Friday 16 November 2018

Movie REVIEW: GARO: Fang of God

GARO: Kami no Kiba

Even though fans were treated to the fantastic GARO: Vanishing Line anime earlier this year, it feels like it's been a while since the last proper GARO series. The last live-action entry in the ever-growing franchise was Zero: Dragon Blood back at the beginning of 2017, which being a Zero series (not that that's in any way a bad thing) was fairly low on Golden Knight action. 2018 did however kick off with a brand new movie entry, continuing the story of Ryuga Dougai in GARO: Kami no Kiba ("Fang of God").

An ancient Horror Legend tells of the Fang of God – a celestial Ark to transport Horrors to the moon where they will become immortal. The activation of the Ark however requires the spirit of a corrupted Makai Knight, one of which can be resurrected for 24 hours using the powers of Makai Armour. Desperate to see her love again, the Makai Priest Banbi makes a deal with the Horrors to help them bring forth the Fang of God – taking advantage of her childhood friend Aguri in the process.

One armour isn't enough though, and soon Banbi also takes the armours of not just the Zen Knight Takeru, but also the Golden Knight himself. Reunited once again alongside Makai Priest Rian, the three knights must battle without their armours to prevent the Ark from launching. But the Horrors also have their own plans to ensure the ritual's success, leading Ryuga to come face to face with an old enemy once again.

Given that GARO itself has now branched out into the world of animation, it's interesting how much of Fang of God immediately feels anime-inspired. The idea of the Horrors travelling into space on a Celestial Ark (which takes the form of a building no less) is very reminiscent of the plot of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (an adaptation of Hideyuki Kikuchi's 1985 novel), while lead Horrors Rinza and Boel are clearly inspired by Lust and Gluttony of Fullmetal Alchemist fame. The former more in the relationship she shares with latter, but Boel almost feels like Gluttony in everything but name. That isn't to say Fang of God is completely derivative however, as GARO brings its own flavours and lore to the table to craft a story that feels completely within its repertoire.

The story isn't where the film's main appeal lies though, it's the fact that this is effectively a celebration of the whole Ryuga Dougai era of GARO – not only finally bringing back Takeru and Aguri from 2013's The One Who Shines in the Darkness but also many other characters Ryuga and Rian met through their adventures in Gold Storm and Gold Storm -Sho-. So familiar faces like Lady Ryume, D Ringo and Haruna all feature in some capacity, making this timeline feel more tightly knit than it ever has before. Though Takeru and Aguri don't feel all that different from their original portrayals, bringing the team back together in this way just goes to show how much Ryuga and Rian have grown and developed over the years. Ryuga is far more confident in his role and truly feels like a leader, taking charge and motivating the others when they feel that they're powerless without their armour. The Ryuga/Rian dynamic continues to work brilliantly, with the pair looking to each other for strength while at the same time being competent on their own. Fang of God also takes a closer look at the usually stoic Aguri, using his history with Bambi to paint him as a far more complex and human character than he was before. But what's even more surprising is references to the wider GARO multiverse, with original series big bad Messiah making an unexpected return at the end of the film. Ever since Makai Tales it's felt like there's been a greater effort to tie all this different timelines and parallel universes together, so even little nods like this are big steps in trying to piece together the finer minutia of GARO lore.

The best return of all however is Masahiro Inoue, reprising his role as the dark knight Jinga and cementing himself not just as Ryuga's greatest enemy but also undoubtedly one of the best villains GARO has ever produced. The revelation that Jinga is going to be the resurrected knight is the kind of twist that's so obvious you can barely call it that, but still manages to be one of the film's most satisfying moments. Even as an amnesiac Jinga injects a huge burst of energy into the story, with Inoue revelling in every second he gets to play the villain. He makes such an impact that it's no surprise that Jinga has spun off into his own series following this film, and it'll be very interesting to see where the franchise is planning to take him next.

It isn't all just about the reunions though, as the handful of new characters Fang of God bring to the fold are also memorable in their own right. Though it was a fairly simple storyline to follow Banbi's conviction to put her love before her duty as a Priest gave the film a good emotional angle, especially with her despair from Jinga being resurrected in her lover's place. It's a shame that the she was essentially overwritten as a blank version of Amily for the rest of the film, but nonetheless Banbi's turmoil was both good set up and a viable way to inject some more character into Aguri.

As has increasingly become the case with the GARO tokusatsu productions, those looking for significant armour action will sadly be disappointed as the film chooses to reserve it for significant set pieces. The fact the knights' lack of armour was made a significant plot point almost feels like it's directly addressing the fact that there's so much more to the franchise than simply the "henshin hero" aspect of it. Fang of God looks at the role of a Makai Knight and their skills beyond the armour, and does a pretty great job of tackling the latter through the team's The Raid-esque climb up the building the Fang resides. What's perhaps more curious is that the generic Horrors also feel like they've been scaled back in terms of visuals – forgoing the usual nightmarish suits and instead depicting them as swarming zombie-like figures. Though again it feels like a blow for those looking toward the series for its excellent suit work, this depiction certainly works for the action scenes the film is going for.

But this is GARO after all, and the franchise has never been one to completely shy away from a CGI spectacle. The monster forms of Rinza and Boel are wonderfully realised in GARO's nightmarish fashion, and all three Makai Knights get one notable action scene prior to their armours being stolen. Then in usual fashion the climax of the film turns into one big CGI-fest, as the ornate Fang takes to the sky and Ryuga and Jinga do battle against a swathe of computer-generated backdrops. GARO's distinctly weird yet somehow hypnotic aesthetic shines through as the visuals become faster and more frantic, with the two enemies' rivalry holding it all together in an almost perfect finale.

GARO: Fang of God is a fairly by the numbers film in terms of its story, but excels in being a celebration of this particular GARO timeline. Bringing together the casts of the previous films and series in Ryuga's story was a stroke of brilliance, as what the film then lacks in armoured set pieces it undoubtedly makes up for in character moments and out of suit choreography. Though Fang of God doesn't necessarily feel like the end of Ryuga's story, the fact it so wonderfully weaves all these chapters together would undoubtedly make it the perfect send off.

Also there's a dog that fires machine gun bullets. If that isn't reason enough to watch this film then I don't know what is.


Anonymous said...

Great review. Impressions on Jinga spin-off so far ?

Alex said...

I’m really liking it so far, I’ve not been that into all the other big tokusatsu franchises this year so to have this is great. I have absolutely no idea where they’re taking Jinga but I can’t wait to find out!

Chengkeng said...

This movie was watchable, what would have been a improvement, if ryuga could summon Gouten, but then again it will probably not happen. Also I notice that ryuga isn't as strong in this movie, he still need to rely on Rian, takeru, and Aguri. The golden knight is suppose to be the strongest knight there is, Kouga will always be the better knight.

dong said...

One armour isn't enough though, and soon Banbi also takes the armours of not just the Zen Knight Takeru, but also the Golden Knight himself. Reunited once again alongside Makai Priest Rian, the three knights must battle without their armours to prevent the Ark from launching. But the Horrors also have their own plans to ensure the ritual's success, leading Ryuga to come face to face with an old enemy once again.
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