or already dead. That leader, the one-eyed Lord Boros, seems unconcerned with the damage to his ship; instead, he seems to want to meet with the one doing the damage.

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But he doesn’t make it easy. Saitama loses his way, then ends up on the bridge by not falling for the oldest trick in the book (being told to go right when he should go left). Then the blue octopus-like lieutenant shows off his elaborate destructive powers, but is really just tossing lots of rocks at Saitama, who dodges everything, then splits the guy’s head in two with just one well-struck stone.

Down on the surface, the heroes eventually figure out they need to destroy the cores of their foe to prevent him from regenerating. Before they do, a lower-class hero laments that as Class S heroes they’re very stuck in their ways and not prone to listening to their inferiors, even if their ways are futile and listening could get them somewhere.

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When the progress bar on the artillery department tech’s computer finally fills up, the ship prepares to unleash another barrage of shells on the surface, killing all the heroes below, but Tornado arrives just in time and shows just how useful she is to have around by stopping the falling shells, then turning them around and launching them at the ship.

Saitama doesn’t see the effects of that damage, as he’s deep in the core of the ship, having finally found the Guy In Charge, Boros, who tells Saitama here there to fulfill the prophecy of a warrior who is his match in a fight, thus curing him of his existential ennui.

We’ve seen how similar Saitama and Mumen Rider are, but Boros could be an example of what happens when someone with Saitama’s level of ability (or something close to it)  uses his power for so long he runs out of enemies to fight.

Saitama destroys his armor easily enough, but Boros gets right back up, unharmed by one punch and unleashing his full power. Only one episode left to see how many more punches Saitama will need to send this jerk packing.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 07

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In keeping with the werewolf theme…Woof. What the heck happened here? I mean, I could tell you;  the story isn’t complicated: Leon loses a battle, then goes on a rather wild ride through dreams and memory before snapping out of it and breaking up a church child slavery ring. Wait, whuh?

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First, the loss. With Pops probably off somewhere humping his shadow, Leon has to face off against what appears to be an evil or DARK Makai Knight, who’s a lot better at fighting. But even at this point, I’m pretty disoriented about what’s happening when, because the episode insists on jumping around like storytelling whack-a-mole.

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Oh HAI EMMA! Emma is in this episode for twelve seconds, and while she saves Leon from Batman, you could say that by sending him flying, it’s also thanks to her Leon ends up in his next…predicament, which is when things get weird.

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That’s what I’d like to know, pal. As this was all going on, I kept thinking “This is either Zaruba testing Leon in some way, or someone slipped him some strong psychotropic drugs.

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Turns out I was right about the latter. But the episode is still too clever by half, and its clumsy attempt to put us in Leon’s whacked-out disoriented state was somehow random and repetitive, and left us cold. It was weird, but not weird enough to be compelling, or even that tolerable.

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Speaking of intolerable, that pretty much describes Agatha, the Kid of the Week who has buck teeth and one of the more annoying voices I’ve heard in a while. It’s nice that the Makai Alchemist who drugged Leon regails us with Agatha and Pepe’s sad story, but I can’t be bothered to care when these uniformly irritating people have been so abruptly thrust upon us.

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From a technical standpoint, aside from a couple nice close-ups and the usual decent CGI armored suits (which are meant to stand out quite a bit from everything) this episode had some ugly moments. The side characters — and there are way too many of them — are generally pretty badly drawn, and in the climactic battle against the real Pepe’s Horror form is comically brief. Also, the baddies just aren’t as cool-looking as they were in earlier episodes.

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There’s a pretty funny delayed gag at the end where Herman is talking all seriously to Leon and we don’t see until the end that he, well, had a bit of a rough night himself, but it’s not nearly enough to redeem an episode that was a tiresome chore for most of its running time. But I guess one thing’s clear: it’s too early to storm the castle.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 06

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Santa Bard: where Leon was conceived in the flames that burned his mother to death. Where it all began. And also, where Mendoza is building a Demon Army with which to hold onto power. Leon and Herman arrive here far earlier than I would have thought, especially if this is just a 12 or 13-episode show..

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This week, we get a parallel father-son story, though one that ends unhappily, as the city’s foremost swordssmith learns of his son Sergi’s death when his sword is returned to him. Only the sword isn’t just a sword, but a vessel for his dead son’s soul, no doubt twisted into horrordom by his experiences in the shadowy Knighthood of the Black.

