Garo: Makai no Hana – Where the Heart Is

Previously on Garo: Makai no Hana –

Garo: An Introduction

Garo: Makai no Hana – State Your Name and Business

The first stretch of Makai no Hana didn’t do much to advance an overarching plot outside of exposition and introduction in the first couple episodes, but it did quite a bit to establish Raiga’s character within this universe, and center the narrative on his own journey. This next stretch of episodes features quite a few strong episodic plots, but is, again, light on overarching plot. What we DO get is not just character exhibition for Raiga, but also a chance to see Crow and Mayuri develop as characters along with him. In part due to their own actions and interactions, and also due to his influence and example.

So without further ado, let’s get back into it.

 

Episode 8

And we’re wasting no time getting to the darker material this time around with our initial victim about ready to hang himself in the opening shot of this episode. Remember, a Horror finds its host at their lowest point, whether it’s the fact that they are already a monster because of their awful actions, or they’re just at the depths of their grief or anger or other negative emotions. The brink of suicide is about as deep as you get into negative emotions and mindsets.

We also see a use of light and warmth as a motif. The figure of Garo is associated strongly with light, as it represents hope in mankind’s darkest hours, against the darkness that threatens to overwhelm it. This light invokes a curiosity enough to draw the man out of his suicide attempt, and he finds a house, a seemingly normal, idyllic scene.

During this episode though, we find that it’s a deliberate illusion, just meant to sweeten the meal for Horrors who prey on victims like himself

A parallel to this theme, having Mayuri around the big, empty Saejima mansion helps bring -warmth- to an otherwise colder environment. Gonza wishes to prepare, not just a pretty-looking house, but a home that can hold more people, including Mayuri. He cares for the outward appearance of the building and its physical belongings, but also cultivates the light within it so that outward appearance is not an illusion, but a real reflection of the happiness of the people who live within it.

In this episode, the loneliness of being on the outside looking into someone else’s happy life is what ties all these victims together. One man who was suicidal, a man frustrated with his marriage, and a single girl whose best friend is now newlywed and unable to socialize with her any longer. To further emphasize this, Mayuri and Raiga come across another scene, of a woman storming out of her home after an argument with her husband, leaving behind a small child crying after her, as they travel out to track the Horror. The victims in this episode look in on a seemingly perfect home life that lures them to their deaths, but the main characters also can see the ugly side of a family and a home through other people’s windows as well.

One thing I’ve heard noted about social media is that it only presents the best sides of people’s lives, and omits the hardships, struggles, doubts, and pain that people normally go through in their lives. We see achievements and happy moments preserved, looking into the little windows that our screens represent, but the darker sides are too often kept private. This illusion can be harmful sometimes in that we compare the personal pain we are familiar with to the happiness we see in others, and think our struggles are uniquely hopeless as a result.

The Horror’s monologue ties into that as well. People aren’t happy and smiling all the time, but the ups and downs experienced from living with one’s family represents an authentic life, and the idyllic illusion the Horror present is just that – an illusion.

As per usual, when Raiga is angry enough, he goes for the sword FIRST.

The closed door on this fight seems like a dumb joke to deliberately obscure the melee that results, but it represents that again, the fights, the uglier side of family life is often hidden away from others and endured privately.

And of course the true form of the Horror is the house itself. That’s actually pretty cool.

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After the Horror-House is summarily dispatched, Mayuri and Raiga come across the unhappy couple they passed earlier, now reunited and smiling again. Even though people may go through these struggles and periods of unhappiness, their continued life means a possibility of reconciliation and healing, and eventual happiness. As Raiga says, both good and bad experiences are parts of life, and everyone deserves a chance to experience both.

This is a really strong episodic story that does a good job of presenting an important theme without being preachy, and has some interestingly-choreographed fights along with it. A great stand-alone episode.

Episode 9

This episode is a really creepy mystery plot that in many ways parallels an important episode from the first Garo season. In that season, an unwitting man finds a Horror that takes the form of a beautiful mermaid and becomes obsessed with protecting it. We see a similar set-up here, but with an interesting twist.

