Garo: Makai no Hana – State Your Name and Business

Author’s note: for newcomers to this franchise, and for a general overview to the structure of this article series, check out my introductory post over here first!

The first seven episodes of Makai no Hana are a mixed bag of odd episodic plots and genuinely interesting character establishment, but they don’t do a whole lot to advance the main overarching plot of the series. That’s fine, as shorter seasons, Garo shows typically don’t have an immensely complex plot. Usually those plots fall along the lines of “There’s an ancient evil that has awakened! Go kick it’s rear end until it goes back to sleep!”, and Makai no Hana is no different in its initial setup. That being said, I find the character development very interesting on its own merits and it lays down some apparent themes that I’m looking forward to seeing develop later in the series.

These themes mainly deal with determining the worth of human lives (a common thread in Garo series), and how individuals both externally represent, and internally attempt to live up to responsibilities and duties put on them. In these first episodes, we’ll see both illustrated through different encounters and scenarios.

Episode 1

Not really feeling the OP theme here, but then again, nothing will ever, EVER recreate the maximum hype I experienced when I saw the original Garo OP for the first time, back when I first discovered the franchise.

After the opening credits roll, we start with a brief narration describing the backstory – ancient destructive Horror, Makai Priests use their power to seal it away, accidentally rediscovered without knowing its true danger, yadda yadda yadda, you know the deal. Almost every Garo season deals with someone who either intentionally, or accidentally unseals an awful, primordial evil.

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Side note, nice foreshadowing work with the security guard being framed within the jaws of a T. rex skeleton.

Right on cue, a mysterious figure shrouded in black appears, sticks a spell card to the ancient fossilized Horror, and disappears. The stone tablet breaks apart, releasing the nine smaller Horrors used to seal the great one, and one possesses the security guard. At the same time, we are also introduced to what I presume is our leading female character for this season (she’s in the OP roll, she MUST be important) awakening from a dream to find herself in a coffin. Enigmatic.

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Then we are introduced to our protagonist for the series, Raiga. My first note is that he appears to take more after his mother – Kouga almost NEVER smiled. Another thing Kouga didn’t do was showboat, he was a very deliberate, efficient fighter. Raiga here isn’t exactly flashy, but comes across as very confident in his abilities as he trains in his family’s home.

Receiving new orders, he takes off alone to slay a Horror that has appeared. However he goes from joking and smiling to serious when reminded of the reality of the victims he fights to protect – a broken lens from the glasses of the man killed the night before.

I take back my initial comment, Raiga takes after Rei more than anyone. (Aka. the Knight of the Silver Fang, Zero. One time antagonist of Kouga in the original series, but grew to become his best friend and steadfast partner.)

Nice example he’s set for the kid. (I say sarcastically)

Raiga is an extremely talented fighter, as we saw demonstrated in the first part of the episode. He fights the Horror in its human form barehanded, completely trashing it without any perceived effort. The Horror dropping its human disguise cues Raiga to oblige it as well, summoning the armor that marks his office as the Golden Knight. Raiga’s fight now-armored goes similarly to before – he effortlessly blocks, punches, and punishes the Horror, until swiftly finishing it with the sword.

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This episode does a good job of showing consistently stellar quality of the suits and monster design in the franchise. A great example of how to use practical suits and effects well.

After the fight, Raiga receives a a messenger from the Tribune, the organization that leads the Makai Knights and Priests against evil forces. This message lets him – and us – into the plot, they need to reunite the power from the unsealed Horrors to put away the ancient evil before it awakens fully. Again, standard stuff. What’s NOT standard, is the fact that Mayuri, the girl who delivers the message, our mystery coffin girl from the start of the episode, is the “tool” that will be used to seal away this power.

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________________________________

Overall notes: This is a pretty standard Garo episode set-up. Horror is created, knight gets called in to defeat it, have a cool looking fight at the end, move on to the next assignment. But through this episode we also have our main characters defined. Mayuri is – as I said – enigmatic, and will be the crux of the plot, probably. Raiga carries the symbols of his office effectively, but at the same time is definitely NOT his father. His cheerful demeanor, even a slightly different coat, and blue eyes in his armored form, rather than green, all are minor, understated details that help to differentiate him as his own character, rather than just mini-Kouga.

Interestingly, the blue of the Garo armor’s eyes also reflects the unnaturally bright blue of Mayuri’s. Is that significant? I don’t know at this point.

