I just watched this pilot for Garo: Vanishing Line and I got to ask… what just happened?
A new fall season of anime and today MAPPA brings us the next in the Garo franchise, Garo: Vanishing-Line. Just for some mild context, Garo or Golden Knight Garo as it is sometimes referred as is an elite group of trained magical warriors called Makai Knights that hunt and destroy monsters called Horrors. That is the basics of the franchise I researched AFTER I watched the pilot of Garo: Vanishing Line because the actual show gave me no clue what I was about to watch. This is a huge franchise spanning dozens of sequels, games, and movies that became highly popular in Japan but this pilot more than anything else just throws you into the deep end and just hopes you know something about Garo.
OVERVIEW (Spoilers Below)
I did not unfortunately but what I can take from the narrative so far is that there is a big beefy guy named Sword who goes around killing monsters he calls Horrors. From the basic explanation, Horrors are supposed to be humans who somehow became absorbed by a negative feeling and now stalk about feasting on other humans. One of our Horror of the day’s targets is the female lead Sophie who just so happens to be in Russell City for undisclosed reasons when she is targeted. That leads Sword to save Sophie and work together to take down this latest Horror.
Paper thin would be an understatement when describing this setup. Just classic big guy kills the bad monsters framing device with no real complexity beyond that. As a structure for a show that can work but I can tell the show wants to do more than that but the writing is being coy leaving many things unexplained. Whether that is a good or a bad thing will depend on your own taste of how you like a narrative to unfold. The other plus I can mention is Funimation’s voice casting for the main characters is solid. Taliesin Jaffe brings a rugged and beef headed Sword to life and Madeleine Morris plays Sophie as the quiet girl she is written as well. The only detriment to their characters is the pilot clearly didn’t trust their characters to carry anything so it moves at such a quick pace we fail to gather a basis of character from either of them. We know Sword likes boobs and Sophie uses her phone and is reclusive. There is one very bluntly woven in that connects them and can be used to describe their motivation but without a basic setup of their personalities, it still feels rather hollow.
Nevertheless, that is the least of this show’s issues. This pilot has two major issues for me that really hold it back in my mind. Talking aesthetics first Garo is opening itself as a monster of the week fighting anime where Sword is going to run around and curb stomp every Horror that is unfortunate to cross his path. That is all well and good but it would be better if we could actually his fights with them clearly. A good fight scene in many respects boils down to two key aspects needed. The fight needs to be clear in the sense where the motion and movement are all able to be followed and the fight needs to show the impact of the fight. Seeing the force of a punch thrown, the guttural shifting of being dealt a blow, impact in a fight scene adds definition to a battle to entice viewers into the drama of the bout. Swords’ fights in this pilot don’t really hit either aspect for me. In MAPPA’s other work like Yuri on Ice and Kakegururi, the smooth motion they were able to animate created a smooth throughline in their scenes, creating a congruity that would make the motion fit the thematic storytelling. However, when that smooth animation is placed into this anime the motion hasn’t any chance to stop and show the impact being dealt. It does create a very smoothly animated moment but robs the viewers of clearly seeing and feeling every blow being dealt.
But that is just a window dressing issue when comparing to what I am seeing is this pilot’s biggest failing. Much like its own fight scenes, it does not want to take a moment to expand on anything. We as the audience are tossed right into the fray without any understanding of the situation. Now an in medias res opening isn’t a bad choice of openings. Many anime, movies, video games and more start similarly so that the audience can start right away on the action set pieces to excite them. However, in Garo’s case, the beginning starting like that creates an action-packed hook but with it everywhere else too and it makes the viewing experience feel like the rug is constantly pulled out from under you. So, the characters will drop keywords and such with some having a connection to later plotlines to be explored, but in the grand scope, exposition is being saved until later. The pilot is supposed to be a setup, to introduce us to what we’re going to see as viewers when we come back each week. I get the monster of the week aspect but who is Swords? Sophie? Who is Zaruba and why is he a talking ring?
If the anime were too slow down just a bit and provide the exposition to introduce our characters and story properly then I’d have a reason to want to see the next episode. As of now, this pilot gives me nothing to really look forward to as it leaves me feeling nothing. I applaud MAPPA for their continued amazing work but hopefully, in future episodes, they can slow down their fight scenes enough to where they are fast but are clear and impactful to make them more enjoyable. Until then I can leave off saying it’s definitely not a strong start to an anime but if fighting evil monster shows are your taste then give Garo a try.