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Herman wants to get the lay of the land — preferably by getting laid — and it doesn’t even take long for the comely Leon to get surrounded by ladies, one of them Emma, who is still following them. Considering those ladies may have been trying to roll him, her presence was beneficial, and she gives the quick-to-anger Leon some free advice: quick getting all bent out of shape by every little thing and grow up.

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He does just that by paying for the food a young urchin stole from a merchant, catching the attention of Julio, who was once an urchin himself, and was saved by his adoptive father and boss: the swordsmith with the demon possession problem.

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The two father-son duos enjoy a meal together, which turns out to be a perfect opportunity for Herman and Leon to pick up on the fact that something is very wrong with Julio’s dad.

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Of nights, he takes a terrifying Horror form and goes after Santa Bard soldiers who won’t tell him where his son is. His possession by Sergi’s sword was, in a way, a result of him not being able to let go of Sergi and let him move on. Although, from the image up top, it’s not as if the guy had a lot of choice in the matter.

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Herman dons his Zoro armor and does his thing, father v. father, Herman’s killing of the Horor means Julio is an orphan again, but he’s an orphan in the city’s top smithy and still has a decent support system. He’s in a place where he can determine his future with his own hands, which is basically a more literal version of Leon’s situation.

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But the smith-horror was just a glorified side-quest, considering what the Knighthood is up to, which Herman and Emma confer about. Mendoza is also aware of their presence, and one of his loyal associates vows to deal with them (though Mendoza doesn’t seem to care either way).

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 05

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On the day of the New Moon, as promised, Zaruba takes Leon’s life…but only for the day. In this regard, he’s kind of like a werewolf, only during the opposite moon phase, he doesn’t turn into a wolf, but just sleeps all day, as most teenagers do.

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Anyway, Leon being out of action is a perfect opportunity to turn our attention to Prince Alfonso and his new savior, who turns out to be Sir Rafael Banderas, a Makai Knight and a friend of the Old Golden Knight Garo. We learn that Alfonso’s mother was Leon’s mother’s younger sister, making them cousins. That makes Leon’s aunt Queen Esmeralda, who was adopted by aristocrats and eventually became Queen.

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Super-Evil Dude and General Dickhead Mendoza suspected the Makai bloodline ran in Esmeralda and her son, and so acted quickly to eliminate them, as any Makai knights or alchemists pose a threat to his plan to dominate the land using Horrors as his army. But Leon got away safely, thanks to Rafael, while the queen remembers nothing of her past, but is kept alive as a potential bargaining chip. In this, Mendoza shows remarkable restraint. Meanwhile, Octavia continues to keep the king weak and bedridden, but is instructed to keep him alive…for now.

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After Rafael tells him the tale of his lineage, Leon is eager to be trained, but as good as he is with a sword against humans, he’s no match for horrors yet. This is illustrated simply when Rafael hands Leon his horror-slaying sword, which is actually thinner than his own broadsword, but so much heavier it drives itself into the stone ground, and Leon can’t budge it. It really puts into perspective the weight the knights bear; if the sword is that heavy, the armor must be like wearing a tank!

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For a taste of the life of a knight and the struggle against horrors, Rafael takes Alfonso to Valdona, a formerly bustling wine-producing land now ruined and scorched, and whose inhabitants flee in terror from Alfonso’s horse. The Count is a horrifying caterpillar-like horror (it kinda reminded me of Captain Kurotsuchi’s Ashisogi Jizo). A mother, infant child, and harpist have somehow managed to avoid getting killed when Rafael and Alfonso arrive.

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The harpist gets eaten, but Alfonso lashes at the horror ineffectually until Rafael arrives and dons his “Gaia” armor, focusing on defense. One supercharged blow to the horror’s soft spot and it’s taken care of. I’m liking the purple garb of Rafael, though you’d think the more flamboyant Herman would don such a hue. The transformation is also very cool: with a portal of light opening and basically dropping the armor on him piece by piece, again weighing down the ground he stands on.

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After this incident, Alfonso is only more determined to do whatever it takes to save his mother and protect his kingdom, so Rafael agrees to train him. Unlike the easy-going, drunken Don Juan Herman, Rafael is a much stiffer, sterner man. I’m only speculating, but that could be because Herman has dragged his boy around since he was a baby, and wanted to be a jovial presence in his son’s life (something that’s wearing thin on Leon now that he’s growing into adulthood). On the other hand, this “father figure” thing is brand new. It will be a learning process for both him and adoptive “son.”

