GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 15

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GARO has never been shy about shuffling off to a totally different story in its world when it feels the urge to. The serial tale of the Makai knights’ struggle against evil has always gone hand and hand with the smaller but still interesting stories of the people they’re protecting. Episodes like this are successful when they find a way to tie the two together. In this case, without meaning to, the common folk’s activities provide another lesson for the Prince Alfie, still young and learning what it means to rule.

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I won’t blame you for not remembering the blacksmith Julio, who had dealings with Herman and Leon and whose dad Sergi (or Jordi, depending on the subs) became a horror and had to be killed. But even if I hadn’t looked back at my older reviews, I’d have recalled him, and I’m glad they brought him back rather than making new characters. We know this kid’s history, and why he’s so determined to build his own Golden Knight; not just so he and his can protect themselves, but be able to help out the real knight.

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I will say, however, that the trial-and-error quality of developing the suit gets a little repetitive, and the sophistication of the technology employed strains credulity quite a bit (the Makai knights’ clearly supernatural armor). I simply don’t buy that elbow grease and some pig iron are capable of building a mobile suit in what is clearly a pre-industrial time period.

It’s also hard not to see this as filler, especially when our main characters get so little time. That being said, the show seems intent to tell us other stories precisely because Leon and Alfie are both kind of in holding patterns. Leon’s one scene with Lara is nice, but it doesn’t provide anything new; these two like each other, but Leon is transient. There’s also something awesome about the prince’s uncle sneaking into the palace through a window just for the hell of it…but it’s hardly substantial stuff.

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In the second half, things pick up when a widow visits the workshop with tales of a monster prowling their farmland. Time to test the anachronistic suit! And despite having, delicate, perishable pig intestines for hydraulic hoses, the suit holds up pretty well…though they’re not actually dealing with a horror, but a big bear made bigger and scarier by the light of the moon.

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Herman and Alfie just happened to be passing by this battle, and Herman is able to step in at the last minute when it seem’s the mecha’s pilot Bruno is about to be blown up with it. The lesson to Alfie is that the people he is sworn to protect are not helpless—indeed, in the ways of the world, they are far stronger—so it’s important not to see them as merely sheep to be tended.

As royalty and a Makai knight, maintaining and protecting the realm is a collaborative effort with his people. They can take care of themselves by and large, but it’s crucial he be there in case whenever they’re in a pinch.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 14

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90% of last week’s episode was given over to Leon’s rebirth into a simple life of working the land. This week it’s Prince Alfie’s turn to get the lion’s share of the episode, and while his adventures have nowhere close to the emotional impact as Leon’s, it’s still a respectable, if episodic, romp.

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Exhausted by the ample rigors of being the Golden Knight and a prince being groomed for the throne, Alfie gives his portrait artist the slip and hides inside a wagon that just happens to be robbed while on the road, and its young driver is tied up and thrown in the back with him.

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Leon continues to enjoy the company of the fair Lara (voiced by Aiba Madoka, her first role, and a damn good one) and Emma happens to cross paths (it’s probably more like Emma was looking for him.) Emma confirms Leon is okay, tells him Alfie is okay, and they part ways. Short and sweet, but it’s good to know Lara is going to be around more than one episode.

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When the thieves arrive at their abandoned (and haunted) castle hideout, Alfie reveals himself and asks them to surrender, but not only does Herman appear on the balcony, but the Juliet to the tied up guy Mauro’s Romeo; in love with each other, but with feuding families.

Mauro tells tales of Count Juste—the castle’s former lord, whom Alfie always idolized as a great knight—coming home to find his wife Isabelle had become a witch, and killed her. Alfie assumes Uncle Herman came to address a potential horror infestation in the castle. The fact that Herman knows nothing about the curse and merely came to collect white lilies for his new lady friend Himena, the romantic bastard.

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When night falls, Fana springs Mauro from the dungeon, but get cornered by guards, and happen upon a hidden passage that leads to the room where Horror-Juste and Isabelle remain in their deadly embrace.

