Garo: Honoo no Kokuin (First Course).
God, doing this slipped my mind for absolutely ages, and I only actually remembered when I was casting about for something to do a review on and happened to see its name drifting around. What a perfect mirror of how I feel about the series itself.
Garo: Honoo no Kokuin tells the story of ancient wielder of the golden Garo armour, Leon, as he travels the kingdom of Valiante with his father. Valiante has fallen under the control of scheming, demon-controlling priest Mendoza, and embarked on a purge of the demon-hunting Makai Knights and Makai Priests. Meanwhile, the prince of the kingdom, Alfonso, is forced to flee for his life, and is taken under the wing of an elderly knight.
I enjoy the Garo universe, even though I find the series that result from it to be inconsistent at best. The first series was godawful for its first ten episodes or so, then became quite excellent; the second series I found very enjoyable; and I like most of the films - but Yami wo Terasu Mono wasted an excellent premise and very quickly became dross, while Makai no Hana was various shades of unspeakably boring.
I was given faith in this series by the fact that it's written by Yasuko Kobayashi, whose work I generally enjoy. Not always: Her last entry into the Garo franchise, Zero: Black Blood, did not please me much (and was one of the earliest reviews on this blog, and the first one to have a title card. Ah, memories), and one of her Sentai offerings, Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters, remains enshrined in my mind as possibly the worst Sentai ever created. But on balance, I like her as a writer, so I had faith in the series.
|This is not the face of a man I would trust.|
I was wrong to have faith in the series. It has been an extremely forgettable series so far.
Probably the best thing I can say about it is that the animation is gorgeous. It's not in a style I particularly like, but it truly is beautiful, and during fight scenes especially it stands out as being something very special. The animation studio who worked on it is MAPPA, which has also worked on Zankyou no Terror (which was also very beautiful and well-crafted in terms of animation), Hajime no Ippo: Rising (which suffered a bit from conforming to George Morikawa's rather blocky, odd style, but was certainly not bad), and they really brought their A-game to this series: It's smooth, it's colourful, and the fight scenes, while short, are visual spectacles that can stand toe to toe with the CGI scenes that live-action Garo series are known for.
The OST is good, but not strikingly so. The voice-acting isn't bad. Those necessary mechanical concerns are covered adequately, and I can't complain about them.
|No, but seriously, the animation is really pretty.|
But the writing is poor, both on a large scale in that the plot is thinly sketched out and uninteresting (oh, no, a very smug man wants to wipe out a group of ancient protectors due to a personal vendetta of evil, I've never seen that before. It gets even more dull when the culmination of his plan is 'summon a really big monster that we've never heard of before'), and on a smaller scale in that I just don't care much about the protagonists. Occasionally, Alfonso will catch my interest, but only occasionally.
It isn't that they don't have personalities. It's that their personalities are shallow: Leon is angry and socially awkward; German (Herman?) is skirt-chasing but secretly wise; Alfonso is dutiful; Ema is teasing; Mendoza is smug, and that's it. There's nothing else to their personalities, and the series doesn't ever try to give them character development, despite the fact that the first course finale arguably relies on it. As it is, Leon's transformation into a giant evil golden Cerberus, and Alfonso becoming the new Garo, feels meaningless and forced, and failed to elicit any kind of emotional response out of me.
|Nice cloak, Alfonso.|
Add to that that the series can't seem to decide between being an episodic drama or a serialised one, and so tries to merge the two together with horrendously poor results. Seemingly important plot details, like the Black Knight, are introduced only to be resolved shortly thereafter with a minimum of fuss, and character arcs like Alfonso training with Rafael are barely given any attention at all, with Rafael (whose personality is just the word 'taciturn' written in large, purple letters) practically dying as soon as he shows up.
I'll be watching the second course, because anime series have taken sudden turns for the better before, but for the moment, I'm just very disappointed. Perhaps I set my expectations unrealistically high for this series, but I feel like what was delivered was dull, often incoherent, lacklustre, and rather poorly thought out.
But MAPPA is a very good animation studio, they did well there.