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Monday, 4 April 2016

Garo: Crimson Moon

Garo: Crimson Moon.

Ah, fond memories of Garo: Honoo no Kokuin. It was a mixed bag, that was for sure (Garo series always kind of are), but by the time it was done, it was fair to say the show was an overall positive experience. The announcement of another Garo anime, then, this time in a jidai geki esque feudal setting, and bringing back most of the same voice cast, was cause for excitement. After all, it would surely build on the solid framework that Honoo no Kokuin had set up, right?

Set in a mystical feudal Japan in which Horrors prey on people in the streets while the nobility curry favour with local minister Michinaga in order to gain sanctuary within his protected Light Palace, Garo: Crimson Moon follows Raikou, a young Makai Knight in possession of the golden armour of Garo - with one problem: Raikou's powers are sealed by Makai Priestess Abe no Seimei, and only she can unseal them to allow Raikou access to them. As the wayward Makai Priest Ashiya Douman, apprentice of the mysterious Douma Houshi, wages war on the Light Palace, Seimei and Raikou, and newly minted Makai Knight Hakamadare, must work together to stop him. But Douman has a more sinister plan at work, as the moon begins to turn red, heralding the return of an ancient Horror.

What a tremendous disappointment.

One of the better drawn shots from the series.

As is usually the case with Garo shows, it does pick up a bit in its second act, as it shifts from episodic storylines (which were all uniformly terrible, every single one) to serialised storytelling, but the overwhelming impression I get from the series as a whole is still just disappointment.

The first act is horrendously mishandled, with episodic plots that are all gigantically dissonant in tone from one another, clumsily delivered exposition, and little to no overarching storyline other than 'wow, that Douman guy sure does some bad things sometimes when he remembers, huh.' 

When the show does try to stretch out a storyline over multiple episodes, it comes off as almost laughably clumsily: Yasusuke turns up in the fifth episode as a straight-laced noble with a romantic interest in a convicted criminal, and when she dies he immediately decides to become a thief (despite there being zero indication that he has any interest in crime or any particular skills regarding thieving) for reasons which are frankly unclear. When he shows up again a couple of episodes later - something was a genuine surprise to me given just how many historical and folkloric figures are introduced in the first act only to never be heard from again - he is suddenly a long-haired dashing rogue, totally unrecognisable from the character we saw in episode five. When he shows up a few episodes after that, he's a Makai Knight.

Also he acquires an entirely new personality. And I think his hair changes colour.

This isn't character development, guys. Character development is a character slowly changing in ways that make sense for the person they are, not vanishing and then returning as an entirely different person.

(And despite all that? He's actually still a more interesting character than the protagonist, whose personality can best be described as 'the protagonist.')

But it's not just in its astonishingly atrocious writing that the first act falls down - it's also its animation! The first act is clumsily and shoddily animated, occasionally dipping into some truly bizarre CGI that renders the Garo armour - a suit of armour broadly noted in-universe and sometimes literally in the titles of the shows it's in as shining - as dull and gravelly.

The second act improves a lot upon the first, with more serialised storytelling that benefits from being more coherent, a more stable cast of characters allowing for some characters (Hakamadare not least among them) to actually get developed, and some better animation (including much better animation for the Garo armour, having it actually look shiny and metallic rather than made of poor quality stone).

Garo, in his second act redesign that actually makes his armour shiny and pretty.

But there are still moments where it dips into first act esque awfulness, including one episode - which I could not watch more than five minutes of - in which an elderly man in a position of power repeatedly attempts to rape young women while mumbling "It'll be all right, it'll be all right, it'll be all right," and this is consistently played off as comedy, while characters treat the man in question as if he's some kind of inveterate rascal and not a vicious sex criminal.

This might be a case of values dissonance - not between the UK and Japan, just between writer Seishi Minakami and the entire rest of the world - because I found that character to be the most terrifying character in the show. He made me feel physically ill, and the rest of the character laughingly playing him off as a scamp who needs to reform his philandering ways hewed unpleasantly close to how people like that tend to actually be treated in real life.

The best episode of the series by far is the finale, which is genuinely well written and which seemingly had ninety percent of the entire animation budget poured into it, because the difference between it and every other episode is so stark that I actually wondered if an entirely different company had animated it.

I think this might be the second episode Hakamadare shows up in, and it has a boy
needing medicine and I think there's a disease Horror and it's just all a blur.

(The bizarre thing about the animation is that this is animated by MAPPA, who also did Honoo no Kokuin - and while that series did a lot of things wrong, its animation was consistently gorgeous, so I'm not sure what happened here.)

All in all, this was a series? I guess? I loved the finale, I've watched it six times now, and I actually really liked some of the characters - Seimei and Hakamadare, mostly, give me a series about them working together and I would have been overjoyed - but for most of the series, my reactions ranged from dull enjoyment to disappointment to horror. 

Doubtless there'll be another Garo anime announced soon. I'm personally hoping for one set ~in the future~ but I'll take anything really.

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