GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 24 (Fin)

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Well now, Anima certainly didn’t hang around long! But it was for the best, as Mendoza rips out his own ribcage and consumes the horror, gaining a shiny new body.

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Leon can slice the body up all he wants (including, hilariously, slicing Mendoza’s face off to shut him up for at least a few moments), but he always comes back together, and always has a rejoinder such as “it is useless” at the ready.

Leon is missing something in this battle, because, in the beginning, he’s fighting alone. That ain’t gonna work against ol’ Mendoza; he of the giant light fists.

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No; he’ll need to draw from the strength Mendoza denies himself, the true immortality humans are capable of achieving, even if it isn’t in the form of a literal everlasting corporeal form. Kinship, love, family, and cooperation will always prevail over Mendoza’s selfish designs. When he blithely discarded his only remaining family, Octavia, leaving himself alone in the world, he did himself no favors.

On the other hand, Leon is able to combine Garo and Zoro into a very cool hybrid suit of armor, imbued with the love and strength of his father, and placed in his hands by the teamwork of Alfie and Ema. Now Leon is no longer alone, so he won’t lose.

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Mendoza also miscalculate’s Leon’s commitment to banishing him from the world, even he’ll be dragged down into Makai with him forever. Ema foils Leon’s suicidal plan by holding the portal open, and Mendoza tries to use this as proof that allies are worthless, since they’ll always have times when their opinions clash. Ema and Alfie would rather Leon not die.

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Their desire for Leon to live on is shared by his own mother Anna, who is revealed as the source of the flames that have always burned within him. They were never a curse or a manifestation of his revenge, but a means of protecting him until he could stand on his own two feet as a knight and a good man. Now Anna’s flames will continually burn Mendoza for eternity, which is an apropos punishment for the man who would be immortal, and took so many lives and souls to achieve it.

Clearly, Mendoza didn’t consider all the angles of this immortality thing. His shiny new body was a dead end; flawed and unnatural. But the love, protection, and duty passed from generation to generation, from mother and father to son, between siblings, friends, or lovers, is both more righteous and more durable.

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With that, mother and son part ways, and as Zoro’s horse bears Leon back home, a semi-spectral Herman rides alongside to tell him he’s a good son…aaand also to look out for that nice young lady Ximena. It’s a great cathartic moment when he emerges from the portal to the elation of Alfie and Ema.

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As the re-reconstruction of Santa Bard commences, we see that Prince Alfie is gonna be just fine. When the rebuilding is complete and he’s further along on being groomed for the throne, he’ll one day take a wife, and his son or daughter will inherit Gaia from him, along with the duty to protect.

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What about Leon and Ema, found and comforted and supported each other in the shadow of the loss of their past true loves? Well, it’s kind of a Princess Mononoke end, in which they say not “goodbye” but “see you around” as they return to their respective lives, which feels right.

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As for Ximena, she’s going to have a baby—gender to be determined, but let’s call it a girl, shall we?—and Leon’s duty now is to protect her and his incoming new sibling, who will inherit Garo and Zoro. Thanks to everything the child’s forbears have done for her sake, she won’t be born while her mother burns at the stake!

GARO was a very fun and entertaining show. A bit inconsistent at times, but it marched to the beat of its own drummer, took bold risks, and wasn’t afraid to fail. I can forgive when it did because it made such powerful impacts when it struck true. Its finale was one of those times. It looks like there will be a second season of GARO. I’ll definitely be tuning in.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 23

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The penultimate GARO is almost non-stop action, but action informed by some very nice character texturing on both sides. Mendoza vs. The World isn’t that interesting on its surface, but it’s made more interesting by the people fighting for and against him, along with those on the outside looking in.

The latter group is represented by Ximena, who loves Herman and is worried sick, but when she sees her fellow townsfolk coming together to organize an evacuation, she shifts her focus. Ximena may not be a major character, but we know her well enough to know this is exactly what she’d do in such a situation: put others before herself.

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But like I said, she’s on the outside. On the inside, some crazy shit is going down. Mendoza has bestowed Octavia with Majuu armor, which feeds off her body and soul, but as long as she can withstand that feeding, it makes her able to fight on the same level as Makai Knights and Alchemists, giving our heroes a headache.

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I’m glad Herman was wrong and Octavia still has her human body under there, beauty mark, freckles, and wits (such as they are): for her to have transformed into a mindless, faceless automaton would have been a big shame. Instead, she goes out fighting for what she believes in, which is that Mendoza is her god.

