Garo: Honoo no Kokuin
People who read my review of the first course might remember I wasn't gigantically impressed with it. It was very pretty, to be sure, but it felt a bit empty, a bit aimless and meandering, and just generally like it could have done better with what it had. The Garo franchise is a fantastic property to be able to work with, and I felt - and continue to feel - like the first course had wasted that.
Garo: Honoo no Kokuin picks up for its second course shortly after the great battle that devastated Valiante. Leon, now longer Garo, slowly recovers from his injuries and trauma with the family of a young farmgirl, Lara. Meanwhile, in Valiante, Alfonso wears himself thin trying to be a prince by day and Garo by night, while German (Herman? Helman?) romances a local innkeeper, Ximena.
|This editorial mostly has pictures from the final episode, because every scene|
of that episode is gorgeous.
It's a good set-up, but in many ways, it needed longer - and actually, more episodes might have made the first course better too, allowing it to insert more plot episodes while retaining the episodic format that Garo series are known for (and that often work to their detriments, if we're being entirely honest). As it is, there's just not enough space for everything this course wants to do, and it often has to clumsily prioritise: It wants its 'lulz some engineers are building a power suit' episode (which was a lot of fun, as the show keeps teasing you with the inevitable power-armour-horror, only to have it never appear), it wants its romance subplot between German and Ximena, it wants its Ema focus episode. It wants a decent amount of time with Leon out of the action, learning to farm and suchlike - and that's fair enough, because that's a major part of his character arc, and cheapening it by having it done and dusted and him back as Garo by the second episode.
It wants a lot, and although it manages it better than the first course did, it still doesn't manage it very well. Once Alfonso stops being Garo, he may as well not be there, even though he's still a Makai Knight and still has the Gaia armour - as in the first course, he barely transforms into Gaia, making one wonder why he has that ability in the first place. While German and Ximena's romance subplot is definitely present, we never really see any development on it, and its culmination seems to be them conceiving a child, after which the story promptly kicks that subplot away somewhere you can't see it. While Ema has her focus episode, it feels like too little when she's a major character and her tragic past has been heavily foreshadowed already.
|See? This is absurdly pretty.|
That said, the story does feel more focused this time around, and towards the latter half of the course we get a decent run of episodes that are entirely plot related. Still with Alfonso having nearly nothing to do (I like the kid, but his role towards the end of this course was mostly to stand around looking alarmed at things) but I'll take what I can get. It would have worked a little better with a villain slightly more intimidating or engaging than Mendoza, who you could probably replace with any grand vizier type and not notice the difference, but he does establish some villain cred by killing a major character.
Once again, the animation is beautiful. In untransformed scenes it's undeniably simple, with minimal shading and shadows - but it's expressive, doesn't suffer from same-face syndrome, and while I didn't like it at first, it's grown on me over time, much like a fungus. In transformed scenes it's hyper-detailed, fluid, colourful and sharp, and the transformed scenes in Honoo no Kokuin remain some of the best animation I've seen. The voice acting is good, the soundtrack is great (I'm listening to it right now, even) - on every technical level, Honoo no Kokuin excels.
|Garo Zoro Fusion form. Which is also gorgeous.|
Overall, I liked this series, and while there's definite room for improvement, so I'm looking forward to the second series, which has been confirmed: At the moment, the Garo franchise is going from strength to strength, with four films in the works (one for Honoo no Kokuin, two for Makai no Hana, and one for Yami wo Terasu Mono) and a second series of Honoo no Kokuin confirmed to be scheduled for later this year. I'm looking forward to all of those, some more than others (I don't feel a burning need to see more of Raiga from Makai no Hana, let's put it that way).