Unpopular Opinion: the Garo Franchise


Garo: Hono no Koukuin (henceforth Garo 1), Garo: Guren no Tsuki (henceforth Garo 2) and Garo: Vanishing Line (henceforth Garo 3).  They all revolve around a golden Makai Knight who goes around destroying Horrors – demons born of negative human emotions which possess the human they originate from and then go and eat other people.  All three have very different settings starting with medieval Europe, to feudal Japan and now a modern urban setting – presumably of Western origin by the few names revealed to us thus far.  However they also have a difference which vastly exceeds the difference in their settings in importance, their protagonists.  And that’s where my focus will be.  Just a heads up, I’m going to basically spoil all of Garo 1 and it’s the best one so you may want to watch it before reading this.

For context I finished and enjoyed Garo 1 and got bored of Garo 2 before the halfway point.  And while that does mean I have less to say about Garo 2 and may be unfit to judge it in the eyes of some,  the fact Garo 1 has a 7.5 on MAL in comparison to Garo 2’s 5.95 – resulting in a ranking difference of almost 6000 – I think me jumping ship was me being on point at the time.  Garo 3 obviously has just released the first episode and this limits the data I have to work with.  Nevertheless all three shows open with very different protagonists and in Garo’s case more so than most shows the protagonist will make or break the show.

The easiest way to explain this is to look at the differences between Garo 1’s Leo and the overall tone of his character arc versus Garo 2’s Raiko.  Countries of origin and hair color aside, the biggest difference between the two is their compatibility with being a Makai Knight.  Despite being the main character and being trained by his father, one of the last remaining Makai Knights, Leo is ill-suited to being a Makai Knight.  This is not because he is weak or stupid or cowardly, if anything he is overly-serious, driven and more than ready to fight.  What makes Leo ill-suited to the task is his emotional instability and overall philosophy.  His job to protect people but he harbors a deep grudge against people because they burnt his mother at the stake for witchcraft as he was being born.  This is because the populace had been tricked into thinking Makai Knights were witches by the main villain, which means Leo has to help people who killed his mom, who in turn spent her life protecting those same people.  Leo does his job but he has a tendency to give into rage and has a much stronger desire to avenge his mother than he does to protect people.  This problem is only compounded by his casual father, the similarly less serious Makai Alchemist Emma and the appearance of the prince, the ideal candidate for the job.

The story of Garo 1 doesn’t fail to punish Leo for his failings either.  Despite being a Makai Knight since way before the prince, the prince rapidly catches up to and exceeds Leo’s talent as a Makai Knight.  Leo even losses control a little after the halfway point of the series – destroying so much of the city he was supposed to save that he loses his armor and is booted from the ranks of the Makai Knights.  Unlike the prince who steps up to rebuild the kingdom, Leo drifts aimlessly until he eventually finds a girl he wants to settle down with, who dies shortly thereafter because of a Horror – which Leo can no longer stop despite his best efforts.  But this final tragedy doesn’t break Leo, it forces him to finally conquer his inner demons and he becomes a Makai Knight once more to fight against the final boss of the series.  He even starts fucking Emma – way to go kid, 15 or 16 year old banging a milf, awww yeah – as he finally gets his life in order and becomes the hero he was always trained to be.  It’s rare path for a hero to take and it made Garo 1 one of the most interesting shows at the time of it’s airing.

By comparison Raiko is the perfect Makai Knight.  He does it purely to help people and his heart never wavers – when I quit the series Raiko learned that his still surviving father had sent him, an infant at the time, and his mother out to die for political reasons – and Raiko had no negative reaction whatsoever.  Which frankly makes Raiko about as interesting as damp paper, he never did anything of note in the time I was watching.  In fact Garo 2 was dominated, in terms of interesting characters, by Raiko’s guardian-companion Seimei, who was basically Emma with a Japanese coat of paint – seriously, they are even played by the same voice actress.  Raiko fought some interesting enemies but the show got stale incredibly fast because it didn’t have anywhere to go.

Garo 1 put a big focus on the mental state of the various characters and that was extremely important for the story, it’s because of this focus that Leo follows the path he does or that a corrupted Makai Knight is a meaningful enemy.  Garo 2 can’t take the same focus, it briefly tries with Seimei but she doesn’t even really waver either during her test of character.  So all that’s left is for the characters to run through various scenarios other forces concoct.  This is a gigantic mistake because the most boring part of Garo 1 was the generic, “special knights fighting demons” portion of the show.  It wasn’t until well into Garo 1 that the show really got interesting because until that point is was largely monster-of-the-week style battles against various demons, which isn’t that much to go on.  And that’s all Garo 2 had, at least for as long as I watched it.  Which is why the huge difference in community rating  between the two shows described above doesn’t surprise me.

So now we look to the future as Garo 3.  And I must say I have mixed feelings.  The new main character, Sword, is such a beast he beat down a minor Horror without his armor.  And if anything he mostly closely resembles Leo’s dad in terms of attitude, he is more openly interested in sex than either Leo or Raiko.  He also seems to be a man big in all ways, big muscles, big ego, big sex drive, big appetite, etc.  However he isn’t as old as Leo’s dad so his character may in fact become a shortcoming in future, for now it’s too early to know.  The fights thus far were a mess.  I think that they were made so frenetic is interesting but how they appear visually is borderline headache-inducing.  For now I’m betting on Garo 3 being bad but I’m willing to go a for few more episodes before I call that with total certainty.

In conclusion I think the problem with Garo franchise is that it’s a franchise.  What made Garo 1 so interesting was how it explored the state of mind of the it’s major characters and how their state of mind clashed with or complemented their roles as Makai Knights or Makai Alchemists.  That approach can be extremely interesting as in Garo 1’s case but it’s also extremely limiting, it would be hard to use the same setup to make another interesting Garo without copying Garo 1.  But by ignoring this setup as seen in Garo 2, the show loses all of it’s potency as a story, because it devolves into generic demon fighting and has no other intrigue.  And like I said this means the odds are stacked against Garo 3 already, I would be very surprised if it turns out to be any good.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.