Turns out the man who we thought was an entranced victim was the Horror all along, and the beautiful but bizarrely cold and unresponsive woman he treats as a specimen represents his victims.

It’s tough for me to talk about this episode because most of its impact relies on the visual presentation and tension built from the cinematography. There’s so much that’s just surreal and dream-like (or nightmarish, if you will) about the characters involved and the setting in which this mystery is built, that even if you’re expecting another Mermaid episode (I certainly was), it deliberately obfuscates who’s the victim and who’s the predator in this case.

It also provides another example in this series of someone who gives rise to a Horror from completely inhuman depravity, even when they still nominally are human and have a human soul themselves.

It also has one of the coolest action pose shots in this entire series so far.

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Pose as a team because THIS JUST GOT REAL

Episode 10

 

This is an episode that focuses on Gonza, on his day off and on a date with a particular lady friend. It’s surprising that we haven’t gotten an episode focusing on his perspective before this point, actually. Gonza has been a steadfast ally and likeable side character ever since the first series, and has gotten his share of unexpectedly courageous moments in which he helps contribute to the fight against evil. He’s no grizzled veteran Nolan-Batman Alfred though, he has no skills in fighting or magic himself. He’s just someone who cares deeply for his charges and is willing to sacrifice a lot to help them out.

Here in this episode though his worry isn’t for Raiga (although I’m sure he worries about him quite a bit), it’s for Mayuri. As we saw in Episode 8, he’s taken quite a liking to her and wants to help her break out of her shell to live her life as a normal human. Here, that involves helping her to appreciate the simple act of sharing a meal with others.

Some of the best Garo episodes are ones that just focus on smaller aspects of the setting rather than big climactic fights or plot reveals. Makai Senki did one that was just two characters wandering around a fairyland version of the city and it was FANTASTIC.

In this episode, we see that despite the importance of the work Raiga and the other official Knights and Priests do to protect humanity, the reason why they fight in the first place is to allow space for smaller pleasures and comforts like this. Gonza’s own romantic interest is a retired Priest-turned-chef. Even without fighting along the front lines in her age, she still sees importance in what she does to help others through these small ways. Similarly, Gonza finds a small way to help Mayuri, even though he can’t fight in the same way the others can.

 

 

Episode 11

Manga. Like the Horror movie episode, this is another incredibly stylish episode, that while not really advancing any character development, was really fun to watch. I could screen-cap like half of this episode but it’s really something you should see for yourself as it gets astonishingly inventive with the theme and art direction. If you only watch one episode from this season up to this point, check this one out yourself.

 

Episode 12

Well huh. I already mentioned the episode of Makai Senki where Kaoru and Leo (another Makai Priest) go on a scavenger hunt to find a Spirit Beast within the city. Their journey takes place within the confines of the city, but through the paths they follow, they’re able to see the hidden side of the world. The surreal fairy-tale surroundings reflect the aspects of the Makai that they deal with that, normally, regular civilians have no encounter with.

This episode is actually a direct retread of that one from Makai Senki, where Raiga takes along a civilian who befriended a young Spirit Beast to reunite the creature with its parent. It’s sweet, simple, and very light on dialogue, but that’s why I like it. An ordinary woman accidentally stumbles into a larger world, but instead of falling prey to some awful primal evil (like how these encounters normally go), she finds something beautiful instead.

It conveys a lot of emotion with very little ostentation, which – ironically, given Amemiya’s intricately ostentatious style when it comes to visual designs -is really where the Garo franchise uniquely shines through.

It’s nice to get a reminder every so often in this franchise that not everything in the setting of Garo is horrifically murderous. In this case, the journey that Raiga and Karina take help them reconnect with loved ones. Raiga gains a reminder of his parents (since Kaoru also took this journey!), and Karina is able to understand her grandfather better, as they both saw a glimpse of another Spirit Beast when she was much younger. The journey in this case is just as important as the destination, and if anything, is what shapes the endpoint and gives it meaning in the first place. Which is why everyone’s journey to find the Beast is different, and why they see different things at the end of it.

Sometimes simpler things and small kindnesses can be just as important and have as much of an impact on a person as life-and-death struggles against bleak evil.

