Garo is really, really good. It had a short, slow patch, but even then I found it thoroughly enjoyable. It is still ongoing and given what I have seen of it in W15, it may very well make it to my 2015 (this post is still technically 2014!) 12 Day list as well.
There were a lot of great scenes in the first half of Garo. The death of Alfonso’s master and Bernardo’s death for example were really good scenes. I was especially touched by Bernardo’s death because he asked for his sword to be passed on only to have it disappear shortly after his death (since he was likely already long dead and was just brought back to life). In this post though, I am just going to talk about three things.
I love Garo’s dark, fantasy setting. In an earlier 12 Day post I mentioned something about not liking despair, but I like it in Garo and I think I like it because it is part of the setting. Despair is not an unusual, unexpected state for these people, it is the everyday state for many of them. Garo drives this point home often enough and even for those, fortunate enough to be able fight, there is still despair.
More than just the despair though, what I love about the setting is how atmospheric it is and how it just draws you in. Garo is one of those rare anime that builds a world without ever really talking about it. Sure, the narration talks a little about the Makai Knights and their mission to eliminate horrors, but the rest of the civilian setting is almost never discussed, and is instead simply put on show.
One of my favorite examples of how great this atmosphere can be is in episode 4. The villagers do weird things and more importantly, the ones in charge kill anyone they don’t like. A young boy tries to get revenge for his father’s death and his mother’s current predicament (they think she is a witch) via use of a Horror whom the child considers to be a friend, but Leon slays the Horror as is his duty and as is required of him.
Even though Leon and his dad get rid of the horror, the episode still ends on a grim note as they can’t do anything about the judgmental human leaders who are left to likely be executed by the other villagers. Episodes like this almost make you wonder if perhaps leaving that horror alive to eat those asshole humans would have actually been the better thing to do.
Mendoza isn’t a good guy. Even before his punishment, he looked down on humans and treated them as a commodity, so he was always a pretty cruel person. I don’t know if it is the case, but I like to think that he carried out his experiments at least in part for the sake of his master.
The Makai Alchemists/Knights can not execute Mendoza, so they do the next best thing (or arguably a far worse thing). They brand him. They brand him such that any children he has will also bear the brand and their children and so on and so on. They didn’t remove his right to have kids, but rather they culled the right of his children to fit in and inherit the Makai legacy. Those children would forever be outcasts.Now, at first sight, this might not seem as bad as say dying (my kids will have an ugly birth mark, who cares since I go free!), but in the context of Garo’s setting this is really cruel. The inhabitants of Garo’s world are very keen on the notion of heirs and inheritance. To them, it is imperative that one’s skills or abilities or family armor are passed down and this is doubly true for the Makai Knights and Makai Alchemists.
When he comes back to the human world, Mendoza does okay for himself. Mendoza manipulates a few people, unleashes a few horrors, but he becomes good friends with the King, does some good work with medicine and falls in love.
We might still think of him as evil or cruel, but at this point, he is still fairly relatable and human. Mendoza has likely forgotten about the humiliation he faced when he was excommunicated. And then, his wife gives birth.
Mendoza gets a cruel reminder that his bloodline is forever cursed. Forget having an heir, he no longer has something worth inheriting. Rather, it is the exact opposite. This is incredibly cruel because while he may not have been big on the having heirs thing when he was punished (called the notion of gaining eternity through heirs ridiculous), he was almost certainly looking forward to having a child with the wife he loved.
Consumed by anger and shame (and perhaps a cruel form of love as well), Mendoza kills his wife and newborn child. Mendoza throwing them off the cliff into the water is him throwing away the last of his humanity and even that is not graceful or honorable as the bodies hit the rock face on their way down.
After this point, Mendoza goes on a full culling spree. He does everything in his power to kill Makai Knights/Alchemists and to cull their bloodlines. He is cruel and evil (always has been), but we can see where he comes from. His “they destroyed by bloodline, so now I will destroy theirs” ideology is now almost sympathetic.
This flashback also made us once more reexamine the Makai Knights/Alchemists and their code. Had they been stricter and killed Mendoza, many of them would not have died. Arguably, lives could also have been saved if they had been less cruel and thrown Mendoza into a prison cell for a while.
The anime showed time and time again that humans, while occasionally being worth protecting, are not all that nice. Many humans openly kill Makai Alchemists who are honor bode to not fight back and many humans kill one another. Mendoza was wrong in carrying out human experiments and wrong in thinking he was above them, but perhaps he wasn’t wrong in voicing concern over the Makai’s insistence on only protecting humans.
The Makai were too stubborn over their beliefs and too confident that excommunication was enough to stop an angered alchemist from harming innocent lives.
Leon’s suicide attempt
In episode 12, Leon loses his armor, his reason to fight and for a short time, his sanity as well. Years of grief finally come forth and Leon attempts suicide. We are so used to heroes that stand back right after being thrown down, but Leon didn’t. He only fell further (and if the newer episodes are an indication, he will take a while to actually recover).
I felt sorry for Leon, I really did. The poor kid has a mostly useless dad (what kind of dad sees his suffering son and tells him he needs to work it out on his own?) and he was born with some strange curse that causes him to lose control. In episode 12 he lost the only thing keeping him alive (revenge for his mother’s death) and he also lost the only thing he had to remember her by (his armor).
I honestly did feel like the anime could have ended right there. It would have been a very poignant, destructive ending but after having watched episode 13, I am very glad it didn’t.