Wednesday 1 October 2014

Series REVIEW: Garo: The Makai Flower

Garo: Makai no Hana

2014 has proved to be quite the year for Garo, as its rise from adult tokusatsu oddity to full-blown franchise reaches new heights with a number of iterations hitting throughout the year. It started with the six-part Zero: Black Blood  miniseries and will next be jumping into its own anime adaptation as well as a follow-up movie for the cast of spin-off/side story The One Who Shines in the Darkness. But before those Zero was followed up by a proper 25-episode series named Garo: Makai no Hana ("The Makai Flower") which saw Garo creator Keita Amemiya return to the helm after a brief absence.

Raiga Saejima
Like father, like son

The Makai Flower takes place sometime in the future after the original series and Makai Senki, following new golden knight Raiga Saejima - son of original Garo Kouga and Kaoru Mitsuki. Following his parents disappearance, Raiga has taken up the Garo mantle and continues to slay the Horrors that appear in our world. When an ancient monolith is destroyed and releases a number of sealed Horrors - including the deadly Eiris, Raiga teams up with Mayuri - a young girl sent by the Makai Senate who has the power to seal Horrors. Also joining them is Crow, a Phantom Makai whose armour grants him the power of flight. Together they hunt down these Horrors one by one, eventually coming face to face with Eiris and the person responsible for destroying the monolith in the first place.

While Yami o Terasu Mono served its purpose as a great spin-off series, many fans out there were put off by the disconnect with the previous series' and its lack of traditional Garo aesthetics. But with Amemiya back on board for The Makai Flower, visually this is classic Garo through and through. If the return of the "Where there is light, shadows lurk and fear reigns..." tagline at the beginning followed by a rocking JAM Project opening wasn't enough to persuade you, then the nighttime atmospheres, gothic fashion sense and demon nudity should do the trick. Heck they've even suddenly remembered that there's a 99.99 second timer to go with the Garo armour! With picture quality constantly getting better, the is the best the Garo franchise has ever looked. The Makai Flower boasts some blistering fight scenes, be they out-of-suit or featuring the proper return of the much-loved physical Garo armour

Mission-focused girl meets well-rounded, cheery man? WHAT A ROLE REVERSAL!

Not only that, but the series also has some of the very best standalone episodes that the franchise has to offer as well. The biggest highlight in an episode which sees a Horror possess a film projectionist/horror film fanatic, resulting in a battle which jumps into a film reel and homages the likes of Silence of the Lambs, 28 Days Later and Scream. It isn't just an incredibly fun watch either, as with it it brings a commentary on how horror isn't quite what it used to be thanks to the rise of CGI in favour of practical effects. Other brilliant episodes include a Horror that possesses a manga artist, and an episode featuring a moulting girl where things aren't quite as they seem. Then of course there's the matter of a little episode covering Raiga's childhood, which brings up a familiar face which is sure to please all Garo fans (hint: It isn't Kouga or Kaoru, because the show makes a point of having neither appear properly throughout). And although not a particular highlight, its nice to finally have an episode focused on the Saejima's faithful butler Gonza - who's been a staple of the show since day one.

A scene from episode 4 "Film"
28 Days Later becomes a very different film

Unfortunately despite The Makai Flower looking amazing and churning out some monumentally good episode, it fails in the two biggest areas that make a full-length a true success - story and characters. On the characters side of things, it needs to be stated that there is nothing inherently wrong with Raiga - in fact he's a superb protagonist. Raiga has the strength and courage of his father but the personality of his mother, so following a Saejima that can crack a smile is a rare and enjoyable experience. Likewise Mayuri is also a likeable character, and her progression from simply a Makai tool to "real girl" is something that works well as a theme throughout (the little segments in the closing credits are especially cute). But those are the ONLY regular characters who have any level of depth and development to them, and even then it isn't really anything groundbreaking. Crow is a complete waste of a character, who adds absolutely nothing to the series other than being an extra knight with a unique power. The perpetrator reveal toward the end of the series also hinges on provoking some sort of shock reaction from the audience, but falls flat on its face because there's been nowhere near enough focus for it to have any impact in the first place.

Crow, the second Knight of the series
As characterised as the door behind him

Meanwhile the story progression of Eiris and the titular "Flower of Makai" makes up around a fifth of the episode count, with one of those actually dedicated to Raiga's backstory rather than the here and the now. The plot has quite obviously been crafted around cramming as many one-shot episodes into the mix as possible, and every time Mayuri states "This is a Horror from the monolith, but not Eiris" or something similar it becomes more and more painful. It was painfully obvious that Eiris was going to be the last one that they came across, but some of these episodes don't really do much good in making it seem like Raiga and co. are being proactive about finding it. Some of these one-shot episodes really are as good as I mentioned earlier, but so little effort has been made in crafting the story that it makes me wonder if The Makai Flower would have been more successful as a series of one-shots rather than something that failed miserably at having an ongoing story.

The Makai Flower is certainly an enjoyable experience, but also an utterly bizarre one at the same time. Everything that was missing or wrong with The One Who Shines in the Darkness has been fixed here, with the return of a regular physical suit prompting a beautiful Garo series where the Horrors are some of the most imaginative yet. On the other hand, The One Who Shines in the Darkness had a great ongoing story with some really unexpected twists and turns that heavily involved an extended cast - something Flower doesn't have. It's the kind of show where it has amazing episodes that you'll want to revisit again and again, but as a whole will leave you relatively unmoved.

It's my hope that we'll see Raiga Saejima again for a better crafted series because, despite it's flaws, Garo: The Makai Flower showed some real potential. And if it can just iron out those kinks, Raiga could easily surpass his father and be the best Garo yet.


Unknown said...

I like ur review! and I love this new Garo too

Anonymous said...

I Enjoyed Makai No Hana, Because This Garo Series Serves As A New Chapter To The Saejima Bloodline, And I Really Like Raiga Saejima A LOT, Because Of His Kindness And Determination, Just Like Kouga And Kaoru.