The way she cradles Mendoza’s loose forearm, isn’t so much gross as pathetic, but at the same time, you can’t deny her undying loyalty and commitment to someone who did save her more than once.

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I also like how Ema sets things up so Octavia gets tossed out of the inner chamber with her and Alfie, but not before Ema plants a big ol’ smooch on Leon, leaving Mendoza to Leon. The kiss plants Leon in the here and now and calms him, and she urges him not to lose himself…again. Then Ema uses one of Mendoza’s toys to move her and Alfie’s battle with Octavia to that modern-day city, spicing things up quite a bit.

Leon dives down to the bottom of the abyss and confronts Mendoza, who is ready for him with some fresh psychological warfare: the sight of Herman, relieved of limbs and encased in red crystal to join the other souls in the giant dagger intended for Anima.

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But after all the growing and maturing Leon’s gone through, he’s done being manipulated into blind rage by this old fart, which Mendoza can’t help but respond with a half-impressed snort. Whether Leon can keep it together or not doesn’t matter to him; he’s convinced he’s going to have his way with the world.

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Octavia proves a nasty customer by breaking out of Ema’s illusiory city, and the wild aerial battle continues, culminating with her and Alfie balanced on either end of a long wooden plank in midair. GARO doesn’t hold back on the fancypants, acrobatic, gravity-defying combat, and it’s all very slick and fun. Hannah could probably watch this stuff all day, and I’d probably watch it with her.

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The whole elaborate struggle is grounded in the two sides’ contrasting loyalties: Octavia to Mendoza, and Ema and Alfie to the public good, as per their responsibilities both as Makai warriors and in Alfie’s case, as his kingdom’s prince and protector. They’re not worried about Leon or the odds of winning, they’re only focused on getting the job done.

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But so is Octavia; only her job is to dispose of them. After Ema shoots Alfie up to the floating Watchdog center whatsit, she duels with Octavia in the matchup I’d been waiting for. It’s not long or drawn out, but it’s good stuff indeed, with Ema learning Octavia asked to be given the armor knowing full well it would kill her.

Ema can only lament what she sees as the worthlessness of Octavia’s cause. Whatever Mendoza did for her, he isn’t deserving of her fanatical devotion. But he has it all the same, even as Octavia breathes her last and is consumed by the Majuu, which Ema destroys soon after before collapsing herself, having taken a leg shotgun to the chest.

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As for Alfie, he shoves his sword into some kind of field protecting the structure he flew up to, and though his armor and sword crumble to bits in the process, he does manage to break through, and the structure disappears.

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By the episode’s end, all three of our remaining heroes are in desperate need of some Phoenix Down. Hell, a few Phoenix Pinions couldn’t hurt either. They’ve made their stands, handled themselves well, and done everything in their power to oppose Mendoza.

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But despite the fact they’re all sprawled out on the ground, bleeding and absolutely winded, their remaining foe is none other than the ultimate horror, Anima, who as terrifying to behold in all his towering, giant red dagger-impaled, D-cup glory. How in the hell are our exhausted heroes going to deal with this?

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 22

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When Herman’s little talking accessory thingy (his equivalent to Leon’s Zaruba) tells Leon that his father has appeared to side with Mendoza so he can take Mendoza and Anima out, Leon rushes to meet his dad in Mendoza’s lair deep below Santa Bard. Alfie and Ema accompany him. So Herman didn’t turn bad after all, nor was he blindly following Garm’s orders.

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Herman is already there, barely masking his contempt for the fact Mendoza is using hundreds of the souls of knights and alchemists he’s massacred as sacrifices to strengthen Anima (the process resembles Tetris). He eventually hits his limit and decides to reveal his true colors and attack Mendoza right then and there, which considering the stakes seems recklessly hasty.

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Then again, Mendoza is supposed to be super-frail, or at least his withered face would suggest as much. Yet he’s able to survive Herman’s attacks, using a willing Octavia as a shield several times in the process, before Herman slices off Mendoza’s arm and falls back to open the gate for Leon & Co. Now it makes more sense why he gave up the ghost so soon.

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Still, he could have timed it better with the arrival of the others, who have to first get through a gauntlet of barriers and booby traps, including three magic projectors that transport them into a modern-day metropolis, which is a super-WTF moment if ever there was one! All things considered, the trio takes the shock of being in such a strange place pretty well.

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As they work to break the illusion, Herman suddenly has his hands full with a legion of horrors Mendoza has summoned. Mendoza’s arm stops working and the gates start to close again, requiring Herman to hold it open with one of his daggers, greatly reducing his offensive effectiveness. From here on it becomes a battle of endurance.

