As a child, before Youtube and the World Wide Web ever existed, I’ve had my fair share of Japanese pop-culture in the form of Pokemon, Digimon and all sorts of stuff with the abbreviation ‘-mon’ at the end of the title. Of course, I have also come across a variety of Japanese live action shows, such as the ever-growing Ultraman and Kamen Rider series. Amongst these live-action series that were made for children (It’s a fact, get on with it), I have also come across a series that sets itself entirely apart from those kind of shows. It was known as Garo, (lit. Fanged Wolf) a show featuring an armored vigilante like the many others, but with a darker twist and targets a more mature audience.
Now, I don’t intend to go on and on about the live-action series but if you have played survival horror games like The Evil Within or Silent Hill, you would feel right at home with all the monsters in this show. For one, it was directed by Makoto Yokoyama (Power Rangers) and Kengo Kaji, whose works include the film Uzumaki and Tokyo Gore Police. Manga fans would know Uzumaki as a horrific horror manga, known for its haunting imagery and abstract, nightmarish horrors. So, I guess you would know what to expect of the live-action series.
Anyway, after the sequels and prequels that came after the first Garo series due to its popularity back in Japan, they decided that they would also make an anime series out of it. And thus, the anime Garo: Honoo no Kokuin is born.
I first came across Garo: Honoo no Kokuin, or otherwise known as Garo: The Animation, when I was browsing through the many forums on the Internet. On a few of those forums, I noticed how a small minority were going on, telling people how Garo (the anime) was the most underrated anime on the planet. Of course, being the spoilsport that I am, I decided to watch the show and set out on a journey to prove them wrong.
In other words, I was planning to call their favourite anime:
(Viewer discretion is advised. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL)
Nope, I know what you’re thinking. You must think that I am a sarcastic twat / hipster asshole / brainless zombie / any more insults you can think of for me.
I am so under-appreciated…
Garo: Honoo no Kokuin revolves around Leon Luiz, and his father, Roberto Herman Luiz who were both Makai Knights residing in the fictional country of Valiante. Makai Knights and their magic using counter-parts, Makai Alchemists were duty-bound to defeat and kill off Horrors. Horrors, on the other hand, were demons that possess and feed off humans’ innermost, darkest desires, turning them into monsters.
However, during the time of Leon and Herman, there was a manhunt going on, which led to the nationwide massacre of Makai Knights and Alchemists, due to the evil manipulations of the former Makai Alchemist turned Prime Minister, Mendooza.
Leon accompanied by his father then, sets out on a journey out of self-imposed exile to once again don the greatest Makai Knight armor, Garo and to defeat the evil Prime Minister Mendooza.
The two paragraphs above encompasses a very brief summary of the show, but there is actually a lot more going on underneath. The events and its layout leads to one of the greatest plot twists that only few could ever predict. And when I mean few, I mean, no one I know could have seen this coming.
But first, the bad news. The plot was riddled with plot holes. There were many things that the show didn’t bother explaining. One such unknown was how the armor Garo was supposed to be the greatest armor of all time, as more often than not, we see Leon getting his sorry bum kicked by several different Horrors and Makai Knights. One of them just so happens to be his dad. In fact, the Garo armor had a conveniently placed switch which when hit, would cause the armor to disintegrate, leaving the wearer vulnerable to attacks.
There were a whole lot more, both big and small, but I would leave that to your own discretion as I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot.
Secondly, the show’s inconsistent execution and horrid pacing in the first half of the show really hampers the show’s potential. While the live action Garo series features horrifying live action monsters, one of the best Japan has to offer, the same cannot be said about the anime series. Thus, when the anime attempts to emulate the live action’s episodic structure in the first half, it falls flat and the show fails to grab the viewer’s attention due to its lack of action, gore and everything else that is interesting. In fact, the pacing begins to pick up only when the main plot kicks in at the seventh or eighth episode, but by then, most anime fans would have already left in search of green pastures, branding it boring and average.
However, if you could endure that first eight episodes, you will see the spectacularly executed build-up to the climax that is the plot twist. Looking back now, I figure I should have been able to predict it, but somehow when I reached the end of the 12th episode back then, I was left exasperated, screaming bloody murder and frantically searched for a place where I could watch the next episode as soon as possible. (Thank goodness I didn’t need to wait a week for the next episode otherwise, or else who knows what I would have done.)
If you can make it past the first 8 episodes, I’m telling you, no matter what problem you may have with the series, they will immediately vanish. Of course, result varies from person to person, but one thing’s for sure:
You’re in a roller-coaster of emotions
The characters, on the other hand, were rather bland and play almost no part to the story except to elevate the main protagonist’s character development and to move the story along. No worries though, as you will soon find yourself growing more and more attached to the main protagonist, so much so that the end of it all, you will be left smiling as he rides off into the horizon, even if the people he was fighting for were a group of misfits that abide by the anime cliches.
Well, the only thing you need to know about the main protagonist is that you like him a lot by the end of it all.
As for the technical side of things, the animation was sketchy and lacklustre for the most part and at best, average, but Studio MAPPA takes the action sequences very seriously, as the boss battles and the battles between Makai Knights were simply astounding and so smooth that you would be singing MJ’s “Smooth Criminal” by the time it ends. If you can’t overlook the many plot holes, then at least watch it for the action scenes. It’s worth the time, trust me.
Garo: Honoo no Kokuin has a surprisingly engaging soundtrack. Ranging from suspense-filled distorted piano chords to fanfares fit for kings, the soundtrack has its fair shares of ups…and downs. I must mention that the 2nd OP by JAM Project was horrible. The vocals were basically screeching and sounded like tone-deaf Jackie Chan singing while performing his signature ‘Drunken Fist’ Technique on a movie set. Aside for the brass intro, the song is not even worth listening to, not even for the first time.
So, is it the world’s underrated anime series? While it has won me over with its slick action sequences and its gripping story, I can’t say that it really is the most underrated show out there. It may have its good, juicy parts, but in a world where people now have an attention span of a gold fish and prefer quick and easy ways to entertain themselves, it is rather understandable if they don’t watch it. After all, who needs a ‘close-to-being-great’ story if you have fan service and harems, right?
So, taking into account all things good and bad about this show, I meticulously calculated points awarded for plot, characters, animation, sound and my personal enjoyment, in which I impregnated it, burned it at the stake and have the child thrown off a cliff, has me awarding the show with a rating of:
So with that, I leave you. For more shows like this one, I point towards Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin, which in my opinion, while although moving a totally different direction as Garo, is a candidate for the world’s most underrated anime. For shows with awesome direction and character development, I point you towards the ever popular prequel to the Fate series, Fate/Zero which excels at plot and character development without compromising on any other aspect.
Till the next post, Cheerio~