Zero: Dragon Blood.
You know, I -- and I think everyone -- knew this wasn't going to be much special going in. The first attempt at a Zero series, Black Blood, was pretty poor, and the concept does not have so much untapped potential as to make it worth pursuing: Rei, the proverbial second rider to Kouga in the first series of Garo, makes for an interesting supporting character, but often struggles when thrust into the limelight, and seems thoroughly unable to carry a show on his own terms.
(Incidentally, god, apparently Ray Fujita was seventeen or eighteen when the first Garo aired. Time really flies.)
Still, I gave it a try anyway, because I am literally incapable of not watching anything in the Garo franchise -- and I suspect that was the reasoning most people had behind watching it. Nobody tuned in out of a genuine sense that this was going to be a brilliant, groundbreaking series -- we tuned in because it's Garo, and while Garo is, as a franchise, all over the place in regards to quality, the promise of its highs keeps us hooked even through its lows.
Dragon Blood follows Rei Suzumura, or Silver Knight Zero, as his life is thrown into disarray by the appearance of a young photographer who is desperately seeking a beautiful dragon's egg. Before long, Rei -- joined by Rekka, an old friend and powerful Makai Priestess -- is wrapped up in the task of protecting the egg, which contains the last member of the thought-extinct Makai Dragons, from the Dragon Knight, an ancient precursor to Makai Knights.
So, this series represents a pretty big return to formula for the franchise: As ever, there is a quirky normal human woman who is hanging around with a Makai Knight as some manner of humanoid evildoer attempts to get their hands on an object that will allow them to summon a really big evildoer. It's the standard Garo plot, and the series attempts to play with it slightly, but not by a lot.
By 'attempts to play with it slightly,' I mean it turns out that Alice, human photographer and Rei's love interest, turns out to be evil, having manipulated everyone so she could get her hands on a dragon, with an eye to destroying the world. I started having the impression that she might be evil fairly early on, but that was mostly due to the fact that her actor, Kokoro Aoshima, really, really can't act very well.
Honestly, it was pretty grating: Every line she delivered was in an odd not-quite-monologue, as if she knew vaguely that she was meant to be showing emotions but couldn't quite figure out how to do so -- but given that the reveal that she's evil is meant to be a twist, I don't think she was intentionally trying to be unsettling, especially since she continues with that exact style of acting even after Alice is revealed to be evil. It wasn't foreshadowing so much as a handy dovetail of plot and bad acting.
That's really the only deviation from formula here, and the rest of the show pans out exactly how you would expect a Garo show to pan out -- and I'm actually okay with that. It's a formula that works for Garo, and as we've seen before, the show tends to struggle in those series which aren't following that particular rigid formula, like Black Blood and The One Who Shines In The Darkness.
Which brings us to the fight choreography, usually the highlight of a Garo show, and actually pretty terrible here. Zero feels clunky and slow in almost every battle scene, most of which involve barely any movement, and a decent number of which are ended in a single ponderously slow stroke. The choreography improves towards the latter half of the series, and actually is fairly good in battles between Zero and the Dragon Knight, but the day-to-day Horror-killing scenes are pretty substandard, not just for the franchise but for any tokusatsu show.
The series is shorter than most Garo shows, at twelve episodes, but it's long enough for the (at times anemic) story in it, and for a light sprinkling of Horror-of-the-week storylines as well. Honestly, had this series been any longer, I might have struggled to complete it.
So, that's Zero: Dragon Blood. Is it better than Black Blood? Sure! Is it actually that good? Not really, no. Whatever good points it has (it's nice to see Rekka back) are outweighed by the sheer number of problems it has. But with very little Garo on the horizon -- two films which most certainly won't be out any time soon, and an anime series we don't even have a title for yet, let alone a release date -- it'll have to do for now, I suppose.
Incidentally, it took some self-restraint not to make a Kamen Rider Dragon Knight joke anywhere in this review. A little bit of restraint. Praise me.