One Punch Man 2 – 09 – Not Strong Enough to Defeat Boredom

Watching Saitama obliterate foes with one punch is only half the fun of his fights. The other half is how he reacts to blows against him, or otherwise absorbs them. In this case, taking Monster Bakuzan’s first and second kicks do nothing but send him sliding off to the side; he’s otherwise unharmed.

Bakuzan assumes he’s lost his mind from the fear of facing him, but Saitama is only still and lost in thought because he’s trying to remember who this guy is. He can’t, so he ends it…by halving Bakuzan.

After learning this guy’s real name is Saitama, and he mostly joined the martial arts competition because he was bored and wanted a taste of what he might be up against with the hero hunter, Suiryu still tries to stop him from going after Goketsu, convinced he’s walking towards certain death.

Always good to see Saitama’s doubters thoroughly rebuked. Goketsu is so easy, we don’t even have to watch it—and the sappy piano just keeps playing through the “fight”—but we do hear it. I also enjoyed Saitama laughing off Suiryu’s request to be his disciple. Dude’s got standards, man! Beat Genos and we’ll talk.

After a brief check-in with Puri-Puri Prisoner fighting buck naked and hugging his spiky opponent to death then pulling a flip phone out of his ass, we find Saitama wandering the streets until he encounters King, and the two have a long conversation about Saitama’s long-standing ennui caused by his power plateau (King rather hilariously assumes at first that Saitama is depressed because of his baldness).

King promises him he’s only being arrogant about having no challenges left. He’s a hero who cares more about having fun fighting than the heroic ideals he should be living by; that’s room for improvement, for a start.

King supplements their lovely talk by lifting cool manga monologues, impressing Saitama with his eloquence, when suddenly Garo shows up, pissed off from his defeat to Watchdog Man and looking for another hero to hunt. His eyes focus on King, assuming his casual appearance is merely a facade and calculating all of his possible first moves.

But King doesn’t move; he just stands there like a big dumb idiot. It’s Saitama who saves him by kicking Garo through a wall, just as he’s talking about his hope the hero hunter will be something resembling a challenge. Sorry, Saitama…no such luck. There’s another hallmark of good OPM: Saitama is either completely out of the loop or at least four or five steps behind what’s going on in the world of heroes and monsters. In this case, that obliviousness is sparing him more bitter disappointment.

Speaking of wannabe Saitama rivals, Speed-o’-Sound Sonic is accosted by two equally quick and powerful members of the “Golden 37” who have converted to Monsters and offer Sonic a cell, demanding he join them. Sonic mulls over the consequences of losing his humanity, but he considers himself as good as dead anyway after his first (of many) losses to Saitama.

Thankfully, Sonic’s general disgust with the cell leads him to cooking it up before eating it, which not only gives him a bad case of the runs, but likely nullified the cell’s ability to transform him into a monster. Not like becoming a monster makes it any less likely you’ll be able to defeat Saitama…or even lay a scratch on him.

In other news, Genos is on his way to be repaired after being ambushed, the Gorilla monster meets an actual, sentient Gorilla who is just going about his business, very Saitama-like; and the Hero Association board prepares to exercise caution lest their main patron’s son get killed and led to their funding getting cut, followed by the infiltration of the room by a functionary-turned-monster.

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One Punch Man 2 – 08 – Call of the Heroes

Even if Suiryu thought he deserved the tournament win (he doesn’t), he wouldn’t have had more than a few moments to savor it, as Goketsu, escorted by three monstrous crows, crashes the award ceremony. Once a martial arts champion and believed killed by monsters, he was actually given the choice to join them, which he did.

He extends that same choice to the assembled fighters: eat the monster cells and become like him, or die. Some, like Choze, are eager to see how much stronger they can get. Others, like Suiryu himself, aren’t interested in becoming ugly brutes. Instead, he asks a pretty girl if she’ll go on a date with him if he takes care of the monsters.

While Suiryu holds his own and dispatches Monster-Choze, he’s absolutely no match against Goketsu. As Garou picks a fight with Watchdog Man in City Q, Goketsu treats Suiryu like a ragdoll, easily absorbing his strongest attacks and breaking his arm.

To Suiryu’s surprise, Snek and Lightning Max, who had been flicked away by Goketsu earlier, are back for round two, standing their ground like the professional Heroes they are. They made sure to grab effects crucial to their success: Snek’s suit and Max’s shoes.

