Saturday 16 April 2016

Anime REVIEW: Garo: The Crimson Moon

Garo: The Crimson Moon

In 2013 the GARO franchise made a surprising leap to animation, and perhaps what’s even more surprising is the Western acknowledgement that came with it. GARO’s first anime series, simply entitled Garo: The Animation (or Honō no Kokuin/The Carved Seal of Flames in Japan), clearly struck a chord with the anime fanbase – not only receiving simulcast subtitles from Funimation but also a forthcoming DVD/BD release complete with English dub. Immediately following a return to the live-action format with Gold Storm -Sho-, this expansion of the GARO mythos in a new format continued in 2014 with Garo: The Crimson Moon (or Guren no Tsuki). Though another animated offering from studio MAPPA, The Crimson Moon is another standalone series that moves the Golden Knight to feudal Japan.

Seimei, Raikou and Kintoki
The three Makaiteers

Set during Japan during its Heian period, The Crimson Moon stars Raikou as the titular Golden Knight – a man who was found together with the armour as a child, but is unable to summon it himself without the aid of the Makai Priest (or Alchemist going by Funi’s official subs) Seimei. The pair are also joined by Kintoki, a seemingly ageless boy who acts as Raikou’s retainer. Together they battle against the Horrors that appear within the capital to prey on humanity, and soon their fight also brings them up against the fallen Makai Priest Ashiya Douman.

Consumed and obsessed by the darkness, Douman plans to reawaken Rudra – an ancient Horror sealed within a blood red moon. Meanwhile Seimei has her own secrets that also make her a target of Douman.

By the power of my anime hair!

Taking GARO into a brand new setting always brings a wealth of opportunities with it, and one thing the anime series have over the live-action counterparts is the opportunity to explore them in more elaborate and adventurous ways. Garo: The Animation tackled a medieval Europe-like setting, and now The Crimson Moon moves things across the pond to Heian era Japan. It not only makes for a nice visual contrast to previous GARO entries, but also a chance to cleverly tie some real life Japanese history and folklore into the Makai mythos. Names like Seimei, Kintoki and Kaguya should be all too familiar to Japanese history/mythology buffs, but to those not so well-versed these are all characters with their “real-life” stories to tell as well. This immediately puts The Crimson Moon on good footing to tell an interesting story, but sadly it somehow manages to squander every opportunity it has at that. The overarching story is tiresome and predictable, with the early part of the show not helping matters by plodding along through a deluge of forgettable standalone episodes. When the real story hits, it’s yet another case of a fallen Makai Priest trying to awaken some giant ancient Horror that’s been sealed away. GARO has done this plotline to death, and to see it brought up again and again is beginning to seem rather troubling – such limited scope can hardly allow a franchise to bloom the way this one is trying to.

GARO as a franchise has always been quite good at mixing up the dynamics of its main cast. Sometimes you’ll get a lone Knight operating solo, while other series might focus on duos or larger teams. The Crimson Moon opts to go with the power of three, with Raikou, Seimei and Kintoki forming the core of the cast and a selection of other faces coming and going as they please (including a second Makai Knight, Fujiwara no Yasusuke/Zanga). While the group work fairly well together within the confines of the series, as a cast in general they leave a lot to be desired. Raikou (despite being voiced by Masei Nakayama, who played Raiga in Makai no Hana) is unrelentingly dull, Seimei often feels like she should belong to another show and Kintoki not given half as much back story as he needs. On top of them you have Ashiya Douman, a villain whose cliché nature is immediately given away by his scarred appearance.

Ashiya Douman
Generic villain 

Its biggest offence of all though is that Garo: The Crimson Moon simply isn’t a good looking show. Be it as tokusatsu or animation, GARO has always been a franchise that’s relied pretty heavily on its visuals as a draw. From the intricate armours and twisted Horrors to the wonderfully choreographed fight scenes and wire work, it has never been short of treats for the eyes. The Crimson Moon has none of this, with MAPPA putting out a show that’s far below the quality that they’ve previously shown they are capable of. Admittedly Garo: The Animation didn’t have particularly outstanding animation either, but it had a unique look and fast-paced action that suited a GARO series. On top of The Crimson Moon’s generic anime character designs (look no further than Raikou’s ridiculous haircut) it also has stilted and horribly obtrusive CGI and uninteresting fight sequences. Rudra is the only really memorable Horror design the show has to offer as well, doing a bit more than just the usual “giant topless” woman routine but also keeping things nicely in tune with that theme.

Zero but not Zero.

There are however a few good things about The Crimson Moon worth mentioning, though none of them are nearly enough to save this train wreck of a show. Despite the terrible animation throughout a turning point for the visuals comes halfway through the story when Raikou is able to summon his armour without the aid of Seimei – transforming it from the standard variety into an ornate and wholly unique samurai version. The CGI may be poor, but the design itself is utterly fantastic and should undoubtedly make a great figure when Bandai Tamashii Nations get around to releasing their (already teased) S.H. Figuarts version. While Leon’s unique Garo suit was implied as more of a downgrade and sadly cast aside in the first anime, getting this as an upgrade feels far more fitting and helps establish more key visual differences between the various Golden Knight. The final few episodes also see the series pick up considerably, even if all of its twists and turns are quite obvious thanks to it following the usual GARO finale format. This is the closest The Crimson Moon ever comes to actually being enjoyable, but it’s all over far too quickly and a horrifically abrupt ending manages to sour the taste all the more. 

Raiokou's upgraded Samurai armour
Well, at least they showed effort SOMEWHERE

The constant expansion of the GARO franchise to the point where there’s never a point where some iteration of it isn’t airing may sound like a good thing, but sadly not all of it can be as high quality as the series that made it so beloved in the first place. Garo: The Crimson Moon is proof of this, and unfortunately will go down as the first real stinker in a franchise that’s been slowly waning for a while now. A clever setting and some nice armour can’t make up its overall lack of imagination, bland characters, uninteresting storyline and terrible animation. Longtime fans are better off avoiding this lest they see just how hard a franchise can fall, while general anime fans have a billion other far better “supernatural ancient Japan” series on offer to them should they go looking.

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