Sunday 5 April 2020

First Impressions: Garo: Versus Road

Garo: Versus Road

First Kami No Kiba reunited the cast of the Ryuga Dougai era, and then Moonbow Traveler brought together three generations of the Saejima family for one truly unforgettable movie. So where does the GARO franchise go from there? You clearly can't top moments like those, so instead the franchise has renewed itself yet again for its 15th anniversary - introducing a brand new continuity in the form of Garo: Versus Road. A new continuity isn't the only thing that's different though, with the Golden Knight entering the world of virtual reality in a tale that promises to be rather different than the GARO we've seen previously. So plug yourselves in, because it's time to get digital.

Sena KuonShuka

After being sent mysterious virtual reality headsets, one hundred people wake up inside the same game. There they are told that their objective is to summon a suit of golden armour, and earn the title of Garo. The players powers are their own to define, and those that keep winning will also be granted whatever further power they wish for. The first obstacle however is two ferocious Horrors, who are sent out to halve that number of players.

Among these players are Sena Kuon and his friend Hoshiai Shouri, who quickly discover that on top of these stalking Horrors they'll also have face off against violence from the other players as well.

Cyber HorrorsThe Countdown Starts

The Isekai ("different world") genre has ruled the roost for some time in Japan, particularly in the realms of anime, manga and light novels. The most successful entries have brought on a string of copycats, resulting in it quickly becoming bloated and often ridiculed despite its overwhelming popularity. For the most part though Isekai hasn't bled through to mainstream tokusatsu though, so if anything fans were probably overdue something along the lines of Versus Road. GARO probably wasn't the place we were all expecting to see it though, which is perhaps why it's so disappointing that Versus Road's story seems to have opened on such a generic note. Other than the inclusion of Horrors and the promise of the Garo golden armour as the game's grand prize, there's isn't anything in this setup viewers won't have seen (or even just heard of) in either a pre-existing VR game Isekai or Battle Royale-esque production. Versus Road is equal parts Sword Art Online and Battle Royale with just a dash of Kamen Rider Ryuki thrown in for good measure. But of course the bigger question is just what form that GARO magic touch is going to take.

With the Garo title being the grand prize at the end of the (Versus) road, the prospect of getting a series with minimal to no armour action is a rather interesting one. Being a video game there are plenty of ways they can work around it, such as the cast eventually realising that the powers they can call upon within the game let's them create their own armour. This way the costumed element of the franchise won't be lost, and the golden armour becomes akin to a video game power up as well as the reward for the victor. Everything is really speculation at this point, because the episode (entitled "New Game") really didn't give much away in the grand scheme of things. In fact, if it confirmed anything about how the rest of the game is going to progress the answer is in fact "very bloodily".

Hoshiai ShouriKuon enters the game

GARO has always been reasonably brutal, but even prior knowledge of the franchise may not prepare you for just how raw Versus Road is. While there may be Horrors running around tearing unsuspecting players to shreds that's just the backdrop to what's going on here, as other players realise that the quickest way to the top is to just take the opposition out themselves. So instead at the forefront you have a group of seemingly normal people just beginning to wail on each other with whatever weapons they can get their hands on. The episode ends on just one huge fight sequence, where the more stereotypical gamers among the pack are likely to be the first ones out of the picture. Though GARO fights have always been done predominantly out of suit, when it came to the Makai Knights the choreography was all about swiftness and precious. With Versus Road, it's just sheer brutality.

Amidst all this chaos it's hard to get a clear handle on all the characters that'll be important to the series, but at the very least our two main characters seem pretty established. While Hoshiai seems to be more from the stereotypical game stock (having him play the Garo PS2 game during the flashback sequence was a very nice touch), Kuon has that same protective "older brother" aura about him as the previous wielders of the golden armour. It's nice to see a wide range of character types have been sucked into the game as well, ranging from gamers and Youtubers to Yakuza types as well. Then there's also the matter of Shuka, the game's mysterious guide. Is she friend or foe? Either way, right now she's the only clue to anything that's going on in the course of this show.

The Garo armour may not be looking like it'll be attainable any time soon but we still get a good look at what's to come, as the players are shown their goal upon entry to the game. While unmistakably Garo the suit is quite unlike anything that's come before, not only featuring electric blue highlights running across the body but also a more angular video game-esque construction. The helmet especially stands out for its lack of exposed teeth, giving it a considerably softer disposition. It definitely screams "Garo armour with video game aesthetics", so props to the designers for managing to nail that. What are arguably much more interesting though are the Horrors featured in the episode, which return to that rabbit-esque design the generic ones have but with the added addition of cybernetic parts strewn across their bodies. They look absolutely incredible, and a positive sign that even if Versus Road does end up containing minimal armour action then the monsters themselves will still be top notch.

Choose your weaponsThe brutality begins

All in all it was a pretty weird opener for Garo: Versus Road. Not a lot to write home about in terms of basic plot, but a lot of weird intricacies that should make for an interesting series if capitalised on properly. It's not the GARO we're used to, but changing and adapting is ultimately how a franchise survives. Even if it's just for the fight sequences alone, Versus Road looks like something worth keeping an eye on.


Anonymous said...

Alex, what is your opinion on the other Garo Movies (Beast of the Demon Night, Red Requiem, Kiba Gaiden, Tougen no Fue, Bikuu) ?

Alex said...

I really like Beast of the Demon Night and Red Requiem, I think the latter especially doesn't get as much credit as it deserves. Not sure why I never got around to doing reviews on Tougen no Fue or Bikuu, but I enjoyed those as well. Tougen no Fue moreso.

Fork said...

I really like the character development in this series. I hope there will be a follow-up season that tells the story of the winner of the garo armor eradicating horror in this era.

Anonymous said...

I heard vr is hot stuff in japan so it kinda natural that garo might get in to the bandwagon. The series itself is raw and radical compared to previous instalments, some fans might thought that "this is not garo". Also the final episode has aired, are you planning to make a full review of the series?