Wednesday 17 January 2024

First Impressions: GARO: Heir to Steel Armor

GARO: Heir to Steel Armor

Between the numerous live-action series, movies, anime adaptations, action figures and more, it doesn't feel like all that long ago we were in a golden age of GARO. But truth be told the franchise has actually been relatively dormant for the last few years - the last series GARO Versus Road having come out back in 2020. However it's been ten years since the franchise's second Golden Knight Ryuga Dougai was first introduced back in GARO: The One Who Shines in the Darkness, and to mark the occasion he's back for a brand new series. GARO: Heir to Steel Armor (GARO: Hagane o Tsugu Mono) is the third series to feature Dougai in the titular role, and also marks a big first for the franchise. Much like what Tsuburaya Productions have been doing with Ultraman for the past few years, episodes will be released weekly on the official GARO YouTube channel alongside their Japanese airing - available worldwide complete with English subtitles.

The first Horror of the seriesRyuga Dougai

As Ryuga Dougai continues his role as the Golden Knight by protecting the world from demonic creatures known as Horrors, he is met by a mysterious Makai Priest who introduces herself as Koyori. Koyori explains that she has been entrusted to bring him to Creacity - a sprawling metropolis facing an imminent catastrophe. Somewhere in Creacity is the Gate of Destruction, and with the increased appearances of Horrors in the city it is expected that the Gate is about to open.

Then whilst battling against a newly created Horror, Ryuga encounters another Makai Knight clad in silver Hagane armour. Koyori introduces the man as Soma Shirahane, who warns Ryuga that Creacity is his city to protect - and that the Golden Knight should not get in his way.


Before we all begin celebrating the fact that GARO has taken a leaf out of Ultraman's book and made itself available worldwide, it's worth noting that it does come with some caveats. While the episode is indeed available on YouTube with English subtitles, said subtitles do appear to be an AI translation. Your mileage may vary on how much this affects your enjoyment of the episode overall, but there's definitely a somewhat stunted "matter of fact" feel to the subtitles that lacks both the nuance of previous fansubbed efforts and the overall language of the GARO franchise. It doesn't have a huge impact on this particular episode, but as the story develops and the dialogue becomes more involved it may prove to be an issue. Either way, it's still better than the way Toei treat their international fans.

That aside, isn't it good to see a new GARO series? A proper new GARO series too - no disrespect to Versus Road at all (because it's also a very good show), but that one was a little more experimental and detached from the overall lore. Right from the get-go this is pure GARO - the opening Zaruba monologue, the innocent civilian being preyed upon by a Horror, Ryuga's entrance...these are all staple GARO tropes and the episode really capitalises on bringing back that familiarity to longtime fans. For newcomers it could prove equally as exciting, with Zaruba filling in the basics quite succinctly at the beginning and the overall setting/themes being nearly conveyed by the plot. Even though Ryuga has been around for a decade by now, his backstory or past adventures aren't important here - all you need to know is that he is the Golden Knight, and actions speak far louder than words here.

ZarubaGaro the Golden Knight

Over the years we've seen Ryuga grow nicely into the role of Garo but there had always been one constant - he wasn't one to work alone. The premiere of Heir to Steel Armor sees him appear for the first time as a solo operative, but he certainly hasn't lost any of his charm - able to crack a smile whilst taking his job as seriously as ever. For longtime fans it's a bit disappointing that Makai Priest Rian hasn't returned alongside him since they made such a fantastic pairing, but it is what it is. It'll be interesting to see if she at least gets a namedrop somewhere given she was previously such a big part of his story, but her absence will likely make the series more digestible for newcomers. In her place though we have a new Makai Priest in the form of Koyori, who brings Ryuga to the wonderfully named Creacity. Although there's a very different aesthetic, the idea of Ryuga being brought to a thriving metropolis with a dark secret has some nice parallels to Vol City from The One Who Shines in the Darkness - even more fitting for this 10th anniversary celebration of the character. Of course Creacity is also protected by its own Makai Knight - Soma Shirogane, warning Ryuga to stay out of his way. It isn't the first time the arrival of a Garo has rubbed another Makai Knight the wrong way and it surely won't be the last, but they'll almost certainly be allies when this is all said and done.

This first episode keeps things relatively straightforward and that's by no means a bad thing - focusing on introducing the setting and principal characters while easing viewers into the core mythos of the series. The fact alone that this episode features two different Horrors is truly spoiling us. There's no deeper storyline to digest just yet outside of some rather cryptic clues (the Gate of Destruction), but the sight of civilians being preyed upon as well as humans being consumed by negative karma to become Horrors themselves is enough to give the episode momentum. GARO has never shied away from a bit of violence (implied or otherwise), and the sight of blood splattering as a Horror-possessed person bludgeons some not-so-innocent victims offspring is enough to get the spine tingling. But when it comes to both the Horrors themselves and the ensuing fight scenes, nothing is more satisfying than seeing a return to physical suits. For years now GARO has dabbled more and more with CGI for its (transformed) fight sequences and while admittedly its never truly harmed the quality of the show, it's never quite left the same impression either. The action choreography and sword work is just as slick as ever, but when both sides are physically in the scene it just makes the fight so much more tangible.

The second HorrorSoma Shirahane

In all honestly it's just good to have GARO back, but GARO: Heir to Steel Armor looks like it'll be offering a lot that the franchise has lacked for the last few years as well. While you can do a lot with CG suits and action sequences, nothing ever beats seeing that glistening armour in the flesh or the imagination put into the Horror designs. Seeing Ryuga again is like being reunited with an old friend, and even though the lack of Rian is disappointing newcomers like Koyori and Soma look interesting enough to ease the pain. With new GARO being more accessible than ever and seemingly newcomer friendly (despite starring an established character), maybe this will bring some new fans in as well.


M said...

If you know, Dogengers Metropolis has been fully subbed since December. I only discovered now

CPF said...

Nice review! Who do you think will return to this series?

Also - when are those 2023 Doctor Who specials review coming up?