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Juste takes Fana for his new bride, but Horror-Roland (Juste’s rival for Isabelle’s heart) possesses Fana’s dad, and the two start to fight in Horror Mode. Yes, there’s a lot going on here; not all of it necessary, but the detailed story is surprisingly easy to follow along.

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Since these guys are horrors, that means Herman and Alfie can actually fight them. Lo and behold, they’re both complete pushovers, though when Juste is about to drain poor Fana of all her blood, his face opens up to reveal a gruesome face that wouldn’t be out of place in Parasyte. Herman takes out Roland, Leon takes out Juste, and Mauro reaches out and catches a falling Fana, cushioning her landing.

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In the end, Mauro and Fana, who we don’t really care that much about, end up together (who knew the Garo Knights were yentas?), Alfie has a little adventure away from his palace, along with some exercise, and Herman has to look somewhere else for white flowers for Himena. Nothing super-consequential, but stylish and witty as always, and thus still enjoyable.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 13

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Prince Alfonso buries his mother and starts the long process of rebuilding his country, Herman makes a friend in the lady who was doing laundry back during his extended streak session, and Emma is the only one looking for Leon, though even Garm doesn’t know what’s become of him.

Leon, meanwhile, is lying in a riverbank, near death after his plunge into that gorge. He is no longer keeper of Garo nor Zaruba’s partner. He’s just Leon again. Having failed miserably in the world of demons and dark magic and fantasy, what he needs is a good dose of reality, which is exactly what he gets thanks to his savior, a farmgirl named Lara.

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When Lara brings Leon home and nurses him back to health, his first words to her are “Why did you save me?” when they should have been “Thank you.” Lara’s dimiutive but tough-as-steel grandmother puts an end to his pity-party right then and there: if they hadn’t saved him, he would have died on their land and they’d have had to waste time tending to his body, and time is the farmers’ enemy.

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This is a strange new world for Leon, whose former life had been pretty transient and action-packed. Here, it’s quiet, calm, boring, but the onions have to be planted and the firewood collected and the irrigation canal fixed before the ice comes. There are debts to be paid to the lord, and that Lara’s father was killed by wolves doesn’t change the fact they need a good harvest to pay them off.

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Leon watches these farmers, and the kinda and lovely Lara in particular, as if they were some kind of exotic animal. When he asks her how she can stand this unending routine of drudgery, and whether she ever dreamt of leaving and living a different life, she states simply that this is her father’s land, and it’s up to her to keep tending it. She isn’t the kind of person to abandon her mother and grandparents for her own selfish dreams. But in any case she seems to like her life just fine, and it’s been made a lot more interesting by the traveler’s arrival.

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Once Leon is strong enough, the grandpa gives him the shovel so he can take a breather (the episode is full of close-ups accentuating just how hard the elderly characters are working). Leon is understandably terrible at this non-combat manual labor, and Gramps shows him how, making it look easy. But it dawns on Leon as he sleeps beneath the full moon: nothing here is easy, but nor is it pointless, and he can be of help.

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The highlight of the episode is, surprisingly, a montage, but a truly powerful one, set to a bold, epic piece of soaring orchestral music that calls to mind the work of Joe Hisaishi (the whole episode has a distinct Ghibli vibe to it, for that matter.) It sounds like a determined march to a tough battle, only the enemies are nature, the elements, and time, and the weapons shovels, hoes, axes, and elbow grease. This really is a new world for Leon, but takes up these arms all the same and fights beside Lara and her family.

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And they are victorious, completing the canal before the ice comes, giving the family a chance at that good harvest. This was just one battle, but the war Lara and the farmers are fighting is unending. Now Leon can answer his own question from back when Lara first saved him: it was as if fate had brought Leon to Lara’s lands so she could restore his health, and in turn he helped them rebuild the canal and save their crops. They saved each other.

More enticing still, Leon doesn’t say farewell and leave by the end of the episode. Is Garo not quite done with this new, good-honest-labor setting for Leon? Will Lara continue to play a role in this second cour? In both cases, I hope so.

