GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 15

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GARO has never been shy about shuffling off to a totally different story in its world when it feels the urge to. The serial tale of the Makai knights’ struggle against evil has always gone hand and hand with the smaller but still interesting stories of the people they’re protecting. Episodes like this are successful when they find a way to tie the two together. In this case, without meaning to, the common folk’s activities provide another lesson for the Prince Alfie, still young and learning what it means to rule.

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I won’t blame you for not remembering the blacksmith Julio, who had dealings with Herman and Leon and whose dad Sergi (or Jordi, depending on the subs) became a horror and had to be killed. But even if I hadn’t looked back at my older reviews, I’d have recalled him, and I’m glad they brought him back rather than making new characters. We know this kid’s history, and why he’s so determined to build his own Golden Knight; not just so he and his can protect themselves, but be able to help out the real knight.

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I will say, however, that the trial-and-error quality of developing the suit gets a little repetitive, and the sophistication of the technology employed strains credulity quite a bit (the Makai knights’ clearly supernatural armor). I simply don’t buy that elbow grease and some pig iron are capable of building a mobile suit in what is clearly a pre-industrial time period.

It’s also hard not to see this as filler, especially when our main characters get so little time. That being said, the show seems intent to tell us other stories precisely because Leon and Alfie are both kind of in holding patterns. Leon’s one scene with Lara is nice, but it doesn’t provide anything new; these two like each other, but Leon is transient. There’s also something awesome about the prince’s uncle sneaking into the palace through a window just for the hell of it…but it’s hardly substantial stuff.

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In the second half, things pick up when a widow visits the workshop with tales of a monster prowling their farmland. Time to test the anachronistic suit! And despite having, delicate, perishable pig intestines for hydraulic hoses, the suit holds up pretty well…though they’re not actually dealing with a horror, but a big bear made bigger and scarier by the light of the moon.

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Herman and Alfie just happened to be passing by this battle, and Herman is able to step in at the last minute when it seem’s the mecha’s pilot Bruno is about to be blown up with it. The lesson to Alfie is that the people he is sworn to protect are not helpless—indeed, in the ways of the world, they are far stronger—so it’s important not to see them as merely sheep to be tended.

As royalty and a Makai knight, maintaining and protecting the realm is a collaborative effort with his people. They can take care of themselves by and large, but it’s crucial he be there in case whenever they’re in a pinch.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 14

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90% of last week’s episode was given over to Leon’s rebirth into a simple life of working the land. This week it’s Prince Alfie’s turn to get the lion’s share of the episode, and while his adventures have nowhere close to the emotional impact as Leon’s, it’s still a respectable, if episodic, romp.

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Exhausted by the ample rigors of being the Golden Knight and a prince being groomed for the throne, Alfie gives his portrait artist the slip and hides inside a wagon that just happens to be robbed while on the road, and its young driver is tied up and thrown in the back with him.

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Leon continues to enjoy the company of the fair Lara (voiced by Aiba Madoka, her first role, and a damn good one) and Emma happens to cross paths (it’s probably more like Emma was looking for him.) Emma confirms Leon is okay, tells him Alfie is okay, and they part ways. Short and sweet, but it’s good to know Lara is going to be around more than one episode.

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When the thieves arrive at their abandoned (and haunted) castle hideout, Alfie reveals himself and asks them to surrender, but not only does Herman appear on the balcony, but the Juliet to the tied up guy Mauro’s Romeo; in love with each other, but with feuding families.

Mauro tells tales of Count Juste—the castle’s former lord, whom Alfie always idolized as a great knight—coming home to find his wife Isabelle had become a witch, and killed her. Alfie assumes Uncle Herman came to address a potential horror infestation in the castle. The fact that Herman knows nothing about the curse and merely came to collect white lilies for his new lady friend Himena, the romantic bastard.

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When night falls, Fana springs Mauro from the dungeon, but get cornered by guards, and happen upon a hidden passage that leads to the room where Horror-Juste and Isabelle remain in their deadly embrace.

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Juste takes Fana for his new bride, but Horror-Roland (Juste’s rival for Isabelle’s heart) possesses Fana’s dad, and the two start to fight in Horror Mode. Yes, there’s a lot going on here; not all of it necessary, but the detailed story is surprisingly easy to follow along.

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Since these guys are horrors, that means Herman and Alfie can actually fight them. Lo and behold, they’re both complete pushovers, though when Juste is about to drain poor Fana of all her blood, his face opens up to reveal a gruesome face that wouldn’t be out of place in Parasyte. Herman takes out Roland, Leon takes out Juste, and Mauro reaches out and catches a falling Fana, cushioning her landing.

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In the end, Mauro and Fana, who we don’t really care that much about, end up together (who knew the Garo Knights were yentas?), Alfie has a little adventure away from his palace, along with some exercise, and Herman has to look somewhere else for white flowers for Himena. Nothing super-consequential, but stylish and witty as always, and thus still enjoyable.

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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 – 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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