What They Say:
After Mendoza’s apparent defeat at the hands of Prince Alfonso, Leon is left humiliated and confused. Abandoned by both his golden armor and his womanizing father, Leon wanders alone looking for purpose and a reason to keep fighting. Meanwhile, Prince Alfonoso struggles to keep up with the daunting dual responsibilities of running a kingdom and keeping Horrors at bay as the chosen Knight of Light. When the two boys finally meet again, will they be able to see the other’s struggles and set aside the past in order to work together? A new evil is rising and it’s going to take the combined force of the strongest Makai Knights and Alchemists to bring peace back to Valiante.
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 a similar kind of murky feeling that the first one did, though not quite as much. The focus is on German this time around while showing off his Makai Knight side behind him, but with the black flames in the foreground it ends up obscuring him a lot. 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 German’s silver 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 that features the four primary characters along with some good location background material to give it a near-fantasy feeling.
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 but less than the first set since there isn’t another recap/bonus episode. We get a couple of English language episode commentaries from the production team talking about the show and their experiences with it and we also get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
The opening half of the Garo series in this first season was something that I love to experience. It was a show that I knew very little and had seen precious little of so that when I began watching it – almost two years after the original broadcast – it was fresh and new and exciting. That moment of discovery is always a big plus and this series delivered some great designs that stepped to the side of standard a bit and then worked a very fun range of stories across four primary characters. With it being a two-cour show, the second half has now arrived some four months after the original and that can be hard to piece back together if you watch a lot of shows. Since I tend to watch a cour a day, that’s a lot of anime alone between then and now. But within the first few minutes of Garo the whole thing comes racing back, reminding me exactly why it’s such a fun show.
Unfortunately, the second half doesn’t hold up quite as well because it does what so many shows do in this stage. We end up with a very good chunk of this season where our main characters are spread far and apart from each other and the magic of them being together is lost. Each of them has their own journey to go on that will help them prepare for the final fight that’s coming, but the arcs themselves are all standard boilerplate predictable, which is really unfortunate. That isn’t to say there’s no fun to be had here and no excitement. Garo continues to deliver solid animation and a good sense of aesthetic and style as it plays out even amid the murkier colors of the palette. A good part of the appeal was just in seeing German and Leon together as they go through their adventures and some of the flashback training, which we only get a little bit of here. With the two separated as part of a growing up phase for Leon, it serves its purpose well but there are other ways to engage it without spending most of the season with them apart.
Leon’s arc isn’t a bad one as he ends up by himself and is taken care of by a family that lost their father some time ago. He ends up spending something like ten days without saying anything, reminding us of how he can be childish in his own ways, before he begins to invest in the area and get closer to the young woman named Lara that’s overseeing her father’s homestead. The episodes dig into some of the problems in the area, a Horror visit, and Leon simply becoming involved in the more mundane aspects of life after spending almost all of his traveling and training with German. It’s a good growth piece for him but it also goes so predictably with what happens to Lara and how he ends up being motivated to protect people because of her loss. The idea of having something to protect and fight for is nothing new as German talked about it often enough in the first half, but you knew as soon as you saw Lara that her only purpose here was to give him purpose in the world.
Alfonso’s story frustrates me even more to a degree because it looked like there was a lot of fun and potential with him back in the castle and learning what it takes to become a ruler someday. Though he’ll ease into it to be sure at some point, right now he’s just worn down by it all and wants to experience life. So he ends up ducking out and sneaking into the countryside on a journey that eventually connects him with German before he later moves on to meet up with Leon. Alfonso, sadly, spends most of his time journeying here and it never feels like he really has a story. The general premise is that he’ll be a better ruler if he knows how the common people live, and it’s a decent enough concept, but he’s in the background so often and doesn’t seem to really engage with people anywhere enough for it to make a difference.
The only area that really worked for me was watching German as he’s spending his time with Jemima in the city and getting closer to her in his own slow but steady way. He has a few little adventures along the way and he serves as a connecting point for the others, but it’s just the relationship aspect that I like since it’s a rare show that follows through and shows that they spend the night together. What he ends up doing is bringing us back to the main story with Mendoza and his plans to gain power and immortality as German is assigned to him through the Makai Knights organization to protect him since he’s a member. It puts him in a bit of an odd position, which the others call him out on, but you know it’s either a ruse or something else. Using that as a method to get closer to disrupt is no surprise and while it’s well executed and German makes it fun, the sad part is that it’s very, very, predictable.
Mendoza’s plan was certainly in the background in the first cour, though we had plenty of foundations brought out what with all the magic oriented folks being taken care of some time ago. Here, we see his plan for power and immortality coming to fruition in a surprisingly fun way as he’s going to work an ancient and massive Horror that’s available to him in its deceased form as a way to strip other Horrors. But to do so he needs a lot of power, hence what was collected previously from people. That it’s all presented as him playing a slow and monotonous version of Tetris along the way? That part made me laugh. And it’s the right kind of levity, even if it takes me out of the show a bit because they’re not trying to be subtle at all. The final act over a few episodes is about all you’d expect, beautifully animated, as the four members go at it and we get a little loss along the way, a little grow, and little in the way of surprises.
I really enjoyed Garo in the first half and I had a good bit of fun with it here in the second half. But it’s the kind of show where it’s probably ten episodes too long and should have been compressed to something better instead of working the standard two-cour layout. We’re seeing a lot of different show lengths out of Hollywood these days, mirroring what the UK has done for quite some time, but the anime realm is still really cagey about it since there’s a very different kind of work level involved and most broadcasters are looking for certain things. Garo’s the kind of show that just has too much time on its hands and doesn’t engage us well enough during the down time. When it’s one, the show is strong, especially with the action and choreography as the fights move throughout it. The quieter time is a bit more problematic since these episodes in particular lack any serious progress in terms of character or growth that you couldn’t get at the very first minute of each episode. Definitely a show I recommend though and one that may play better when watched as one full series.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentaries, Textless Opening Song ”-DIVINE FLAME-”, Textless Closing Song ”CHIASTOLITE’
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: August 9th, 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.