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Back in Santa Bard, Nuncle Herman assists his nephew the prince with a nasty-looking leftover horror from a Giger sketchbook, before considering hitting up a brothel or two, but his “butterflies” euphamism soars right over dear sheltered Alfonso’s head. The Herman/Alfie dynamic is a nice one, and while both are worried about what’s become of Leon, they know only he can help himself now.

I kinda wish Alfie hadn’t retained Mendoza’s closest confidant, and connected the dots that she was the one keeping his father ill. But that’s a classic rookie prince mistake, and I’m sure it won’t be his first.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 12

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Last week, our brave, valiant, devoted young Makai knights, brothers in blood as well as calling, stood shoulder-to-shoulder against Mendoza and his partially-summoned beast, poised to teach the bad guy a valuable lesson about going up against good. But then Mendoza got Leon to focus on him, took him into his clutches…and pretty much ruined him forever. I didn’t see that coming, I’ll tell you that right now!

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Overcome by grief, pain and rage over vivid imagery of his mother dying (courtesy of Mendoza’s magic), Leon loses control and transforms into a terrifying beast. Mendy made it so that it’s as if Leon never left those flames his mother was being roasted in when she birthed him, and the flames that protrude from the Berserk-Garo cause significant damage and death to the city.

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Obviously Leon didn’t mean for things to go this far, but the fact remains he has to be stopped, one way or another. Herman is too injured to do it, so it falls to Alphonso, who hasn’t let Mendoza get close and still has full control of his faculties and his armor. You know your final battle isn’t going well when you have to allocate significant time and energy to taking out your own ally before he destroys the city you’re supposed to be protecting!

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Alfie manages to kick Leon out of the Garo armor at a very high altitude. Emma saves Leon by cushioning his fall with a soft, fluffy stone column. By this time, Mendoza’s pet is fully formed and ready to complete the work Leon inadvertently started.

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Alfie needs to make a choice quick, and makes it, taking Leon’s sword, donning the armor of the Golden Knight himself, and going after Mendoza and the beast. All a dazed Leon can do is watch his prized armor he worked so hard for move and fight without him. All because he let Mendoza get too close, and continued to harbor thoughts of anger, hatred, and revenge – which even Mendoza correctly asserted were piss-poor motivations for a Makai Knight, any way you slice it.

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Mendoza doesn’t get any lengthy farewell speeches, however, nor does his face contort very dramatically, before the very horror he summoned swallows him up and is then sliced clean in half by Alfie-Garo. The scourge of Valiante is gone…but sadly, so are Leon’s days as a Makai Knight.

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He says he did ‘nothing’, but that’s not true…he burned much of the city and probably killed a lot of people, and wouldn’t have stopped had Alfie not forced him out of his armor. I must say, that’s a heck of a bitter pill to give one of your heroes to swallow in the penultimate episode.

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The hero-ship basically passed from Leon, who utterly failed, to Prince Alfonso, who is welcomed back to the palace with open, happy arms. Unfortunately, one of his first actions upon returning is to go to his mother, who committed suicide rather than serve as Mendoza’s hostage.

In the heat of the moment the previous night, Alfie cursed Leon as a useless weakling, a coward, and above all, a great disappointment…but he knows that if his own mother hadn’t sacrificed herself, he might well have gone the exact same path as Leon.

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Mind you, just because Mendoza had ammo against Leon and used it doesn’t completely vindicate Leon; the fact remains his actions were motivated by the wrong reasons for someone wishing to be a Makai Knight. He was wrong, and that wrongness accelerated his downfall. At the end we see him alone, with no more means to fight nor anything to fight for.

To him, that means there’s nothing to live for either, so he prepares to toss himself off a cliff. Seems to me like a perfect time for Emma to show up with her magic thread! Not to mention, back at Santa Bard, Octavia is ostensibly still lurking.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 11

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One could say the Makai Council created a monster when they marked Mendoza for life. They should have just killed him and saved a lot of trouble (and lives). Mendoza then went on to create a monster of his own with Bernardo. This week we get the rest of the story of what happened to Bernie as he fights Herman in the present, which is a much more interesting and satisfying story than Mendoza, who was pretty much always an irredeemable shit.

