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 – 16

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Garo remains fresh and watchable well into its second cour by continuing to experiment with new storytelling angles and different character focuses. As last week showed, the end product is not always a masterpiece, but I appreciate that the show commits to whatever particular story it tells with the utmost conviction. It succeeds best when it’s able to integrate an element of the main cast into its story-of-the-week, exploring every facet of their duty as both royal and Makai.

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Last week’s “Horror” was just a bear the townsfolk were able to deal with. This week we meet the traveling Doctor, Fabian, renowned throughout the kingdom for his skills. But instead of portraying him as benevolent and unmasking him later, we get his full story in an efficient cold open: the old Fabian is dying of plague, so a young man in the latest town he visits, who had promised his now-dead parents he’d find a cure, kills the old Fabian and takes up his mantle. That means becoming possessed by a horror that lurks in Fabian’s book.

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His next destination is Santa Bard, and Himena, the innkeeper’s daughter whom Herman has befriended ever since his Full Monty Day, is eager to assist the doc with the rush of patients, the first of whom is Herman, whose head hit the floor when Himena roused him from bed.

Just like Leon with Lara, scenes between Herman and Himena are the highlights of the show; there’s such nice warm chemistry and gentle flirtation. Father and Son are both benefiting from having mature relationships with strong, kind women.

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The show takes our fondness for Himena and then threatens to snatch her away, by putting her in such obvious danger with Dr. Fabian, who heals dozens if not hundreds of townsfolk, but also eats the occasional one when they’re just at the point of recovery (when they’re most delicious)…almost like an obeisance from Darker than Black. The young man who became Fabian was given great gifts, but he also became a monster. And Himena is his next meal.

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I also like how Himena may be in the dark about a great many things regarding Herman, but she’s not an idiot like the floozies (or horrors in the guise of women) he typically attracts. She even follows him one night and is shocked to find him not only meeting with Prince Alfie (Hi Alfie!) but the prince bowing his head to Herman. Who is this guy crashing at her inn? She suddenly becomes super-formal with him, as if she is undeserving of his presence…but then she becomes ill, not long after using the hand cream Fabian gave her.

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Fabian assures Herman she’ll be fine and bids him goodnight…but Herman is no idiot either (well…at least sometimes). He connects the dots of the new missing people to the doc’s daily “meals” (which the doc says is exercising restraint, as binge-eating is bad for one’s health…hear that, Rize?) and decides to shut down the practice, Garo-style.

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Fabian’s defeat is a relatively brisk, foregone conclusion, as most Makai battles tend to be, but with a twist this week: when Fabian (now in full horror mode; an interesting design with a apothecary cabinet for a sternum) beats Herman down, he feels the compulsion to heal him, even going so far as to restore him to perfect condition, even better than before the battle!

Within that horror beats the heart of a doctor, and the young lad in the beginning probably hoped to cure the plague, but this was the wrong way to do it, and good intentions do not excuse all the patient-eating. So it’s good night, Dr. Fabian. The people will get by without help tinged with evil.

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To my relief, Himena recovers as Fabian said she would (he never really lied about his true nature so much as keep it hidden), and Herman even does his best to assure her he’s not the fancypants aristocrat she thinks he is, and that she needn’t be deferential or ashamed of how she’s acted thus far. Eventually, Himena puts away her commoner mentality and they get back to interacting on even terms.

Then Garm summons Herman and tells him he’s going to be “working with Mendoza.” Uh, what now? Isn’t that cat dead? I guess we’ll find out soon, but that troubling possibility doesn’t invalidate all the good this episode had going for it.

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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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