Wednesday 23 September 2015

Series REVIEW: Garo: Gold Storm -Sho-

Garo Gold Storm -Sho-

As the Garo franchise has continue to grow and now expanded into both tokusatsu and animated formats, fans have been treated to multiple different timelines each with their own unique Golden Knight.  While 2015 will begin and end with two different chapters of the Garo anime, the middle has been dominated by the return of the franchise's first divergence into a new continuity. Making their return from The One Who Shines in the Darkness are Ryuga Dougai and Makai Priest Rian in a new film and series project that go by the names of Gold Storm and Gold Storm -Sho- respectively. Garo creator Keita Amemiya is also involved in this newest project, marking it as his first series that doesn't involve one of the Saejima clan.

Ryuga and Rian
Return of the B team

Set sometime after the events of the Gold Storm movie, Ryuga and Rian are now continuing their duties under the watchdog Ryume. Amongst the usual Horror encounters that the Golden Knight faces, the pair become involved in a plot to awaken the ancient Horror Radan - inadvertently clashing with other Makai Priests on the same mission to seal Radan once and for all. As rivalries turn to allegiances, the group must face off against the two at the centre of this plot - Jinga and Amily, Horrors that were once Makai warriors themselves.

Following on from a movie that has currently only been available to Japanese cinema goers, there are a few things going into Gold Storm -Sho- (at the time of writing) that Western fans are going to be a bit in the dark about. While the new setting and characters are very easy to get to grips with, there's not really much in the way of introduction. Ryuga and Rian are the only returning characters from The One Who Shines in the Darkness, Ryume's been established as their current Watchdog and another pair of allies in the form of D Ringo and Yukihime (though neither character has any real bearing on the show). The returning faces of Ryuga and Rian are enough to ease viewers into the new extended cast, and while it is a little sad to lose Aguri and Takeru arguably the best of the bunch are the ones returning. The numbers are then bolstered with another Knight (Daigo) and another two priests (Gald and Haruna), each of whom are tied in the plot in their own different (yet ultimately connected) ways. It's a big group that predictably doesn't get equal sharing in terms of exposure, but adequately allows for multiple fights going on at once and a more nuanced storyline with multiple strands coming together.

New friends Daigo, Ryume and Gald
New friends, and an abundance of Makai Priests

One of The One Who Shines in the Darkness' greatest strengths was its continuity - offering an almost completely ongoing storyline throughout its run while the other Garo shows played around with one-off episodes and a multi-part finale. Gold Storm -Sho- offers the same format as it's predecessors, with even the minor episodes at the very beginning offering plot strands that would eventually expand into a singular storyline. Horrors of the week are in very short supply here, with a fair chunk of the episodes dedicated to multiple rematches between Ryuga and Jinga. There's the odd CGI monstrosity dotted around here, but nothing has any greater than purpose than being a momentary distraction fight/sequence. The ongoing format might not be to everyone's tastes, but with Makai no Hana having a more experimental episodic format it's refreshing to see the two sides of the franchise taking a different approach to their set up.

Possibly due to Keita Amemiya taking up some of the directorial duties on this show, Gold Storm -Sho- also boasts more of the visuals one comes to expect from a Garo series. After The One Who Shines in the Darkness suffered heavily from an overuse of ropey CGI and a lack of practical suits, this series is quite the opposite. Practical suits are back in full force, together with slick choreography and wirework for the abundant out-of-suit fights. The armour has also received an overhaul in the form of a new "Garo Sho" variation - keeping the same iconic elements of the suit while adding some more unique features like a larger collar and shoulder section. The added bulk of this suit isn't always aesthetically pleasing when not in motion, but again offers a nice variation between the Kouga/Raiga Garo and the Ryuga chapters. And although the golden knight is back in his true colours, the "lost shine" hasn't been completely lost - returning later in the show in a particularly satisfying ways.

Garo Dark

One of the biggest weaknesses of the Garo franchise is it's rather weak "big bad" villains. Not so much the Horrors faced off against in the final episodes (usually the obligatory giant topless CGI woman, but not always), but the ones behind the scenes orchestrating the whole thing. Between the five seasons of Garo so far the success rate has varied somewhat, but it's fair to say that Jinga absolutely blows them all out of the water in both presence and memorableness. Masahiro Inoue (known to most as Tsukasa Kadoya/Kamen Rider Decade) clearly had an absolute blast in the role, hamming it up to 11 as he trolls Ryuga and co. at every turn. By comparison Amily isn't quite as exciting, but she works well as a similar foil to Rian and as the Morticia Adams to Jinga's Gomez. Their backstory is played up in a rather interesting way - prompting sympathy from the audience before reminding you that they aren't the characters in the flashbacks anymore and that these guys are Horrors, and thus evil for the sake of evil. While in the long run it doesn't make them particularly well-developed characters, it does prompt some momentary emotional conflict (both to the viewer and the cast) to bring them out of one-dimensional territory.


But while Gold Storm -Sho- is definitely a step up from what came before, it still has a few rather apparent flaws. With such a dedicated focus on a singular struggle between Ryuga (and company) versus Jinga and Amily, the constant back and forths between them make the show's middle section something of a slump. As mentioned above Jinga always manages to keep things somewhat entertaining, but there's no big plot twists or experimental/abstract episodes to keep things interesting until the plot starts properly progressing again. Secondly the handling of the female cast gets a little questionable as things go on, with all of them getting their fair share of damsel in distress moments. While not completely unusual to see in a Garo series, after the strong handling of Makai Priests elsewhere it is a little frustrating to see Rian in particular fall victim to it multiple times. She still does her fair share of ass kicking, but far too many moments (particularly the ending) are either cliche or shock tactics with little substance behind them.

Daigo, aka Makai Knight Giga
Because you can never go wrong with a giant axe

Gold Storm -Sho- still doesn't measure up to the incredibly high bar set by the first two Garo seasons, but it's definitely come the closest out of everything that followed. It brings back everything that felt fresh and exciting about The One Who Shines in the Darkness, together with that Keita Amemiya touch it's predecessor was so sorely lacking. With the Garo universe continually expanding with new timelines (or even universes, who can tell), characters and mediums, Ryuga and co are one set of characters that still have plenty of life in them and will hopefully be seen again in the near future.

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