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Bernie wasn’t. He just got seduced by the Dark Side, so to speak. As a Makai Knight he swore to protect the people, but all he got for his duty was persecution by those very people. Anna insisted that turning the other cheek was also their duty, but cornered in the city, with Anna and Roberto still in trouble, Bernie chooses to protect them. He won’t sacrifice his friends, and especially Anna, whom he always seemed to have a thing for, just to protect the scum before him.

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He kills dozens of guardsmen, but ends up pretty gravely hurt himself, and probably should have died right then and there, having disgraced his oath, even if for a good cause. But Mendoza watched him fight, and restored his body with dark magic, and told him to join him, with the philosophy that people shouldn’t be protected; they should be ruled.

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Herman’s repsonse to all this is to call Bernie a “stupid idiot”, though perhaps that’s not quite harsh enough an insult; Herm could learn a lot from Captain Haddock! In any case, he agrees with me that Bernie should have died on that night and not lived on in darkness and disgrace, and so they go at in in one hell of a quick but visually impressive knight-on-knigh battle.

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They eventually fight each other into exhaustion, losing their armor and ending up in heaps on the ground. Bernie uses one of many dirty tricks to stab Herm in the chest, but that’s after Herm threw a knife a long way away, which makes its way back…into Bernie’s back. The mortal wound seems to bring the old Bernie back, who is glad Herman survived that awful night, and asks about Anna. Herm tells his old friend she’s safe, which I suppose is true if the afterlife is safe!

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It’s a pretty good death with an air of redemption and forgiveness to it; an end I’m practically certain is not in store for our low-pitched pal Mendoza. As Herm and Bernie were fighting, Leon and Alfie infiltrated Mendoza’s underground lair. I didn’t say anything about it because it wasn’t that interesting. But once they find him, he’s summoning a particularly nasty looking horror from Makai.

Insufferable bastard that he is, Mendoza is still an immensely powerful fellow, and far more experienced than these two kids. But then again, as the face of the Makai Order’s future, this is their time to prove they’re worthy of their armor. They’ve got to get it done.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 10

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Sorry for the late review, but I apparently wasn’t in a great hurry to review GARO this week. I’m not sure if that speaks to any waning of my passion for the show, or general late-Fall fatigue as our myriad shows wind down, but I shall endeavor to stick with GARO to the end, if for no other reason than to watch Mendoza get put in his place. God, I can’t stand his smugly evil voice.

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Well, I don’t watch it for Herman’s backside, which we see yet again this week, but his entrance, being chased by a furious husband, was a joke that kind of clanged to the ground. I’m actually glad that Leon and Alfonso are getting along so famously (no prince-vs.-pauper clashes). What I’m not so glad about is that so much time this week was spend on Mendoza’s backstory.

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Yeah, I get it, the guy’s an evil, mustache-twirling caricature. He was branded by the Makai order for experimenting on the very humans he was meant to protect and warned not to procreate, but he tries anyway after Lord Fernando awards him a wife for leal service. He then proceeds to dispose of both wife and newborn son. To his credit, he doesn’t seem to be a sexual deviant, as he refuses Octavia’s advances, but he’s still a bad bad man who didn’t learn his lesson the first time and needs to learn it again.

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Back to what worked: the semi-flirtatious banter between Herman and Emma. Emma is far more willing than Leon to see the good man behind all the tomfoolery, while Herman respects her more than his usual diet of wenches, both her ability and her pragmatism.

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Emma, for instance, declines to join the guys in their raid on Santa Bard, fearful she may lose her life there when there’s still a horror out there she wants to hunt. Maybe we’ll get an Emma-POV episode down the line? I hope so; if only to wash out the bad taste in my mouth from watching Mendoza’s past. For now, we’re in store for a long-anticipated fight between Bernardo and Herman AKA Roberto.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 09

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Rafarel Banderas’ training of Alphonso is proceeding apace, but not quicky enough. His body is failing him and he knows he will soon die. He must make a Makai knight of Alfie much sooner than he’d like, but rather than complain or fret, he rolls with the punches his life — what little of it is left — gives him. A knight must never stop moving forward.

