What They Say:
The King’s close advisor implemented a large-scale witch-hunt. The tragic victims of this hunt were not witches, however, but Makai Knights and Makai Priests. One Makai Priestess gave birth to a child while being burned at the stake. That child carried the bloodlines of the Golden Knight. Although he was saved by his father, a Makai Knight himself, the newborn, León Luís, suffered greatly from the unjust death of his mother. And so he vowed to learn the ways of a Makai Knight from his father, Germán Luís, and use his training to seek revenge. During his battles against the demons known as ”Horrors,” León must gradually approach reality and accept the truth.
Meanwhile, the powerful former adviser to the King, Mendoza, banished Prince Alfonso and his mother while the king was bedridden. Eager to reclaim his kingdom and save his people, Alfonso embarks on a quest to find the legendary Knight – but destiny holds a twist of fate in store for him.
Together, León and Alfonso begin a long and difficult journey filled with many hardships.
The audio presentation for this series is pretty good as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English mix done in 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series works a good blend of action and dialogue to it where the action is a good mix of swords and sorcery that spreads well across the forward soundstage. There’s some good directionality at times and the layout for it definitely draws you in pretty well all things told. There are some appropriately big moments along the way that work very well throughout. The dialogue side of it is a bit more straightforward overall as it doesn’t have quite the same opportunities but it conveys the various styles of speech well and there are some good moments of placement and depth to drive it in a good way. Both language tracks come through clean and clear throughout without any problems such as dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p with the AVC codec. The twelve episode set is spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by MAPPA, the show has a great look to it with a lot of detail to the backgrounds and character designs and some well designed CG pieces with the armor and more that really gives it a rich feeling. The transfer brings this across in a really good way with clean colors that handle the bright and vibrant areas as well as the darker and murkier pieces. There is a lot of beautifully animated action sequences here with some great fluidity to them that come alive and the transfer gets it done right where there are no motion artifacts or breakup during it. The end result is a very appealing looking show that’s elevated in high definition as I can’t imagine it looking anywhere nears as good through streaming or standard definition.
The packaging design for this release is a bit of a mixed bag to some degree as we get a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the four discs on hinges inside. With an o-card that replicates the case artwork, the front cover has a murky image of Leon in the lower foreground while the background showcases the Makai Knight design. There’s a lot of flames with it and the mix of darker colors and the gold and yellow just doesn’t have a lot of impact and the whole thing just feels kind of oddly placed and laid out, especially with the black patch along the bottom that has the logo. It just doesn’t sell the show well or what makes it exciting or interesting. The back cover goes with a black background while placing a look at Leon’s gold armor along the right which has some good detail to it. THe left side has the premise that’s covered well and fairly easy to read. It also breaks down the extras cleanly and we get a decent if small selection of shots from the show itself. The technical grid breaks down both formats well so you know exactly what’s involved with each. The case artwork is identical but we get a reverse side cover that has a two-panel spread close-up of Garo along the left with the flames extending to the right panel.
The menus for this release follow the familiar Funimation style well with the use of different types of clips to set the mood and tone for what you’re about to watch. This dominates the screen beyond the navigation itself, though the navigation for this release is a bit different than the norm. The lower right has the selections, which are standard, but it has the series logo tied to it above in a larger font. Wrapped into all of it are flames to give it a bit more character, but the color choices with the text and the nature of the static flames means that it’s damn hard to actually read the navigation text, making for a frustrating experience even on larger screens. Everything functions and moves about easily enough, but reading it is problematic.
This set has a good selection of extras with some really solid material to sink your teeth into. We get a couple of English language episode commentaries from the production team talking about the show and their experiences with it. We get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. And we get the buffer episode called Daybreak that was made to give the team more time to get the work done. It’s not a full on recap episode or anything but rather one with what happened combined with interviews and fun with the creative staff over a meal.
Based within the larger framework of the live-action drama series that’s pretty expansive and takes place within the present day, Garo: The Animation is a twenty-four episode anime series that’s set in the distant past. The first twelve episodes we get here introduces us to this fantasy setting where I suspect those invested in the live-action show might get more out of it but it stands completely on its own for those that have never seen it. I went into this series utterly blind about it and came away craving the second half of it right away. Fantasy shows aren’t common but we’ve had more of them in the last few years that move beyond the usual stuck in a video game concept so there’s a lot of appeal in that here for me.
The series revolves around two principal young men who have very different lives. Alphonse is a three year old when we first meet him, the son of the king and queen of the kingdom of Valiante. He’s nervous and curious as the country is about to burn a witch at the stake that’s supposedly involved in poisoning the king as he’s struggling with an illness. It’s a big affair with so many people there to watch it, but it takes the expected dangerous turn as amid it a silver armored knight arrives and whisks the baby away from the witch. The witch, Anna, has a son that we’ll know to be Leon as the knight is actually his father, German, a member of the Makai Knights. He flits off into the distance and that causes the king’s main advisor, Mendoza, to instigate an edict to hunt and kill all the witches and warlocks within the kingdom to safeguard against future threats.