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Back in…well, I’m not sure where exactly it is, only that it’s not really a when, but a void where time is unchanging, kinda like where Captain Picard ended up with Q after Nausicaans stabbed him (different show). There, the previous Garo, Leon’s grandfather, tells him to not to fear his flames, and to find “that which he must protect” before giving him a hearty slap of encouragement on the back. Hey, Old Garo is alright by me!

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Makai knights protect by slaying horrors. As Herman said, they do not pass judgment, or even raise an armored hand, to ordinary humans, even if said humans hunt down and murder their fellow knights and alchemists as witches. I wonder if they can make an exception in Mendoza’s case, as he’s far from an “ordinary” human. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the way he is because he’s a vessel for a horror, as Marcelo was.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 04

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I love how this show subverts our expectations…even expectations established as recently as this week by the other Mappa series this Fall, Shingeki no Bahamut. Creepy village full of ugly people? Rumors of disappearances? A gorgeous woman (Herman’s type!) living with her bowl-cut son on the outskirts?

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The logical path of least resistance tells us that if this beautiful creature Aurelia isn’t a witch, or rather a horror in disguise (and let’s be honest, “Aurelia” sounds like a witch’s name), then her son,  he of the intense gaze who talks to his wooden doll, most certainly is. Now that Leon is a full-fledged, under-control Makai Knight, it’s up to him along with Pops to root out Horrors and protect humans…even the thoroughly unpleasant-seeming, highly private inhabitants of this town.

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Well…THIS is certainly very creepy…

When Herman rules out everyone else, including Aurelia, the conventional process of elimination says the Horror is Alois, and Herman tells Leon He’ll Get This One, as it’s not fair to ask his son to kill a child when he’s really still one himself. Leon bristles at this (as he bristles at pretty much everything his dad says): it’s a Horror; the fact that it takes the form of a child is of no consequence.

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I want Herman’s neat little Horror-detecting bell.

Only…Alois isn’t a Horror either, sending the knights back to square one. Having wached Bahamut this past Monday with Hannah, in which innocent little Rita ended up being a necromancer, was pre-conditioned to suspect the kid too. Yes, even with all those hundreds of creepy wooden idols in that abandoned hut.

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Similarly, the overall sketchiness of the townsfolk, and the way in which they dealt with Aurelia, made her story about their seedy occult “ceremonies” make us start to suspect them as at least harboring a Horror or being in it’s thrall, if they weren’t Horrors Herman could detect with his bell for whatever reason. And yup…still wrong!

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No, this week’s Horror is the wooden doll Alois walks around with. He talks to it because it takes the form of another boy who, unlike the rest of the town, wants to be friends with him. It also taps into Alois’ desire for revenge against the town for persecuting and murdering his father, who reported their activities to the church.

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So, this is a Horror facilitating a young, angry boy’s thirst for revenge. Basically, a younger version of Leon, no? Herman is always possessed of many of the show’s best lines, and this week’s no exception:

Revenge will only destroy you. At the very least, be destroyed by women, that way you can go like a man.

Raging sexism aside, this line not only gets us to suspect Aurelia even more early on (be destroyed by women) but also hints at the situation they’re about to face at the town: Alois wants revenge, and the Horror wants to give it to him, but the Knights can’t allow it. They have to save Alois by depriving him of that which he desires most in life, because the Horror won’t stop with the townsfolk.

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This week is notable for its focus, eschewing any Emma or Alfonzo updates, but also for Herman never needing to don his Zoro armor, because this is another lesson for Leon first and foremost. When the Horror’s face morphs into that of Alois, Leon hesitates for the split-second needed for it to escape, but he doesn’t get fooled again, knowing that as seductive as the prospect of revenge can feel, his father’s words in this case are spot-on: it will only destroy you in the end.

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While he and his mother are now safe, he’s still sad he lost his “friend” and any hope at getting his revenge, but the Knights helped keep his soul clean. He’s young, and he’ll get over it. Their job done, Herman and Leon start off to the next town to gather info on their next target, whatever it may be.

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Aurelia and Alois blow town too, because, and this is the interesting part: the town hasn’t stopped the rituals. Furthermore, Herman and Leon aren’t going to do anything to stop them. They’re Makai Knights, charged with eliminating Horrors. They’re not all-purpose heroes, and it’s not their job to judge humans. Had a Horror not been involved in any part of this case, Aurelia and Alois probably would’ve been SOL.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 03

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“Better get used to me, kid!”

GARO slips right back into high form in its third outing, which starts with the receipt of a cool floating-rune message that “Zaruba is complete.” After crossing paths with Emma Guzman in their inn (by “coincidence”), they waste no time rushing to the secluded home of the Makai Alchemist Gael, who fought alongside Leon’s grandfather, who was the last Garo.