Ultimately, they’re no more a match for Goketsu as Suiryu. Meanwhile, Bakuzan, who ate a bunch of cells, transforms into a Threat Level-Dragon monster, although still not one that can push Goketsu around. For his part, Goketsu is ordered back to the Monster Association base on the outskirts of City Z, an urges Bakuzan to follow.

But before he does, Bakuzan takes his time wailing on the already battered Suiryu, taking great pleasure in beating down someone much weaker. It’s then when Suiryu, so independent and fun-loving thanks to his good looks and tremendous strength and fighting ability, is brought so low he has no choice but to call out to someone, anyone to help.

And who should answer that call but Saitama, whose absence this entire episode can be chalked up to him either running home or to the locker room to put on his superhero costume. The same man whose punch Suiryu estimated would have ended him had it not been held back; the same opponent who only lost because he was wearing a wig—he’s Suiryu’s only hope. Thankfully, it’s a good bet Saitama’s got this.

One Punch Man 2 – 05 – Reverse Seeded

How long do we have to wait to get the martial arts tournament started so Saitama can start plowing through the brackets? Apparently another half-episode, as we focus on a growing preponderance of monsters and demons throughout the lettered cities.

As for Metal Bat, he seems to get more “pumped up”, and his attacks faster and stronger, the more Garo beats him up, but ultimately the fight is called on account of Bat’s brave, protective little sister Zenko. Garo may claim to be a monster, but he’s not about to hit a kid.

Shortly after taking his leave, Garo is approached by three monsters hoping to recruit him into the “Monster Association,” but he’s having none of it. Class S Rank 6 Metal Knight comes in to take care of the giant centipede, but even he just can’t summon enough firepower to dent the thing, making the battle a draw.

The jellyfish, phoenix and rhino-themed baddies make off with the rich kid, while other monsters start fighting—and beating—heroes they’ve chosen specifically because their heroic attributes favor them, the monsters. The Hero Association (still pitting their hopes that King will be a factor) are starting to panic.

Meanwhile, yes, Super Fight 22 finally commences, with the eighteen challengers being introduced; and they’re all quite the colorful characters, with equally colorful-sounding martial arts schools.

Zakkos is Saitama’s first opponent, but there’s a match before theirs. Sourface reveals he’s twenty—younger than Saitama—which explains both his pre-match nerves and his thin skin when Zakkos rips into Bang’s dojo.

Saitama, older and wiser, simply lets Zakkos say what he wants; he’s here to fight, not argue. Oh, and Saitama apparently doesn’t have to hide his face, as Sourface seems content that he is indeed Charanko and not some impostor.

When a particularly sexy monster, Super S, starts whipping heroes and making them her love slaves, it’s up to Hellish Blizzard and her crew to sort things out. As for Saitama’s first “match”, it’s a laugher; Zakkos was all talk and is in fact incredibly weak; so weak that the person he was to propose to didn’t even bother showing up to watch him. Bummer!

As for one of the higher-seeded martial artists in the fresh-faced Suiryu, he recognizes that Zakkos had some okay moves, but his opponent “Charanko” was just too strong. He looks forward to seeing him in the final.

While it’s always fun when someone comes around who can either absorb Saitama’s punch or deliver a blow that actually bothers him—wait…has that ever even happened?—I doubt he’ll meet his match here, especially considering how easily he dispatched Garo. Still, watching him effortlessly wail on guys is never not fun.

One Punch Man 2 – 04 – Dammit, I’m Busy!

As Saitama registers for the tournament posing as Charanko, Garo’s assault of an HA director leads to the HA orders all other executives to have a Class S hero escort. This means Metal Bat is forced to guard on such super-rich exec and his piss-ant son (who won’t stop putting dishes back on the conveyor) instead of going shopping with his sister. When danger strikes, it’s not Garo at all, but a pair of unrelated monsters.

As Mumen Rider assures Charanko that since he’s a hero, Saitama would never enter a tournament under a false name, Saitama meets Sourface, Charanko’s senpai who warns him about…entering the tournament under a false name and wearing a disguise, for which he could get arrested. Saitama snaps back, telling Sourface he has no right to pretend he’s better than Charanko, who went one-on-one against Garo.

Speaking of senpais, once Metal Bat easily deals with the two monsters, their much bigger, much tougher senpais show up, and give Metal Bat a beatdown. He manages to pump himself up by hitting himself in the head with his own bat, and then dispatches them both with one devastating swing each…though probably due to his head injury he forgot to ask the monsters what their motivation was.

