牙狼〈GARO〉-炎の刻印- 第1話 「業火 HELL FIRE」
Garo: Honoo no Kokuin #01. 「HELL FIRE」
Source Material: Original anime series
Director(s): Hayashi Yuichiro (林 裕一郎)
Art Director(s): Hashimoto Kazuyuki (橋本 和幸)
Animation Director(s): Kanemoto Makoto (金本 真)
Photography Director(s): Tannowa Yuusuke (淡輪 雄介)
Executive Producer(s): Fukunaga Gen (フクナガ ゲン)
Script: Kobayashi Yasuko (小林 靖子)
Character Design: Kanno Toshiyuki (菅野 利之)
Garo: Honoo no Kokuin is an anime TV series based on the live-action Garo tokusatsu TV drama series. It is produced by studio MAPPA, with Kobayashi Yasuko, who has served as a screenwriter for the original tokusatsu series, in charge of script. It was officially announced that the TV anime series will feature a brand new cast of characters unrelated to the main Garo continuity.
In the Valiante Kingdom, the ailing King Fernando San Valiante, stirred by his superstitious beliefs, orders the public execution of a female Makai Priestess who cursed his health; she is condemned to burn at the stake along with her yet unborn child. Upon the igniting of the stake, a Makai Knight who was imprisoned in the dungeons, suddenly appears from the castle quarters, leaps from the royal balcony and into the pyre, and escapes on horse-back with the newly born child. The witch-deemed priestess, Anna, dies at the stake; and in the year following her death, a global witch hunt spearheaded by the king’s close adviser, Mendoza, results in the execution, torture, and even rape of hundreds of other Makai warlocks and witches. The entire Kingdom of Valiante becomes tumultuous as citizens grow increasingly suspicious of each other and the kingdom’s army invades surrounding territories under the pretense of hunting down witches. Seventeen years later, the Makai Knight and the child born from Anna still remain at large despite the army’s continued efforts to capture them. In Leiden, a city that became apart of the Valiante Kingdom as a result of the witch-hunt expansion, a man named Germán Luis recounts the tale of Anna the Priestess and other myths of demons called Horrors as he lies in bed with a prostitute. In the final moments of their intercourse, Germán slays his partner-in-bed, who is actually a Horror disguised as a human woman, and introduces himself as the holder of the title of Makai Knight Zoro, one responsible for sealing Horrors like it. Meanwhile, Germán’s son, León Luis, who is also the rescued son of Anna, faces off against Horror pursuers sent by Mendoza as Garo the Golden Knight. Upon finishing their respective businesses and rendezvousing, Germán and León head to Valiante, “the place where Anna sleeps”. Meanwhile, in the capital of Valiante, the royal family and aristocracy are celebrating the twentieth birthday of Prince Alfonso, the to-be king who was present at the public execution of Anna back when he was a small and frightened three year old child. Alfonso resolutely proclaims that he will protect the people of his country, to much acknowledgement, and is subsequently bestowed a mystical necklace that features Garo’s emblem by his mother, Esmeralda. Octavia, a female servant of Mendoza’s, bears witness to the necklace and leaves the celebration to report to Mendoza, who is concocting a perilous plan of his own within the shadows.
That level of lasciviousness wasn’t quite what I was expecting Garo: Honoo no Kokuin to bring to the table (imagine my surprise upon checking the Wikipedia page for the Garo tokusatsu series and seeing it categorized as horror series), but the series premiere’s mixture of peculiar artistry and mature subject matter is definitely not something I’m inclined to turn away. With Honoo no Kokuin, we have a production cast that is almost uncannily to my satisfaction, specifically with Kanno Toshiyuki, a regular animator at Studio 4°C who brings enough of the visual spice from the studio’s eminent works such as Mind Game and Tekkon Kinkreet (as well as the ONA of Halo Legends, for which he was also leading character designer) to this production through his character designs (a stylistic similarity you can get a feel of if you pay attention to the way character emotions are illustrated through their eyes) (though, discordantly, the two series that I relate Garo‘s visual appeal to immediately upon starting the episode are Gankutsuou‘s and Casshern Sins‘s, both of which are not Studio 4°C works but are nonetheless a breath of fresh air in terms of anime styles nowadays); and Kobayashi Yasuko, who should be a rather hot focus of attention as of late due to her literary contributions to Shingeki no Kyojin‘s and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure‘s (Phantom Blood, Battle Tendency, and Stardust Crusaders apparently, mind you) scripts, as well as, coincidentally enough, the 2008 anime adaptation of (aforementioned) Casshern Sins. And as far as Garo: Honoo no Kokuin‘s premiere goes, it’s positively the visual story-telling here that takes command, as opposed to what has been prepared and written on the page (sorry Kobayashi). In written concept, we have more than enough of familiar character archetypes and dynamics, i.e. the prophetic child birthed at the cost of his mother’s life, the fated rivalry between two young male heroes, the chief adviser who manipulates the king’s actions to indirectly benefit his own eventual coup d’état, and so on; furthermore, it’s about half of these plot elements that are practically wedged into the last minute or so of the episode, giving off the impression that they’re being introduced precisely to ensure that the premiere episode does its just amounts of proper exposition. On the other hand, it’s through the visual presentation that we get a much more relaxed look into the wondrous design work