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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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 17

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“People may not understand what they don’t experience themselves,” says Prince Alfie, in during his surprise visit of the lands where Leon has settled into a new life. Let me preface this review by noting that I’ve never experienced so much harrowing emotional turmoil from an episode of Saturday morning animation in my life. That alone would have warranted a high score, but it’s far from all Garo No. 17 has to offer. 

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I will also admit, despite all the evidence suggesting Lara would remain by Leon’s side for some time to come ever since her story didn’t end with one episode (as is usually Garo’s M.O.), every scene with the two was tinged with dread, like there was a target on Lara’s back, as well as the members of her family.

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Alfie doesn’t visit Leon’s village for him; he had no idea he was there. That being said, their meeting in the lord’s manor is a fantastic scene for both of them. There’s no chest-thumping or rancor; only reminicing and apology. Leon recalls how sheltered and oblivious he though Alfie was (and Alfie admits, he was), but now he admits he was just as clueless. Furious at the world he was meant to protect as a Makai knight—because that world allowed his mother to burn—Leon didn’t feel he had anything worth protecting, which is why he failed.

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Now he’s just a regular man, but he’s finally found something to protect. Lara, her family, her farm, and her simple, peaceful way of life. Speaking of which, hey, why’d you leave her out in the cold? At least invite her in for a cup of tea!

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When Lara sees that Leon knows frikkin’ Prince Alfie, she’s filled with dread that he will leave her for bigger, more important things, but she’s misread the situation: Leon has no intention of going anywhere. He’s going to stay right here, with her. My heart lifted when Lara’s face brightened up at this news.

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In what would tragically turn out to be their final day together, Leon and Lara spend the eve of dusk on the roof of the house, where Leon no longer sees “nothing.” They’re no that high up, but in the countryside where buildings are scarce, there’s still a unique thrill to being up there, having a more commanding view. He sees the world he belongs in, and the person he wants to protect.

But just as Lara’s visible breath portended, the first fluffy flakes of winter snow begin to fall, heralding the worst night in Leon’s life, and a pretty shitty one for Alfie too.

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Alfie is here to hunt a burrowing horror who has been eating villagers. One night Leon and the dog get a bad feeling, and the horror appears on the doorstep of Lara’s house. And the age-old irony takes form: just when Leon has found something to protect, he is powerless to actually protect it.

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He begs Lara and the others to race to the fairy mound—which is really an anti-horror barrier where they’ll be safe, while he races to warn Prince Alfie. But then the horror sets the barn and house aflame and threaten their stores of food for the winter—which are no less than their very lives, to say nothing of paying off debt. Lara’s grandfather races back to their home, regardless of the futility, and Lara and the others follow her.

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So often in anime buildings are leveled and crops burned and entire cities or even planets wiped out, but it’s rare when the destruction of something so relatively small as this family farm carries so much emotional weight, but it does. These buildings prove to really be not only the entirety of Leon’s new world, but the entirety of their inhabitants’ lives.

When the buildings burn, so does Lara’s family, and Lara herself is burned and crushed under the rubble. We saw that target on their backs, clear as day, but couldn’t have predicted such a bitterly awful, merciless end for them.

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Even then, I held out hope that because Leon found Lara, her injuries could be healed, and they’d leave this place in search of a new home, together. But it isn’t in the cards, as Leon is forced to say goodbye to the girl he never confessed his love to, nor her to him, but at the same time never really had to, because it was plain. Lara feared Leon would leave her for somewhere far away, but it ends up being her who leaves him, and at this point my tears were falling as steadily as the snowfall.

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The final shot is of Lara and her family’s would-be refuge, the fairy mound the villagers had forgotten the true power of because their home had become so peaceful, and instead assigned a folktale to it. At this point Leon could blame throwing his powers away for this tragedy, but the truth is he wouldn’t even be here if he hadn’t fallen. And even Alfie, a full-fledged Makai knight, couldn’t be everywhere or protecting everyone at once. But the brothers must not lose heart, even though they’re broken along with mine.

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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 – 05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 04

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

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

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Well…THIS is certainly very creepy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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