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Leon, Alfie and Ema destroy the projectors and escape the trap, but they still have another course of barriers to break through, which will take up more time and energy. All the more reason Herman should have held his horses!

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Angry she’s not strong enough to do more, Octavia asks Mendoza to give her that strength. He hands her his staff, she draws a circle in the air, and recieves a torrent of needles. Ouch. Well, I’ve never questioned Octavia’s devotion to Mendoza.

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Those needles transform her into some kind of horror-like anti-Makai knight, who stands over a bruised and beaten Herman after he sabotages (and goes down with) the lift. It looks like it could be the end for him, but we don’t see him die, so it’s probably not quite time for him to bow out.

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He managed to hold the door for the others; now comes the hard part: defeating a Mendoza who won’t go down, protected by a horror-Octavia, and then the small matter of destroying Anima without taking the city with it and them. Plus Garm and the rest of the Watchdogs.

Shit’s certainly gettin’ real, but I really didn’t mind Mendoza being defeated back at the end of the first cour. To be honest, the fact they’re facing the same enemy, only somehow more powerful than before, who is after the same basic villain thing (immortality), is a little disappointing.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 21

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Leon has to duel his shitty dad this week, but he holds his own, as he’s no longer a whiny brat consumed by anger and revenge. He wants to protect people, which is why he just can’t understand why his dad is protecting Mendoza, who has only ever preyed on the weak to increase his own power.

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Herman isn’t saying nothin’, he seems more concerned with whether Leon can actually stay with him in a fight. He tries to push Leon’s buttons, but Leon hangs in there. Their fight moves to the roof of the palace, where Garm in bird form helpfully flutters over them, providing exposition. Basically, the body that governs Makai Knights and Alchemists has decided to let Mendoza release that giant legendary horror after all, since it will eat a great many other horrors, and likely destroy an in-over-his-head Mendoza along with them.

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It’s a sacrifice a few to save many plan, the kind of “tough decisions” Herman says Makai Knights must make. But Leon isn’t having it. He dons his armor and presses his attack (the two wisely travel far from the city to avoid too much collateral damage). He won’t let Garm’s kind sacrifice Santa Bard, a city full of people he and his brother have sworn to protect. He won’t let one person be killed to save another. It’s arguably an even tougher stance than that of his dad, who, at least on the surface, seems to be hiding behind his orders.

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Leon’s frustration with his dad’s position is made clearer in a flashback when the two were traveling from town to town, with Herman taking out local horrors and training Leon, whose present belief that every single person must be protected at the cost of a knights life, was instilled in him by his dad, after Leon tried to save him.

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But his dad also makes it clear that he and Leon are only brief participants in a war that will never end. The swords they drop when they fall will be picked up with others.

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In other words, there’s a long game here, and mortal knights cannot expect to save everyone and everything in their lifetimes. There are hard choices and compromises to be made that might clash with their otherwise rigid ideals, like capitalizing on the opportunity to destroy a vast number of horrors by letting Mendoza do what he wants.

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Leon can’t accept the sacrifice of a few now to save many later. Neither can Alphonso, the leader of the people in the epicenter of Mendoza’s plot. Ema also seems to have the brothers’ backs. But what can they do against the might of every other Makai Knight and Alchemist who has fallen in line? Evacuating the city and killing Mendoza would be a start.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 20

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First of all, I enjoyed how subtly the fact Leon and Ema have slept together is treated this week. They don’t even interact all that differently, as they’ve always been a pair that bickered. Prince Alfie, who invites them to the palace to discuss Mendoza, is content not to pry, but does notice Ema’s new hairstyle.

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And good for Alfie, he also at least somewhat suspects Octavia, because not only does she look really really suspicious with that look of constant guilt and worry on her face, but because he saw her sneaking around the church late at night. Now, Alfie isn’t the sharpest tack on the board, but Octavia seemed due for some kind of slip-up this week, so I gave it even odds she’d be found out…whatever it is she’s actually up to.

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Alfie, Leon, and Ema use a neat trick by hiding the sound of a horror-detecting bell by rining a regular bell to bring in wine for the King, who is still bedridden but on the mend. It at least determines Octavia isn’t a horror, but it isn’t the end of Alfie’s suspicions.

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But that’s all he has to that point: suspicions, because Octavia has proven very adept at staying out of trouble, even as she smuggles food to master Mendoza, who faked his death after all, but his body seems to have paid a price; it’s aged and frail. Still, he’s the same old Mendoza, confident no matter how much snooping around those punk kids do, they won’t be able to stop him.