behind the show’s characters, setting of the Kingdom of Valiante, lore of the whole world, and more. It’s pretty much common knowledge that anime opening sequences can be chock-full of spoiler-ish content; but in particular to the visual aesthetic of Garo‘s, it almost feels as if the opening serves as a wholly-spoiler-ish, condensed, pictorial story-book of a mythological legend that warrants interpreting any presented elements as vital to the main story-line later on. It’s a free-hand and somewhat wispy style of line-work that is only present in the opening sequence, but it’s not to say that the rest of the episode doesn’t have piquant visual flair in other forms. The appearance of the Makai Knight in the earliest segments of the episode is an undeniable cool; no matter how many qualms I may have with the 3D implementation (the CG direction here is being handled by Kanemoto Makoto, who was also in charge of the CG direction for Gatchaman Crowds, a show that not only similarly featured pretty horrendous CGI but also similarly featured a unique art-style that seemed to pride its nuances in the elegance of traditional two-dimensional handiwork), the flashy imagery of his appearance that contrasts with the dreary color palettes of the backdrops force him into the center of attention and prominence. Unlike Gatchaman Crowds, which had rather weak CG direction and designs for its CG models, Garo has the right conceptualization to support the construable weaknesses in its CGI. Even for dispensable, fodder henchmen, we get individual transformation sequences and designs that seem very much cultivated; for instance, features such as the pillory seem implicative of the very nature of the ghoulish Horrors and the themes that associate with their existence.
Garo: Honoo no Kokuin‘s got a lot of moxie to technically base the whole first three-quarters of its premiere episode on a conversation between a naked man and woman in bed; it’s a type of story-telling device that is quite unprecedented in Japanese animation, I’d say (the only current writer in this industry I could instantly link such Western literary devices to is the truly venerable-in-his-own-right Urobuchi Gen, specifically how dialogue in Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass closely and oh-so-dramatically parallel the rising action of incoming conflicts), but it could easily be perceived as a staple in other such mediums. Here, Garo utilizes the strength of this methodology in depicting the tension of imminent danger alongside the fright of creeping and intensifying dialogue. Frankly, it’s rather obvious early on that our playful prostitute is in fact a demon in disguise, which holds true even when disregarding the generic associations of femme fatality with the succubus archetype. No, rather, we’re explicitly given visual hints as the scene rages on, whether it be the gleam in her eyes upon being pressed down onto the bed or the unnatural placement of flashbacks to her previous victims (I re-iterate my stance on visual story-telling taking the cake). In a sense, it’s because this is the first episode, wherein the introduction of all characters, protagonists-inclusive, are stark new that there’s even the possibility of both the protagonist, Germán, and the side-character, unnamed prostitute, being the demonic subject of discussion. And as earlier mentioned, while it is quite obvious already, that the show takes this one-time chance to try to convince us otherwise regardless is a valid testimonial to the good amounts of fun it can be. Swaying the characters’ behaviors back and forth between being very humane (the prostitute making a genuinely motherly observation upon seeing León from her window, her opinionated disbelief in Germán’s proposed perspective about the witch hunts, etc.) to being suspiciously ominous (Germán’s self-assuredness that Horrors exist, at the zenith of its corroboration, must be that he himself is one; after all, what more confidence could you have in in this world than yourself?), when done persistently, can potentially sway our expectations as viewers. In this case, however, the golden rule of such anime series sets in and it’s the main characters that need to be sensationalized as suave and outright bad-ass in their introductions; and unsurprisingly, the go-to method towards portraying this is having Germán’s keen awareness above all. And before you know it, we have a previously concealed knife stabbed in the throat of a ghoulish monster by none other than.
I have my personal established speculation that for spin-off series like Garo: Honoo no Kokuin, there’s a lot of facility on behalf of the script-writer, so much so, that the freedom of penning a story that is in no way related to the main series’s continuity while still getting to have the fun of using the already established mythos is analogous to being able to freely wander in a meadow that while is expanse, is also riddled with pitfalls of complacency. So while you can undoubtedly take the story far with all kinds of creative experimentation and ambition, that’s only given you properly avoid these figurative plot-holes that appear every few steps along the way. I think we’re already seeing the adverse process taking effect with Garo: Honoo no Kokuin with these archetypes that just give off this subtle impression of “being okay to use because its just for a spin-off series and not something completely of my own work that needs to grandstand.” Of course, I’ve already made more than enough compliments about the other side of this show’s story-telling, which in the end, is enough of an effective prospect that makes Garo: Honoo no Kokuin an incredibly easy show to watch, and more importantly, enjoy just fine.