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To this end, Raffy pays a very rare visit to Garm, spending not a second longer than he must to learn of the location of a powerful horror with which to test Alfie. Coincidentally, Leon shows up looking for the exact same thing, and keen to grow strong enough to face the black knight.

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Of all the ways I expected Leon and Alfie to meet, this wasn’t one of them, but I shouldn’t be surprised it happened now, with only a few episodes left, and I rather like how they end up interacting so amicably right out of the gate. The far-more-streetwise Leon gets Alfie out of several spots of trouble, and rather than stick his nose up, Alfie is genuinely grateful for the help. It’s a refreshing take on the exiled prince type, and indicates that he has what it takes to be a good and just king…he just needs to get rid of Mendoza.

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Lending a bit of levity to an otherwise solemn episode is the fact that not only do these two have no idea they’re brothers, but that they’re after the exact same hollow. The latter isn’t cleared up until both realize the other isn’t going to withdraw. Meanwhile, after coughing up more blood and collapsing moments after Alfie left, Raffy wakes back up, suggesting we haven’t seen the last of him.

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It doesn’t take long at all for both to realize their target will require diligent teamwork. The horror in question isn’t a chimera as we thought, but some kind of dread tabernacle floating a few feet above the ground, its underbelly lined with hundreds of upside-down ghouls. It’s a suitably creepy, messed-up looking foe.

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When Leon/Garo and Alfie get crushed and tossed aside, respectively, Raffy makes his appearance, dons Gaia one last time, and gravely wounds the horror with a dazzling, psychedelic blow. But one blow is all he can muster. Before he dies, he removes his armor and tosses his sword to Alfie.

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Alfie finds Gaia a good fit, and wastes no time finishing the ghoulish construct. The resulting massive explosion is a fitting way to herald Alfie’s entry into the order of Makai knights. Rafael was only his mentor for a short time, but Alfie vows to use the armor he passed down to him as he used it: moving forward without fear and protecting the people by any means.

Because Alfie defeated the horror here, Leon is no closer to becoming stronger. But with Alfie as his ally — or sparring partner — perhaps he’s as good a position as ever to do so. At the very least, I hope the two don’t part ways too hastily. After all, revenge aside, they want the same thing.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 08

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This week’s Herman-centric episode was as good as last week’s Leon-centric episode was bad. Because both took place over the same period of time, Garo could have structured it as a more integrated two-parter, in which Herman’s and Leon’s scenes would be woven together. But if that had been the case, this second episode would have suffered for it.

One way to think about it is that Leon lost, and learned he’s not as ready as he thinks he is, so it stands to reason his episode would also lose to Herman’s in terms of story, action, and especially comedy. This week repaired all the damage to my faith in the show last week caused.

Keeping the two sides separate let us experience All Herman, All the time. Mind you, if Herman’s horny roguishness and rubs you the wrong way, you probably didn’t enjoy this episode any more than last week’s…but I did.

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I really like how comedy was such a persistent presence this week, in contrast to the stiff joylessness of Leon’s dealings. One source of that comedy is the fact Herman is naked as his name day for most of the episode. Ironically, Herman was talking last night’s conquest about how he prefers his birthday suit to any clothes, let alone armor.

Then universe grants his wish, along with one hell of a taxing day in which he just can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

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Mind you, the trouble he gets himself into is all his fault, for letting his little Herman lead him around. No one makes him disrobe; he does it of his own volition once he’s confident the pretty damsel in distress he rescued from three goons will sleep him…which isn’t the most unreasonable assumption, but it is an assumption; made in haste in hopes of satisfying his libido.

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The damsel turns out to be in cahoots with the goons and rob him blind, and since he already helpfully removed his clothes, they decide to go ahead and take those too. Thanks to some quick thinking and resourcefulness (as a Makai knight, he’s used to fighting larger opponent) he manages to escape.

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But must escape naked, which gets him into trouble fast in the busy city. It’s great how fast his plight escalates, until there’s literally an army chasing after the guy. Mind you, this is really just one drawn-out hassle for him; he’s not about to take any of this misfortune as some kind of lesson in being more cautious with women. Herman is who he is, and sometimes shit like this is going to happen.