Episode 2

Here we are introduced to a new Makai Knight who is investigating the release of the ancient Horror from the first episode, Crow. He seems young – younger than Raiga even, and treats the title Raiga carries with utmost concern and respect, even if Raiga is really casual about the encounter.


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Mayuri reveals the main driving plot for this season. In order to re-seal Eiris, the unleashed evil from the first episode, they need to track down and destroy the nine Horrors that once sealed it away. As an added wrinkle, one of them is harboring Eiris’s essence itself, and will lead to its resurrection if not disposed of.

Eiris here is described as “The Tears of Messiah”. “Messiah” in this case refers to the ultimate mother of all Horrors that was the final boss fight in the first Garo season. Kouga also fought another super-powerful legendary Horror in the season following that one, Makai Senki, that bore the title “Fang of Messiah”. They don’t explain this for new viewers in this episode, but let me assure you, something else with this title is BAD NEWS.

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Just your average female armor set for an RPG

Raiga objects to Mayuri joining him on this hunt, but this objection seems kind of silly in light of just how many accomplished, competent female priests there are in this franchise that fight evil alongside the knights. Although women can’t become knights (with one exception that uses seriously painful magic to cheat, and even then can’t summon armor) there’s no shortage of well-developed female characters that contribute in meaningful ways to the plot.

I just want to note again that I love how flashy Raiga is with his fights. I commented that he takes after Rei a surprising amount, and between the smiles and wisecracks while fighting, it’s on display again here in this episode. He doesn’t HAVE to fight the Horrors bare-handed, but he can, so he does. He only takes his sword out for decisive strikes to end an encounter.

We also learn from Crow in this episode that “Mayuri” is a pseudonym, that describes her purpose as a magical utility. Mayuri even describes herself as a “tool”, saying that it doesn’t matter as long as she can protect people. But Makai knights themselves are not just their swords – as vital as such a weapon may be. There is honor and passion directing where that sword goes and how it is used.

Wonder how long it’s going to take for them to learn that lesson.

Episode 3

Going directly from that note to this episode which deals with an obsessive artist that uses – surprise, surprise – a flower motif in her art.

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This episode also embodies a theme that runs through several strong Garo plots, some human beings become monstrous even before getting possessed by Horrors.

Some victims who get possessed are simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, or tragically fall into despair and become victims of their own weakness. Not this time though, this lady is just a straight-up crazy psychopath. She flies into a rage when a fan of hers tries to describe her art as celebrating life, using imagery of death.

She’s not trying to celebrate life at all, but simply to make death look as beautiful to others as it does to her already. The flowers she uses in her pieces are beautiful, but what everyone else misses is the fact that when we cut and arrange flowers, we kill them. In the same way, she kills her admirer and uses his corpse in a new arrangement, along with the corpses of the flowers from her greenhouse.

Mind you, this is even before she gets possessed by a soul-eating demon.

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Why does Mayuri follow after it when she encounters the Horror later on? Maybe a bit of arrogance, assuming she can handle it until Raiga arrives. Maybe curiosity, seeking to know more after such a pointed insight of her own self.

Either way, between the Watchdog (Raiga’s supervisor) telling him not to prioritize her safety during this operation, and the Horror specifically putting her in danger as a hostage-slash-art project, Raiga is so angry that he actually goes for the sword FIRST in this fight rather than casually fighting her bare-handed.

Ultimately this exchange illustrates why Raiga wants to protect Mayuri so strongly. He doesn’t care what her origins are, the fact that she is alive is enough reason to see her value. This is a really strong episode, as it clarifies Raiga’s personality and why he feels protective of not just Mayuri, but all the people he fights for.

Episode 4

And here we’ve got a full-blown homage to classic horror movies, most notably at the start Night of the Living Dead.

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We also see that Raiga has picked up his mom’s skill for art! … Kind of! He tries at least.

Anyways this episode isn’t really for developing characters or major themes, it’s just goofing around with horror movie tropes, going from Romero-style zombies, to 28 Days Later rage-zombies, to slasher horror movies and finally Silence of the Lambs. It’s immensely entertaining though.

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Right you are, Mr. Horror Monster

Episode 5

Looks like we’re getting another “person is so monstrously evil that they attract a Horror to themselves” case here. What’s notable is the actor playing the character in this case – say hello to toku’s favorite gaijin, Thane Camus!

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Seriously this dude shows up EVERYWHERE, he even played the main villain of another Garo miniseries, Black Blood. He also was a major recurring character in last year’s Kamen Rider series, Ghost. Helps that he can speak perfect English AND Japanese.

