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.