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This is illustrated perfectly when Herman borrows a sheet from a washerwoman’s line. A crossbowman with terrible aim corners him and accidentally loses a bolt, and Herman catches it before it hits the lady. In effect, this was a transaction: Herman takes the lady’s sheet, and pays for it by saving her life. Though he put her life was put at risk in the first place, I still think she got the better end of the bargain.

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Herman loses his sheet almost immediately while being chased by mounted soldiers, but is rescued by Emma, who always seems to show up at the right time. But she doesn’t just vanish in ten seconds like last week; she reports to Herman what she witnessed: Leon losing to the Black Knight, Bernardo Dion.

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With that name drop, the mood gets more serious (you almost forget he’s nude but for a junk-covering pink bonnet), as you can tell from Herman’s and Emma’s Serious Faces above. Knowing Leon is alive, however, Herman isn’t in a hurry to go to him; he’s a teacher as well as a father, and a teacher can’t always be bailing out his student when they run into adversity.

Heck, part of him is relieved Leon lost; after all, he was never going to believe his carefree horndog dad telling him he’s not ready to storm the castle. And Leon didn’t just fall short in strength here; a Makai knight’s duty is to protect, not fight or to dream of taking revenge and defeating nemeses. A Makai knight must float above all that, or risk being turned by the darkness inherent in their business; ‘one who studies horrors is studied by horrors’, and such.

Anyway, below is the exchange that ends the episode’s A-part, and from the delivery of the lines to the pause between them, followed by an abrupt cut to commercial, it’s pretty much goddamned perfect:

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I Lol’d.

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Herman ends up paying a visit to Garm, someone we haven’t seen in a while but seems to be a kind of Makai Supervisor who never wants for fruit. She also knows a lot more than Herman does, which pisses him off when she doesn’t inform him Dion turned ‘dark’ and attacked Leon.

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This is important because he and Dion were once on the same side, despite being complete opposites in personality-wise. Herman was pretty much the same outwardly carefree horny guy back then, while Dion was sterner, more serious, and the look of being weighed down by something. Herman, Anna, and Dion stuck together as the witchhunts raged, and one night when the three were cornered, Dion stayed behind to cover the escape of the other two.

It’s a valiant, honorable thing to do, but it spells doom for Dion, as in order to save his friends, he puts himself in the position of losing himself to the darkness he always felt lurking within him (that ‘weight’ I mentioned). Herman and Anna may well have been the last two people Dion protected as a Makai Knight. Now he works for Mendoza.

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I didn’t think we’d ever return to that barn where Herman was cockblocked and robbed, but we do, and this time Irene is genuinely upset and in need of rescuing, as one of her associates has turned into a Horror. He’s not a particularly tough horror, and Nude Herman is able to dispatch him without even donning his armor.

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Heck, when he ends up back in a situation where he must protect Irene — for real this time — and it’s suggested they sleep together after all, it’s as if the universe is balancing things out, just as he expected they would. Though he still needs to go pick up his clothes at the pawn shop, which means he needs coin, and last week’s final scene of a naked Herman is thus fully explained.

Yes, I much preferred separation Herman and Leon’s stories to their being meshed across two episodes. I’m glad Leon’s story was over and done with so it didn’t have to stink this up. Throughout most of last week I was frustrated, lost, and a little bored, to the point of wondering “Hey, I wonder what his dad is up to!” Now we know. We got the Full Monty, and it was glorious.

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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 – 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.

9_mag

 

GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 02

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Makai Knights and Alchemists have a solemn duty to use their armor and arms to dispatch Horrors from the land. Some treat it solemnly, like Leon, or like a bit of a hassle, like his Pops Herman, or like a fun pasttime, like Emma. Yet as differently as they approach their duty, all three are natural allies by merit of sharing the same duty.

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Of course, that doesn’t mean some toes aren’t stepped on occasionally, or that there isn’t some extreme dysfunction between these three out of the gate. Whenever Leon thinks about his dead mother, the flames that give Garo power also threaten to consume him and turn him into a bomb. It also doesn’t help that his father is a shameless libertine.

