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 – 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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