In this episode, Crow officially gets drafted as Raiga’s help in hunting down Horrors. Interestingly though, he doesn’t give his “real” name, Crow is his title as a knight (the same way “Garo” is Raiga’s title). This reflects back on Mayuri’s situation, in that her name actually is a title designating her utility. In the same way, Crow sees himself as simply representing his duty as a knight, with no personal attachments.

Raiga on the other hand has TONS of personal attachments, the weight of his family legacy, as well as the lessons, attributes and talents he’s been blessed with by his parents and others. Who Raiga is as a person is just as important to his function as a knight, as the trappings of knighthood itself (which represent his office as Garo). As I said before, Knights are more than just their blades.

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Crow is eager to prove his worth to Raiga now that he has official orders, tracking down the Horror on his own to be first to the party, and asking to fight it single-handedly.

Crow’s armored form is… odd. All the other Garo suits have an obvious wolf theme to them, but Crow’s head-piece is weirdly streamlined and rounded. Almost alien-looking. In part, that’s because Crow – just like the namesake – takes a few avian nods as opposed to the lupine design of the other Makai Knight armors.

That’s when it’s flying though, it also has a ground form where the bird-mask opens up to form the “ears” of the wolf design. It’s a cool suit overall, and the wings really make it work where the crow headpiece would look weird otherwise.

Other than that, this is just a so-so episode. Weird Horror, CGI-heavy battle, but as a positive, it has a few good character moments and Thane Camus just absolutely masticating the set.

Episode 6

Up to this point, we’ve been kind of thrown into the story and characters without real exposition on them, or for newcomers to the series. We’re left to assume that it’s just Raiga and Gonza – his butler – around in the family mansion, and we have no idea what happened to his parents. Left unstated for now.

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But what we do see are the items they have left behind. Gonza pulls out a particular picture book that Kaoru – Raiga’s mother – completed after the events of Makai Senki, the second live-action series. Cute detail.

In this episode we get a flashback about an encounter Raiga had at a young age, with a glassblower who makes wind chimes, and they have a nice conversation. After the audience watches him helping Raiga to make his own windchime (a little lop-sidedly, but with a clear, pretty sound),  we find out that later on, the same glassblower lost his son in a car crash.

The best Horror stories in the franchise deal with Horrors that are made when people hit their absolute lowest points -in grief, anger or other negative extremes. The most cutting, emotional moments occur when you realize that these evil spirits prey on ordinary people, and that anyone on their worst day could accidentally give rise to a horrific monster. In this way, in his grief, the glassblower provides a host for one to take root.

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When the Horrors hit too close to home again, Raiga instantly switches from smiling and happy to TIME TO KILL MONSTERS mode.

An interesting thing to note, Raiga describes his trip through the city while wandering as a kid earlier in this episode. He and Mayuri repeat the same path here while tracking the Horror – formerly the glassblower master – to the shop. As a child (Raiga specifically says “before I had decided to become a Makai Knight”) he could wander freely and innocently. Now he walks with a specific duty, and a purpose in where he goes.


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Did you know that “inspiration” literally means “to breathe into”? The concept of life, or spirit, being connected to air or breath is an old one. If you read the creation story of Genesis, it even describes God giving life to Adam by breathing into the clay out of which he was fashioned. The wind chimes have a voice that is given to them by the inspiration of the craftsman who made them. Hence, Raiga’s chime sounds different from the ones crafted by the master who helped him.

When someone is possessed by a Horror, they are gone. For good. Their soul completely consumed and destroyed, and replaced with malevolence and evil, despite wearing the same face and mannerisms as before. And as a Horror, the chimes that the glassblower now makes bring death, not life, because there is no longer a soul in the one who crafts it to draw inspiration from.


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And so Raiga goes straight for the sword again this time.

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This fight is shot in a really interesting way. After first it’s just the two suits – the Garo armor and the full monster design – going at it, but then we see the armor stripped away, the Garo sword colliding against the wooden staff the Horror uses, and the wind chimes in the background.

Just as the wind chimes have a voice that speaks of their creator, the weapons that the two combatants wield here produce a voice that speaks for their bearer.

After the Horror is slain, we get a nice ending scene with Mayuri. Remember, she hasn’t had a normal human life at ALL, despite Raiga’s insistence on her being human. But here we see her beginning to explore that connection to humanity, wandering through the city.

Raiga took a similar journey before he decided what to do with his life. Mayuri never was able to make that decision to choose her life for herself, but now she’s walking as a civilian, in traditional clothes, rather than as a weapon against evil wearing protective magical armor.