The fight escalates in intensity once more when the senpai of the senpais appears, a dragon-class centipede monster that triggers an evacuation of City S. Metal Bat is already fired up, but this time his foe is so big and his skin so tough it’s hard to make a dent. Things get worse for Metal Bat when Garo shows up and challenges him to a fight. Talk about rude; wait your turn dude!

While I was disappointed we didn’t jump straight to Saitama kicking ass and taking names in the tournament (assuming they let him fight), it’s fairly par for the course for him to basically sit out an entire episode so it can showcase a different hero or heroes-ones far weaker than he.

I have no doubt Saitama could dispatch that giant purple centipede with…one punch. The only problem is he’s stuck in a green room, hoping to get some martial arts experience and experience a “real fight.” I don’t think he’ll find one there.

One Punch Man 2 – 03 – Icarus

The buildup to the inevitable clash with Saitama continues as Garo bags his first S-Class Hero, Tank Top Master. Tank gets a few choice shots in, but is stopped from finishing Garo when Mumen Rider intervenes on the grounds Garo is “merely” a human. Neither he nor Tank are apparently aware that this is the guy officially classified as a Monster by the HA.

Tank gets some licks in, but can’t deal with Garo’s martial arts tecnique. We also learn Garo is a former student of Bang, AKA Silverfang, through another student, Charanko.

Bang, who is going to deal with Garo himself (with help from his big bro) beat Charanko up in order to get him out of the line of fire, but Charanko ends up another one of Garo’s victims.

Who should visit all three in the hospital (with complementary bananas!) but Saitama, who is primarily there for Mumen, but ends up meeting Tank and Charanko as well. He wants to learn more about martial arts in order to take Garo on, and Charanko gives him a ticket to an upcoming tournament in which he can no longer participate due to injury.

Garo’s reign of terror continues as he borrows a unibrowed kid’s Hero Guide to learn not only who the local heroes are, but their styles and trump cards. When he challenges the slingshot-wielding Golden Ball to an alley brawl, Ball is initially confident, like Tank was, but he has to be bailed out by another Hero, the saber-wielding Spring Mustache, who gets a knuckle sandwich for his trouble.

When Ball tells Garo he “can’t keep this up forever,” as he’ll eventually encounter a hero he can’t beat, Garo scoffs. He’ll believe it when he sees it; meanwhile, he’ll continue doing what he wants—wasting heroes—until the day comes when someone can stop him.

That day comes far sooner than he expected, as after beating up a horny HA official, Garo has a chance encounter with our One Punch Man. Saitama says “I’ve been looking all over for you,” and Garo assumes he’s addressing him, and takes the first shot, a devastating chop to the shoulder that…does nothing at all to Saitama.

Saitama merely delivers the same blow to Garo, dropping him to the pavement, before continuing with what he was doing: seeking out a wig to buy so he can impersonate Charanko in the martial arts tournament.  And so, Garo ends up flying too close to the sun and gets burnt, big time. Thankfully for him, Saitama doesn’t know who he is, and lets him go free.

One Punch Man 2 – 02 – This Isn’t Normal

When the ruffians get predictably rowdy, Sitch sics his heroes on a couple of them, leading the werewolf-like Garo to step to and waste everyone; only Sitch is spared as a witness; Garo promises to be back “in six months.” Hey, even human monsters have to manage expectations!

Meanwhile, both Hellish Blizzard and Sound-o’-Speed Sonic are headed to Saitama’s house. The former is flanked by two goons, while the latter is first detected by Geno’s cybor-sense. Saitama, meanwhile, is just having fun playing with King’s PSP, which he stole and accidentally erased King’s data.

Saitama would much rather spend his afternoon playing games than dealing with anyone, but as usual he doesn’t get his way. Blizzard arrives first, asking Saitama to join her faction, and threatening reprisal if he declines. Naturally, Saitama refuses, and flings her so-called goons off the damn balcony.

Even though he’s just met her, Saitama can tell that Blizzard isn’t hero material as long as she uses weaker people to prop herself up while bullying others into joining her. Saitama doesn’t care about rankings (nor should he, considering how under-ranked he is), and proves Blizzard can’t make him do anything by easily weathering her esper attacks.

In the middle of their spat, Genos and Sonic show up, and Saitama and Blizzard are witnesses to their street brawl. Blizzard is astonished that someone like Genos is calling Saitama his “master”, while she considers Sonic to be another S-Class monster far beyond her abilities.