Considering the Garm has Herman serving Mendoza in capacity, it’s hard to argue with him; the only question is what is he up to? Is he making another play at the throne, or does he have further villainy in store for the world? Whatever the case Octavia will do anything to serve him, including give up her life.

Not so fast, Mendoza says: he doesn’t want her to be in a hurry to die for him, because that would trouble him. These are truly two trod-upon hearts warped by loneliness and despair into kindred creatures raging against the world and the god that forsook them both. Their designs may be dark and twisted (we’ll see, won’t we?), but one has to appreciate the mutual devotion on display here.

At the same time, the fact they’re up to good always keeps the idea allive in my mind that while he says he’ll never toss her aside, he may still do just that when he no longer needs her.

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The show had us for a second, too, when Stakeout Alfie confronts the cloaked figure who emerges from the secret underground passage…but it’s only Laura, a young maid serving under Octavia, gathering purer water for the King. It’s an innocent enough reason to be down there, but there’s a hint of recitation in Larua’s explanations, as if Octavia were using her as a decoy to throw Alfie off her trail. Laura also teases a potential love interest for Alfie, who is the only guy in the main cast who hasn’t yet had any.

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Still, the trio continue their investiagtion, springing a thread trap that Octavia, bouyed by a premature sense of security, snags, throwing her into Survival Mode. As I said, Leon and Alfie aren’t tactical geniuses, but Ema is, and Octavia was due for a slip up. What I didn’t expect was how expertly she’d pull out of her nosedive not only totally above suspicion, but with the King and Alfie’s warm regard for her courage and devotion. In other words, in a stronger position than ever.

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That tenacity was born of her upbringing. The other members of her family were devout worshippers who believed God would save them from anything as long as they prayed; even if they didn’t pray, as Octavia’s Laura-like little sister remarks. But unquestioned faith in God can be a tricky thing if things don’t go well in life, which they don’t for the skeptic Octavia.

For all their prayers, a pack of wolves devours her family in front of her and none of her fellow villagers lift a finger to stop the slaughter. From that point on, Octavia was officially through with whatever God her doomed family believed in, and put her faith and her life in her savior Mendoza’s hands. He hasn’t let her down yet.

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And he continues not to when he presents her with a talisman she should use when she’s in trouble. While on the run from Ema’s trap, she activates it, summoning a horror beast that obeys her every command, spoken or thought. She has the beast consume Laura, who was by the dozing King’s bedside (Yikes…R.I.P. Laura ;_; ), then rouses the King, warns him that Laura turned into the beast, and has the beast attack her for good measure, biting off the right leg Ema’s string is connected to.

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When Alfie, Leon, and Ema arrives, it is plain to see that Octavia is valiantly protecting the King with her own life. It’s a phenomenal ploy by Octavia, and it shows that behind that worried face, she possesses great stores of courage and faith in her Mendoza, all of which is rewarded when the knights she hates so much turn their suspicious gaze away from her.

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It’s not as if Octavia wanted to get attacked by her own horror beast and lose her right leg, but she did what she had to do to stay in the game and, as Mendoza bid her, stay alive at all costs. The last thing she wants to do now is die, not only disobeying her master but making him grieve for her. Like I said, they have a great dynamic, not so much the one-sided manipulation it looked liked in the past.

With Octavia cleared, the case remains open for the Scooby Gang, but Herman suddenly arrives to curtail their sniffing around. Leon doesn’t take kindly to this interference, and he and his shitty dad draw their swords to do what knights do in such situations: fight it out. There’s still every indication Herman is simply obeying orders, but one also senses a glimmer of pride in his calmer, more mature, more badass son.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 19

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The amount we didn’t know about Ema Guzman had always outweighed what we did, and while that made her more cool and mysterious, it also kept her at arm’s length. Whenever she’s darted into Leon’s story, she’s made an impact, but she’s never been on screen long enough. That injustice is corrected this week…and then some.

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All the while Leon and Herman and Alfie have been through a diverse array of adventures, Ema’s basically been on the same single mission: she’s hunting for a powerful horror named Luciano Guzman. When Garm tells Leon Ema is going to die, Leon goes after her, which is a good move, because had he not intervened, she may well have died. Not because she’s too weak to defeat Luciano, but because she doesn’t particularly care if she dies.