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Who knows what she’ll decide for herself?

Episode 7

“Those who fight monsters must be careful lest they become monsters themselves” is a Nietzsche  quote, but one of the few bits of his philosophy I find useful. Taken a bit literally here, where we find out that after nearly a hundred Horror kills, Raiga’s picked up a bit too much dark “malevolence” or evil energy from these encounters and must make the trip to be purified. If you’re familiar with the franchise, we’ve also seen the same happen with Kouga, and this episode follows in the same path as Raiga’s father.


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The number 99 also is a significant detail to fans who are paying attention.

To Raiga, this is just a brief errand, almost no different than stepping out to run to the grocery store. His casual, easy-going nature really shines through here with the casual attitude he takes towards his journey.

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Does this statue look familiar? It should if you’re familiar with previous seasons of Garo.

Here we find out more about Raiga’s backstory. Kouga and Kaoru both disappeared when he was just a little kid, and had trained his life after that point to take up the title of Garo in his father’s place.

But when he travels to the Tower of Heroes to receive that title, he finds out that Kouga isn’t dead after all. There, the spirit of his father – trapped somewhere in a battle in another world – passes on the title and the armor to him in his place.


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By the way, receiving “hope” from this event is also literal. According to the show’s lore, that’s literally what the title of “Garo” translates to – hope.

Credit to Raiga’s actor, he really does a great job selling the emotion of this scene, along with the swelling piano arrangement of the main Garo theme.

After the purification ritual, Raiga and Mayuri run into a random Horror in the forest, and Raiga quickly dispatches it. Although it seems like an inconsequential encounter, the fight awakens a more dangerous evil. When Raiga gets back to his home, before he can start training again, time appears to freeze, and his sword is knocked from his hands by an adversary that this episode has been hinting at pretty strongly.

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Yeah, purifying the evil he’s dispatched doesn’t just come from a few words and pretty golden lights. Just like his father before him (as we saw in an episode of Makai Senki), Raiga now has to face off against Zaji, an embodiment of all the darkness from the Horrors he’s fought to this point – now an even 100.

Oh also now with the added wrinkle that he has to fight him without his sword.

Previous barehanded fights from Raiga were deliberately flashy with large movements. This fight is different, more defensive, more brutally efficient as Raiga breaks the monster’s arm and then impales his head on the newly-replaced training blade.

The ordeal’s not over though. Running back upstairs, Raiga finds time once again has stopped, signalling that round two is about to start. Now with both of them wielding swords.

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Good thing Raiga also got training from Rei, I assume because the sword + sheath fighting style is near exactly like Rei’s two-bladed style. This fight in general is stylish and acrobatic, featuring some incredible wire-work, slow-motion shots and is just generally incredibly tightly-choreographed. After stabbing through the monster’s eye with a tree branch, then finishing it with a wide slash, the second fight finishes.

And the third one picks up in Final Destination, I guess. Is this a stock match?

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The fights have been getting increasingly flashier and higher-powered, now in this realm Zaji upgrades into a truly monstrous form, and Raiga takes on his armor. It’s not enough to stop him though, but just when it seems that Raiga is about to take a lethal hit, he’s saved by an ancestral spirit of a previous Garo knight.

Through this message from the past, he gains the ability to summon a new power, Gouten. Not out of pity or a poorly-explained Deus Ex Machina though, his father went through the same test, where he had to endure a trial to be able to claim that power after killing 100 Horrors. Fighting Zaji here is Raiga’s trial to prove himself worthy of Gouten.

What’s Gouten? You might ask.

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That’s Gouten.

Couldn’t be a proper Knight in Shining Armor without a horse, now could we?

The fight goes one-sided at that point, but the victory is not just in the fact that he gets a giant golden horse to kick Zaji’s ass with, but that he’s proven himself worthy to follow behind his father’s legacy, and the legacy of every Garo before him. The episode ends with Raiga vowing to become even stronger, to continue to do justice to that legacy.


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This is a great episode to leave off on because it encapsulates what I like so much about Raiga’s character in the first third of this series. He’s definitely not his father. He’s cheerful, optimistic, and open, much more than the reserved dignity that Kouga represented in his own stories. But despite those differences, he still more than lives up to his father’s example as Garo and bears the same title and symbols of his office with the same strength.

Raiga is an immensely likeable character, and in addition to the strong episodic plots and stylish fights so far, I want to keep watching just to see how he develops over the course of this story.

 

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