The setup is intense and well done as it introduces to a lot of things and gives us the right kind of scale for the events at hand. A lot of it is certainly familiar to fantasy fans with the kingdoms, the magic aspect, and that we’re introduced to the concept of Horrors, varied evil creatures that cause plenty of problems and death that the Makai Knights deal with fairly well thanks to the magical armor that they can call into existence. What’s not a surprise either is that the show fast forwards us by seventeen years where we see how German is now teaching young Leon to be a Makai Knight, having inherited the Gold armor through his mother’s bloodline, with the intent of returning to Valiante one day for justice for what was done. Valiante has certainly become darker since that event with hundreds of witches and warlocks being executed and that’s made for an increase in Horrors as well that aren’t getting stopped quite as often as they were before – though it’s more low level Horrors than the big deal ones.
Leon’s story is completely predictable, let’s not try and fool ourselves here. German is teaching him well and Leon is a bit of a dark and sulking type but not so far that you want to smack him. His goal of justice/revenge is earned enough from what we see and that he’s taken his time to train, though obviously there’s always more to learn at that age. The pleasure that one gets from this arc within this set is his time with his dad, German. German is an utter delight to watch as he’s such a player with the ladies and has a love of life that’s backed up with serious skill and time spent honing his craft. He’s that person that has achieved a strong level but it hasn’t consumed him as he’s still very much enjoying what life has to offer, even with what it took from him. His time with Leon is some of the usual father/son dynamic, especially when his dad ends up without clothes often because of various compromising situations, but both men come across really well throughout this and watching them journey together, fight alongside each other, and grow as character as we learn about them is a real highlight for the set. German often steals the show, however.
Alfonso’s story is shorter in this set but pivotal with how it plays out. His life hasn’t been as hard in a way as Leon’s, but he’s grown into the expected prince where he’s solid behind a sword with all the training he gets, smart, and rather caring as well towards the citizens. While not a goody-goody prince, he also doesn’t become the dark bastard prince. But his life takes a hard turn when it’s discovered by one of Mendoza’s agents that Alfonso’s mother is actually a witch herself that had a protection on her and she wasn’t even aware of it. That gets her sent away and Alfonso on the run, which throws him into the presence of a Makai Knight from German’s past that works to teach and train Alfonso in the way of the world. There’s a great little twist with his parentage that comes into play and is misinterpreted at times as well, but essentially Alfonso becomes quite the solid character as his story moves along in the background.
When Alfonso and Leon end up coming across each other, both of them seeking out a powerful Horror in order to boost their skill level a bit, I adore the fact that the two both try to warn the other away from danger since they’re good people. But I also love that they don’t get super competitive about it and fight each other first before having to deal with the Horror. In fact, the two of them go at the creature individually first and then work together to deal with it, showing the kind of maturity we don’t always get with shows in general. It’s these kind of smooth moments that go a long way and it feeds into the dynamic between the two men as they return to Valiante, more of the truths surface, and the choices that they have to face become pretty stark and difficult – all while the elders have to let them find their own way as they wouldn’t truly learn otherwise.
With this being just the first half of the series it works as you’d expect with a big arc toward the end of it that sets things up and shows their growth overall while still giving them more to deal with. It’s certainly familiar but it’s all executed so well and with such beautiful animation that you have to love it. The show works the core of German, Leon and Alfonso well with some supporting players, such as the witch Ema who seems to have her own goals along the way, and other Makai Knights and the woman that brokers information on where to find Horrors. I also really like that we get a good chunk of an episode that provides what feels like authentic reasoning behind Mendoza’s goals and why he’s as harsh as he is. It doesn’t make him a fully rich character you can get behind, but you can empathize and understand it. He’s not the most compelling villain but the show doesn’t truly need that, at least not yet, because the core trio really makes the show as great as it is.
Garo: The Animation is a show that similar to Rage of Bahamut delivers something that I’ve craved from anime for years and years but haven’t really gotten – great fantasy material. A lot of what we’ve had has been the whole stuck in a video game thing and that’s vastly different in so many ways. This set goes big with what it has to offer and really is fantastic with its design, setting material, characters, and the wonderfully fun dialogue – notably for German. The show has a familiar story to be sure but the execution is so top notch and it avoids a lot of “anime-isms” that you just have to adore it all the more. Especially as there’s no cute child girl that tags along to provide the moe and awkward fanservice. This is a show that focuses on adult or mostly adult characters in a difficult situation working to achieve some big goals with deep and personal meanings. The opening half of the series is damn strong and has me eager for more to see if the payoff is well and truly there. But the journey is worth it alone.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentaries, Special Episode: -DAYBREAK-, Special Episode: -DAYBREAK- Preview, Textless Opening Song ”-DIVINE FLAME-”, Textless Closing Song ”CHIASTOLITE’
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: April 26th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.