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That’s because Luciano was once a man, a fellow Makai Alchemist, and her beloved lover and husband. As a pair they were unstoppable, but Luciano wanted more than to just hunt horrors; he wanted to save them. When not out fighting, he was in his lab, working furiously to find the spell that could prevent humans from turning, or turning them back, but got nowhere. The pain of his powerlessness eventually overcame him one night, when he sprouts giant black wings and disappears into the night…

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…Leaving poor Ema crushed by the wreckage in his wake. More than anything, she wants to take out the horror who did this to him, put him out of his misery, but the Makai knights she worked beside wouldn’t let her, only to end up slaughtered. She deems ending Luciano as her right and duty, and no one else’s.

Leon trades Zaruba’s knowledge of Luciano’s whereabouts for this story. Little does Ema know that, as it did for me, that story only made him care about her more and want to protect her, both from Luciano and her own obsession to destroy him even at the cost of her life.

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She doesn’t dare show a softer side to Leon, but privately, after sewing up her own abdominal wound (this chick is seriously badass), she seems intrigued, flattered, and a little impressed with Leon’s words. She caught a glimpse of him with Lara, but she still regarded him as naught but a boy, untouched and untested by the true horrors of the world. And we know that’s not true. Leon is no longer a clueless whelp. Now he has the strength of body and conviction to back up his big words.

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The night of the final showdown with Luciano commences, and to my surprise, it’s a thrilling aerial battle, calling to mind Last Exile or Pilot’s Love Song. Familiar vibes aside, Ema’s elegant system of gliders she hops to using thread and hooks, and the sleek alien stealth fighter design of Luciano’s horror form, are all very creative touches.

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The fact the battle weaves between cloud systems and is lit by the full moon gives it that much more of a dramatic, artistic flair. Ema has always been an acrobatic fighter, so it stands to reason when she gets really serious she takes to the sky itself. Especially when Luci opens up a barrage of red particle weapons at her, this is mostly just immensely fun stuff to watch.

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And Just as Garm foresaw, Ema does end up in a position where she really should have died. Using a spell of her own, she’s able to awaken a part of Luciano that still loves her, and he catches her before she’s impaled on a church spire. But he’s still a horror, and Ema doesn’t possess the ability to change him all the way back, any more than he did, so as he prepares to eat her, she’s ready with a giant sword made out of her thread. With the only thing keeping her suspended over that spire, killing him means her death too…if it weren’t for Leon, that is.

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A younger, less seasoned-by-life Leon would have surely tried to put an end to the fight before it began, but especially after hearing her story, he holds back until it’s over, only swooping in to save her after Luciano is gone. He does it because Ema is a friend, and she is someone he can protect, so he does. 

But his actions means more to Ema than he knows. She was willing to give up on her own life to release Luciano, he wasn’t. All of Ema’s disdain for Makai Knights was borne from the way they’d always swoop in like scavengers while undervaluing what she and Luciano did, and more importantly, when those same knights detained her, preventing her from taking care of Luciano a long time ago.

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But Leon is proof that not every Makai Knight is necessarily a shithead. He tends to her wounds and comforts her. In every encounter, including the early ones this week, Ema had mockingly referred to Leon as a boy, but suddenly, in that dimly lit room she realizes he’s no longer that boy in her head, but a man; the first man she could truly let her guard down and trust in a long time.

It’s a huge epiphany for her, which is why I don’t remotely begrudge her going in for a kiss. This new matured Leon proves her instincts were right by neither blushing or recoiling but kissing her right back, even taking things further, the risk of wounds opening be damned. It’s a very sexy scene,  and a great note to close on…and it’s earned.

For so long on this show Ema stood apart, out on the periphery, with us not knowing exactly what she was after or why. Now we not only know what she wanted to do; but she did it. Leon saved her, finding someone new to protect in the process. Now they’re standing a lot closer together, and the show is all the better for it. The question now is, do the two go separate ways the next day, or stick together for a time?

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Stray Observations:

  • With Lara, Ximena, and now Ema, we are officially in Garo’s Feminist Period. Seriously, it’s loaded with badass women.
  • On that note, let’s not forget Octavia, who’s still lurking in Alfie’s palace. Wonder if she’ll get a fleshing out.
  • I’ll admit, there were a couple poorly-drawn moments, but the episode more than makes up for it with that dogfight along with its usual stylishness.
  • Ema’s thief’s outfit in the flashback reminded me of FFXIII’s Lightning’s Ignition garb.
  • Ema kinda has to tell Leon about Luciano, since Zaruba is in a particularly chatty mood this week. “I’d rather say it myself than have a ring blab about it!” I LOL’d.