Sunday, 8 October 2017

First Impressions: GARO: Vanishing Line

GARO: Vanishing Line
GARO: Vanishing Line is available (in selected territories) in streaming form on Crunchyroll

Even though Zero: Dragon Blood only finished it's run back in April, it feels like it's been an eternity since the last GARO series was airing. That just goes to show how widespread the franchise has become in the last decade, going from a tokusatsu that aired a new season every couple of years to a full-blown franchise spanning multiple timelines and even branching into animation. And speaking of the latter, it's now back for a third anime season - GARO: Vanishing Line. Once again animated by MAPPA, the latest instalment of GARO: The Animation is another standalone series featuring a brand new Golden Knight as well as its own unique setting.

Sword & SophieIntroducing Sword

When Horrors terrorise the nighttime metropolis of Russell City, the Makai Knight Garo is there to protect humanity. This period's Golden Knight is a man named Sword, who patrols the city on his Zaruba-powered motorcycle. Elsewhere in the city a girl named Sophie meets up with the online figure "Moon Wizard", who is quickly revealed to be a Horror on a killing spree. When Sword arrives to protect Sophie, she must come to terms with the underground world of the Makai while they both separately try to figure out the meaning of the words 'El Dorado'.

With both The Carved Seal of Flames and The Crimson Moon opting to reimagine the franchise in different eras in history, Vanishing Line marks the GARO anime's first foray into a modern setting. This might seem like a bit of a surprising move for existing fans as it brings the show into closer comparison to its live-action counterpart, but Vanishing Line does a few things to make sure it stands out despite these similarities. Previous shows may have taken place in a city, but already this one just feels so much more alive. Rooftop fight sequences show off sweeping skylines before diving down into murky backstreets, all while the Makai order has become so urbanised that Sword gets his orders from a diner of all places. With the other modern Garos usually operating outside of the hustle and bustle of the city they come across feeling almost like a fish out of water, but here the setting has been fully incorporated and as such feels fresh and exciting.

Introducing SophieSophie encounters a Horror

Another point of interest for this series is Sword, the newest Golden Knight to join the franchise. Right from his introduction its clear that Sword is quite unlike anyone else who's held the mantle of Garo before, as he slams his fists into Horrors rather than cut them down with a sword. It isn't just his fighting style that's wildly different either - rather than the calm, focused characters we usually see in this role Sword is a hulking brute of a man that's into his steaks and into his women. However despite this wilder side he's still serious in his role as both Garo and a protector of the innocent. If anything he feels more like some sort of classic action hero than a knight of old, which fits nicely with the city setting and how an urban society might perceive the modern version of a 'knight'. And if the change in character isn't enough for you, he also rides around on a giant Zaruba-powered motorcycle that gets even wilder when he transforms - what's not to love about that? We don't get a big insight into his character or his version of the armour in this episode, but already Sword has established himself as a pretty interesting spin on the Golden Knight.

The second character we meet in this episode is Sophie, a young girl who again we don't know much about yet but we do know that she's looking for someone. While she may be this episode's victim of the week, she can certainly take care of herself if the self-denfence moves she pulls on her debut are anything to go by. Her backstory is shaping up to be pretty interesting, and it's nice to be getting a human pulled into the world of Makai Knights and Horrors again. If there's one complaint I often have about GARO it's that it often feels far too centralised - other than the obligatory victims of the week the core cast is usually comprised of Makai Knights, Priests or anyone else already in on this supernatural underworld. The rare times you do get a human being properly pulled into things (Kaoru in the original series, Enhou in Yami o Terasu Mono or Alfonso in The Carved Seal of Flames) things get a lot more interesting, so it'll be exciting what direction her character takes as she adapts to Sword's Horror-hunting lifestyle.

Motorcycle fight scenesSword in armour

But above all, Vanishing Line works because it's pure eye-candy from start to finish. With the likes of In This Corner of the World and Yuri on Ice under their belt MAPPA have truly shown off their chops as a studio, but that wasn't really reflected in the previous two seasons of the GARO anime (Divine Flame being the exception). The Carved Seal of Flames was pretty good, but Crimson Moon not so much. Vanishing Line on the other hand immediately provides great character designs and exhilarating fight scenes against a neon-lit cityscape. Then the centrepiece is a fast-paced motorcycle chase turned fight sequence, thriving on dizzying camera work and dynamic action shots. Admittedly the visuals are so frantic that it's extremely hard to focus on everything in a single watch, but damn if it isn't exactly the kind of innovation a GARO anime should be offering.

Whereas the previous GARO anime have failed to make an impact on anyone other than the most diehard of fans, GARO: Vanishing Line launches firing on all cylinders and opens with one of the strongest animated offerings the franchise has ever produced. While the jump to a modern setting provides the same dark urban fantasy feel as its live-action counterpart, Vanishing Line succeeds with fresh lead character, a blistering soundtrack and the level of animation this franchise has deserved since the very beginning. Obviously a lot can change in six months, but if the rest of the series matches this premiere then third time is most definitely a charm.

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