They don't hang about, do they?
They don’t hang about, do they?

We get a short but sweet flashback to when a sixteen-years-younger yet far more world-weary Herman is still on the run with lil’ Leon, and asks Gael to fix the Madou Ring that allows the Golden Knight to contract with Zaruba and lend him his strength. All this plot and terminology could have been a ponderous ordeal to sit through, but it’s all very easy to follow, and it’s delivered with flair, which this show has in spades.

Leon looks a lot like his dad, as demonstrated in this flashback
Leon looks a lot like his dad, as demonstrated in this flashback

Like German, Gael has an apprentice of his own, Marcelo, who is eager but somewhat inept, a fact Gael is quick to remind him of for launching a neat “drum-needle” barrage a the approaching Makai Knights. But in sixteen years of watching Gael work on the ring, the idea took root in Marcelo’s mind that Herman would never return, and that the ring would fall to him. He hides it well, but he’s pissed Herman came back.

Whatever Gael is doing here, you gotta respect the energy! "Ah, FUCK IT, I'M THROWING IN THE LOT!!"
Whatever Gael is doing here, you gotta respect the energy! “Ah, FUCK IT, I’M THROWING IN THE LOT!!”

Marcelo has the sense to make sure Gael has completed the ring before killing him and snatching it as Herman and Leon sleep. When he bumps into Emma in the forest (who’d slapped a tracking device on Leon at the inn), Marcelo even thinks quick on his feet, overpowering her, then maintaining his innocence with Leon, claiming she killed Gael and stole the ring.

You're ah...you're not lookin' so hot there, sport. You okay?
You’re ah…you’re not lookin’ so hot there, sport. You okay?

Marcelo must’ve remembered the helpless boy Herman brought with him sixteen years ago, and even if he didn’t know Leon already inherently distrusted Emma, is able to easily convince him she’s the bad guy. I really love the scene where Emma thinks Leon passed and exhales, only to get into a heated but short fight, which ends with Emma telling Leon he’s been had: Marcelo has become a horror.

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As one would expect, even though he’s probably distraught over Gael’s death, Herman doesn’t swallow Marcelo’s fiction so easily, mostly because Gael was killed by a sword like Marcelo’s; a weapon Emma would never stoop to as long as she had her spool of string. The jig is up, and Marcelo, cornered, finds to his dismay that Zaruba will only contract with the Golden Knight, which he ain’t. Furious, he transforms into his monstrous Horror form.

"This should be good..."
“This should be good…”

Again, Herman leaves the work to the kid, who transforms into Garo and takes it to Marcelo-HORROR like a Final Fantasy protagonist to a major boss. Leon’s little skirmish with Emma was cool-looking enough itself, but once he dons the armor the combat spectacle takes on a whole new level, suitably accompanied by Garo’s sweet battle theme.

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Look around--choose your own ground...
Look around–choose your own ground…

When he finds an opening, he punches through Marcelo to get to the ring, briefly enters a sparse scene that resembles some 70s prog-rock album cover, and meets and contracts with Zaruba, who has a surprisingly personable voice (though not as goofy as say, Excalibur’s, though that would have been cool too.) Zaruba not only strengthens Garo, but calms his flames. Calmly, smoothly, Leon slices and dices the horror into oblivion.

Cue Victory Fanfare; tally EXP. CONGRATULATIONS. (Wait…why the hell is this eight minutes long?):

Now in possession of the restored Madou Ring, Leon can become a full-fledged knight. Afterwards, Emma takes off on her own (though I’m certain they’ll meet again), and the father and son continue on. That would’ve been a fine place to end, but this episode wasn’t done yet, giving us BONUS GARO by checking in on Alfonso, now a fugitive on the streets of his own capital by rights.

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He learns to his horror when defending himself that it isn’t just regular police being sent after him, but DEMON Police (which are, like Marcelo, of a pretty cool-looking design; not bad for grunts), which he simply isn’t equipped to deal with (yet). So it’s a good thing, then, that a Makai Knight was in town to save his life, waste the demons, and then pose stylishly with the moon as a backdrop.

"Hey. Hey Alfonso. Take a snap for my Instagram, yeah?"
“Hey. Hey Alfonso. Take a snap for my Instagram, yeah?”

It’s a thrillingly efficient closing scene that assures us the show hasn’t forgotten about Alfie, that he still has a lot to learn about that thing round his neck, and that he and Leon are sure to cross paths at some point.

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