I was on Hulu and got caught by their personalized algorithm. They advertised this anime that had this golden suit of armor. Cool armor and swords are an easy way to catch my interest, no matter the medium. In general, knight-related content has always appealed to me. I grew up fascinated by all things King Arthur. Which led to me getting into PS1 RPGs, which led to me getting into anime, and now here we are.
On Hulu, the show’s called, weirdly, Garo: The Animantion. Such a redundant subtitle. It turns out the show actually has 3 unique, stand-alone arcs: The Carved Seal of Flames, Divine Flame, and Crimson Moon. If it was me, I’d have, for this first one, gone with Garo: Seal of Flames and patted myself on the back.
Wasn’t sure what to expect. The reviews on MyAnimeList were just okay. 7.41 out of 10. That sounds decent, but a 7.41 nets Garo an overall ranking of #1858 (as of publication). Maybe my time would be better spent elsewhere, like with something ranked in the top 50?
I hesitated, until I saw Hunter x Hunter was at #4 with a 9.11 rating. Look, Hunter x Hunter had amazing moments and fantastic characters. But I’ll stand by the fact that it has some awful writing and could have been way shorter and way better. The Hunter Arc is nearly perfect. But once “nen” gets introduced the show runs into so many issues. It’s fun, but it’s nowhere close to being the 4th best anime of all time. So if there’s one thing to take away from this article: be skeptical of collective rankings. Your tastes are your own and you’ll miss out on some things you’ll truly cherish if you only ever stick with what’s most popular. Like I’d rate Gurren Lagann 100x better than Hunter x Hunter but it’s down at #35. Re:Zero is down at #223. Escaflowne at #1024. So, use ratings as a guide, but trust how you’re feeling.
Anyway, I started Garo and have appreciated its mature choices. Honestly, it’s what I wish Demon Slayer was like. While Demon Slayer has its moments, it’s often too silly to me. Like one Demon Slayer episode had a villain that used directional arrows to move objects around. Just give them telekenesis and leave it at that. It can be hard, for me, to maintain my suspension of disbelief when powers start getting so extra and Saturday Morning Cartoon-ish. I have a similar problem with My Hero Academia but I think it fits in the world of My Hero more than it does in the world of Demon Slayer.
Garo reminds me a lot of the video game Final Fantasy Tactics in terms of demons and kingdoms and knights and witches and wizards. Not to mention the death and violence. Garo is bloody, not shying away from lethal encounters and animation in a way a lot of shonen does.
In the first four episodes, Garo‘s a bit in the “monster of the week” vein. German and Leon wander into some new situation, meet the “horror,” defeat the horror, then move on. But that’s really selling the show short, I think. At least from what I can tell, each of these encoutners is designed to characterize Leon.
The first one is Leon’s final test to become a Makai Knight and earn the sweet gold armor (known as Garo). We’re introduced to what the armor and Leon can do at their best. Episode 2 shows Leon has an anger he can’t control (visualized by a raging fire over his armor) that undermines his ability to operate as Garo. Episode 3 they go after something called a Madou Ring that will help Leon channel his emotions. Then episode 4 is great.
So episode 4, German and Leon end up in this fucked up town that’s secretely sacrificing its citizens. There’s a kid who has made a pact with a demon in order to get revenge for his father who got sacrificed. All this kid wants is revenge. This is a “Oh shit” moment for Leon. For the last 3 episodes, he’s talked about getting revenge on the people who burned his mom alive for being a magical. Every time his dad had tried to talk him down, Leon brushed it off. This ties to his emotional issues whenever he becomes Garo. The rage he feels about his mom blinds him, compromises him. The fire she burned in burns within him. But when Leon sees this kid making deals with demons and putting himself and his mother in danger for the sake of revenge—it’s a wake up call. Leon recognizes his own issues and can, for the first time, appreciate what German’s been saying.
All of this character development makes the monster of the week construction a bit more bearable rather than repetitious in the way of, say, the OG Voltron show or an episode of Power Rangers. It adds to the show’s main theme and the main character’s primary arc: will Leon walk a noble or destructive path? Will he channel his fire or allow it to consume him?
Remember the sub-title? The Carved Seal of Flames. AKA: Seal of Flames. Seal can be read as a crest, like the seal of the royal of the family. But it can also refer to something that blocks or closes up access to flames. Or it can be something that binds or joins together, like you seal a deal with a handhsake. Flames bond Leon to his mother. But they also become emblematic of his spirit. And something he has to learn to control.
The show has developed multiple interpretations of its subtitle in just the first 4 episodes and has created a rich thematic and metaphoric foundation upon which to build character depth and meaning. That’s awesome and pretty high-level. So I’m pretty impressed so far! Hopefully Garo holds up!