Genos and Sonic proceed to show her just how powerful they are, with increasingly fast and devastating attacks, but it leads to nothing but a big ol’ stalemate. When Genos loses his temper and prepares to blast the whole damn area to smite Sonic, Saitama intervenes…because he doesn’t want his area blasted.

Sonic thus gets what he wants: another one-on-one round with his “rival.” But again, Sonic is put in his place all too quickly and easily, thanks to a “side-stepping” attack by Saitama that multiplies Sonic’s ten afterimages exponentially. Defeated, Sonic retreats, but promises this isn’t over, because of course he does.

Back at Saitama’s place, Blizzard explains why she’s so obsessed with keeping the top B spot and gathering followers: she’s never been anything but second-best in a family that also contains Terrible Tornado, her older sister. She’s then overwhelmed again when King arrives…only to ask Saitama for his game back.

It’s clear to Blizzard that not only is Saitama no normal Class B hero, but has a preternatural ability to draw the strongest monsters into his orbit, where he can then demonstrate how much stronger he is than those comers. And that’s his appeal: overwhelming power, minimal ego and ambition. He’s a hero for fun. Why do people have to keep making it not fun?

Speaking of which, Garo comes across a Class A hero by chance and ends him without breaking a sweat. No doubt Garo will soon find himself another one of Saitama’s satellites…perhaps they can make each other break a sweat for once.

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.

GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 18

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First, I must give kudos to Garo (Kuros?) for sticking to its guns with Lara’s death. As much as I wanted her to wake up and start coughing in Leon’s arms, she’s dead dead, and not coming back. Leon’s only comfort was that she stayed alive long enough for him be the last thing she saw. Now he’s in the very unenviable position of having another excuse to go all apeshit on the world again.

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Prince Alfie lends him a sword and returns to the capital, but regrets leaving Leon alone and seeks Herman’s advice. J/Ximena hasn’t seen him, but when she goes back inside, there he is, but only to pay her for his stay and be off. Ximena doesn’t let him leave so easily, and Herman gives her what she wants: a kiss. Leon may have been content to live with Lara forever, but as much as he cares for Ximena, Herman’s latent transience, and his Makai duties preclude him from such a future, as nice as that would be.

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Umm…you might want to dig that hole a little deeper, kid.

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Ridiculous shallowness of the grave aside, carrying Lara to the field, digging it, and placing her in is hard to watch, suffused as it is with loss and grief. Throughout the process, a voice within urges Leon to embrace the flames once again—the flames within him that have never truly left ever since he was born in them. Hatred and revenge; the shade says this is his nature.

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But this time, Leon resists. When he thinks of the light and the flowers and all the beauty in the world Lara will never see again, he doesn’t let the flames get the better of him. He seeks out Alfonso, in the same place where a raw, angry Alfie himself trained, and asks him to give the Golden Armor back to him.

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Alfie agrees, but only if he proves himself worthy, leading to an intense, frenetic duel between the two, accented by setting of the ruins at dusk. Throughout the fight, Alfie is just waiting for Leon’s flames to burst out again—whereupon Leon has instructed him to cut him down—but it doesn’t happen. Leon has matured. Even if he lost Lara, he still has something to protect: her memory.

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After night falls, Herman leaves the site of his lovemaking with Ximena and slips out, as his his tomcat wont, leaving a flower as a goodbye. Still, the way he looks back at that inn (and man, that is a pretty city), he may not be back.

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I figured he was off to deal with Leon one way or another, but Alfie already did that. All that remains is for Leon to prove he has the strength to bear the Golden Armor again. A spriggan-style horror terrorizes a couple of kids, he does the legwork so Alfie (in his Gaia armor) can land the finishing blow. Teamwork!

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Once the horror is gone, Leon looks back at the elation and gratitude in the girl’s face, and can’t help but see Lara’s smile, causing him to shed a tear while still wearing his armor. No one said this would be an easier path than going on another rampage, but it is the right path. Garo is back.

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Zaruba judges that Leon has once again become worthy of him, which pleases German, who was watching from the shadows. Then he drops a big duhn-duhn-duuuuhn on his son and nephew, telling them he’s off to help out Mendoza, just as Garm ordered him too.

His explanations to them and me are hardly adequate, but I’m going to give Garo the benefit of the doubt on this for now. ‘Dozer’s return explains why we got his torment-filled backstory after his apparent demise, but it will still take some doing to make me feel anything but contempt for the bastard going forward.

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