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 – 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 10

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

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

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

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

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

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 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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