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Well, it does help in that he gets intel for their next mission from a wench, justifying his promiscuous behavior with the semi-serious excuse that he needs a second child to inheret the Zoro armor, since Leon aleady has his own. Frankly, considering how messed up a business slaying horrors is (and how volatile his son can get) it makes sense for Herman tries to stays grounded and keep things as light and breezy as possible.

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As for Emma, I’ve rarely seen such a sly and unconcerned imminent torture and murder-by-fire captive, but in this case, her captor, an awful priest conducting the witchhunt, has bit off more than he can chew. Herman assumes she needs rescuing, but it turns out she could have freed herself at any time, but was merely toying with the priest.

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So Herman swoops in and Leon gets overheated for not much of a reason at all, as Herman ends up spending more time putting Leon out to help Emma, which, again, neither wants nor needs help. I imagine she’s being a little too arrogant, and may want backup in the future. But she certainly showed us another way to kill a Horror.

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As for the man making those Horrors, Mendoza has decided to implement his plan to grab power by accusing the Queen of poisoning the King to speed her son Prince Alfonzo’s ascension, then questioning Alfonso’s true parentage, now that he knows Fonzy also carries the seal of a Makai knight. The castle intrigue stuff is a little rote, but a meeting (or rather clash) between Alf and Leon is something I wouldn’t mind seeing soon.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 01

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I’m only just getting into this Fall 2014 roll-out, having only reviewed the first episode of Vanadis and my two Summer carryovers. My second premiere packs a punch and has the makings of a rousing quasi-historical magical action romp: Garo: Honoo no Kokuin (The Carved Seal of Flames)

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“You gonna hog all that booze?”

We start the proceedings with what else, a witch execution! Lord Fernando of Valiante is in poor health, and said witch is the scapegoat. When she gives birth to a newborn child while on the stake—protected from the flames by a green barrier—a fellow in an elaborate and particularly bad-ass suit of armor plows through the guards, snatches up the babe, and escapes without a trace.

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Worst. Dad. Ever.

The grizzled narrator so common in these types of shows keep going, right up until we learn he’s sharing a tale from seventeen years ago in between swigs of wine with a shapely, mildly-interested female companion in a brothel. When his son calls to him from outside, he asks him for money (or “love” as he puts it) for the honor of the lady’s company, and gets a well-thrown stone to the face. That son, who is, by the way, as old as the baby in the story would be.

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The son heads home to a small cabin on a hill, and into an ambush arranged by Lord Fernando’s adviser Mendoza (MENDOZAAAA!!). The father, meanwhile, is already in a trap, with the prostitute merely serving as bait for a disgusting monster called a “horror” who has preyed upon many a man before. But Herman Luis is no ordinary man: he’s the Makai Knight Zorro from his tale. He guts the beast in no time; all while buck nakked, mind you, and after having had his sex rudely interrupted.

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Come at me, bro

Meanwhile, the son Leon proves just as capable of defending himself by transforming into the golden (and titular) knight, Garo, combating the horror who led the ambush, and destroying him in grand fashion and more than a few style points. The character design is plain and un-embellished, but that makes the suits of armor that much more striking. Furthermore, the horrors are actually very weird and grotesquely bizarre-looking, mixing human and monster characteristics.

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SHASHIIING

Turns out Pops was chillin’ in the whorehouse to be out of the way for the first big test in Leon’s training to become a sealer of demons like Herman, and he passes with flying colors, no doubt irking Mendoza, who with his assistant Octavia seems to be plotting more mischief behind the backs of Lord Fernando and his son and heir Alfonzo (who witnessed the witch’s execution as a three-year-old.)

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It’s the CIRCLE of LIFE…

From the clever narrative device used by Herman to clue us in on what’s shakin’ in Garo-land, and the episode’s mature treatment of sex, to the impactful bursts of shiny metallic action, Garo: Honoo no Kokuin makes a favorable first impression on your humble reviewer. Looking forward to the next installment.

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There’s some not-so-wholesome doins goin’ on here…

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