Episode 13

AND WE OPEN WITH A NEW JAM PROJECT OP ABOUT HOW AWESOME RAIGA IS.

HAVE TO AGREE THERE, GUYS.

This is also an important episode in marking some significant development for both Crow and Mayuri, both of whom have been relegated mostly to the background for the past few episodes. Crow opens up slightly to Raiga and Mayuri, by inviting them to participate in a traditional ceremony and learn more about the particular organization within the order of Knights that he belongs to. We also see a little instance of genuine personality behind his colder deference to decorum that he displays most of the time.

Unfortunately, things go south before they arrive for the ceremony, as a captive beast the knights were using to purify their blades and tools has escaped, albeit with grave wounds, and now threatens anyone in its path. There’s a clash between Crow’s comrades, and Raiga, about how to best handle the beast.

I’ve commented before, but Raiga is genuinely cheerful and happy most of the time, enjoying his life as it comes. But his openness means that it’s obvious when he’s angry or upset in the course of his work. Unlike Kouga and Rei who both hide their emotions in their office as Knights, Raiga expresses them openly and clearly. He means what he says and acts on how he feels. We see this in how he goes from genuinely smiling and laughing in one moment, to deathly serious the next.

This openness defines his unique bearing as the representative Golden Knight during this point in the setting. While the symbols of his appointment as Garo carry a lot of weight to them, Raiga himself fills the white coat out very nicely as well. He’s dealt a lot of deference by others partly out of respect for the legacy he represents, but he adds to that legacy through his own actions and maintains it. Crow has a huge amount of respect for the symbols of his office at first, but opens up to him in this episode. The other knights they encounter here initially distrust him, but then give his counsel sincere weight, not just because he’s simply the Golden Knight, but also because he shows himself repeatedly to be skilled and courageous in his duties.

We don’t get a full, clear shot of Barg, the escaped beast, as they hunt it, just impressions first, of a back filled with swords and weapons sticking out haphazardly from his hide. Of predatory, yellow eyes, and tusk-like teeth.  But when we see him fully through Mayuri’s perspective, we also see Barg for what it really is, a hurt, scared animal that responds to simple kindness shown him by her curiosity.

Mayuri sees a kindred spirit in Barg, something inhuman that is used to help the Knights perform their duties, and doesn’t understand why it needs to be put down. But Raiga is correct in assessing the risk, it’s attacking others indiscriminately and needs to be killed quickly, rather than allowing it die naturally from its mortal wounds When they corner it, Mayuri tries to protect it at risk of her own life, but Crow is the one to jump into danger to try and rescue her, which was a surprise.

Not that I’m complaining because this aerial fight is sick.

After they trap and then euthanize Barg, this naturally raises a question for Mayuri. If they can kill Barg when it runs wild, what’s to stop the Knights or others from doing the same to her when she is judged to be a threat? However, this is where we see Crow’s response that marks his growth since his first appearance.

The fact that it’s a dilemma at all over whether to save or end Barg’s life, as well as the pain that they feel over its own pain, mean that they’re human enough for that empathy. That Mayuri can feel it too means that’s she’s human as well and not just an animal or a tool, as Crow says. Hell, it makes her more human than some of the other human civilians we’ve seen give rise to Horrors through their own evil depravity.

______________________

Just like with the Greenhouse episode, it’s demonstrated through his words and actions that Raiga places value on all life that he sees under his protection. But now Crow has started to see the value in Mayuri’s life as well, putting himself on the line to try and protect her when she was put into danger this episode. Now that Raiga’s character has been established by the first run of episodes, and capped by his trial to defeat Zaji and receive Gouten, we see his effect of example on others.

These episodes are relatively simple in many ways, but as I said, simpler episodes and themes are what let this franchise shine, because it provides interesting ways to highlight the characters within them.

Going forward from here, not only do the characters still have to worry about Eiris’ revival yet, but Mayuri’s own abilities appear to have a negative impact on her health. Given that everyone has grown to appreciate her as an individual person, rather than just a utility, the fight becomes not just to re-seal Eiris, but also how to protect Mayuri’s life in the process. Others may wish to protect her life as something valuable, but she has yet to understand her own value personally.

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