Garo: Makai no Hana – Aegis

Author’s note: This is part three of a four-part series I’m doing, describing my reactions and comments on the Garo series, Makai no Hana, as I watch it for the first time. If you haven’t already, catch up with my previous two articles, as well as the introduction post here:

Introduction

Part 1 – State Your Name and Business

Part 2 – Where the Heart Is

Sorry this article took such a long time to be completed! Unexpected casualties of accidentally stumbling headfirst into a new toku obsession with Ultraman. Even with the new fixation, I think Garo is still awesome and I want to be able to finish showing you fine folks why it IS so awesome before I move on to posting about the next Ultra series I have lined up.

This article was a little more difficult to write than just gushing about Ultraman, mostly because this section of the series sticks heavily to self-contained, episodic plots, that don’t advance the main story. I know I say that with the opening to all my Makai no Hana articles it seems, but now that we’re into the second half of the series, it’s slightly disappointing that they aren’t doing anything more complicated than just “find all the Horrors that Eiris has been using and destroy them before it awakens”. Because that’s still our constant endpoint, they need to stretch out the rest of the series with other tangential plots, rather than developing the events of the main A-plot.

However, in lesser shows, where that might signal a mess of filler and inconsistent character development, here we see the characters themselves still developing continuously, and important aspects of their backgrounds being filled in as we go. A lot of these episodes are still very interesting, and I want to touch on them all before we move into the finale.

So without more delay, here we go!

Episode 14

We left off with a nice mile marker in the character development for both Mayuri and Crow in the last episode of my previous article. Mayuri learns that there are people who care for her as a person, beyond her utility, even though she still harbors doubts about her connection to humanity at large. Similarly, this care is shown by Crow, who up to this point had treated her only as a tool, and was similarly pragmatic and utilitarian in relation to his duty as a Knight. This following episode similarly deals with Mayuri’s backstory, how she gained the powers she did, and what led her to be used by the Tribune.

It’s… well of course it isn’t pretty, this is Garo. Dead parents are rampant in backstories for all the characters in this franchise. But what is especially cutting isn’t what happens to Mayuri before she’s even born, it’s what happens afterwards.

It makes me legitimately angry to see how the Tribune knows she is human – fully – not an artificial creation, and still treat her as a tool to be used. She sleeps in a cold coffin, and is looked after and cared for by a Priest here who is more mechanic than father-figure. The higher-ups may do it simply out of detachment from her situation, but Shido, the Makai Priest should know better. He claims that her isolation from any sort of normal life experience is for her own good. He says that getting too attached to her would just be a hindrance, or cause more pain, but that’s blatantly not true at all.

The ultimate end, the ultimate good that any one individual can work for is not simply to alleviate suffering. It is not to create pleasure, or, at the very least, to remove pain. The primary reason why they slay Horrors is to save people’s lives. In neglecting Mayuri’s own life in pursuit of that, they have betrayed their mission as far as I’m concerned. Bunch of jerks.

In addition, they have also made it harder for Mayuri to defend herself against this inner darkness, because they have robbed her of any sense of identity, a concept of value that would motivate self-preservation. Her own powers also present the risk of eventually being overtaken by the dark karma she absorbs turn her into a Horror herself, but what stake does she have in protecting her own life when she has no emotional attachment to her own humanity?

This also brings to the surface the dual aspect of the Makai that brings forth Horrors. It is humanity’s own negative emotions and actions that fuels the Horrors, and obviously a full, authentic human life will include positive aspects as well as negative ones.

Shido fears that allowing her to awaken to more positive experiences will fuel the darker ones that might eventually weaken her resistance. In reality though, it is the positive experiences, and the connections she makes through them that allow her even greater strength to overcome that darkness.

This dilemma reminds me a bit of ToQger’s finale arc. Upon realizing how much they’ve been affected by the Shadows they fight,the main hero Red, Right, pushed the other members away and back to their normal lives, thinking that he was protecting them and could fight more effectively without worrying about them. In reality though, the characters were all stronger together, and he was weakened by losing sight of that fact, almost falling into darkness himself. It’s the same here, almost (No magical trains – yet. Would you believe that one totally exists in this setting though?).

In preventing Mayuri from experiencing a full human life, they were weakening her against the inevitable conflict against the darkness she was harboring, the malevolence absorbed from the Horrors she sealed away. Now that she has allies like Raiga and Crow – and even Gonza – at her side, she’ll be able to more effectively fight for her own life. She has a stake in her own survival, in other words.

Episode 15

Roughly halfway through the series, it’s expected that we would get a clip show. These aren’t too common in Kamen Rider series, but they happen pretty regularly in other toku shows, to catch viewers up to speed with important events and characters going into the midseason or finale.

The framing on this one is hilarious, at first being set up as an interview with Gonza. Which would be nice on its own, the camera footage providing a unique perspective in addition to hearing Gonza’s own thoughts on the highlights of the show and the characters involved. We get to see some fun sides of these characters in addition to revisiting footage from previous episodes.

They could’ve just left it there and it would’ve been a fun little diversion from the seriousness of the last episode, but it turns out the unseen cameraman is actually a Horror!

This is one clip show episode you don’t want to fast-forward through. In addition to being funny, it also has several touching moments where the characters are able to express privately just how much the others mean to them.

I was tempted to skip this one at first to move on to the next episode, but I didn’t, for you readers. We pride ourselves on thoroughness here at Capes and Cool Scarves Inc. You’re welcome.

Episode 16

A fairly simple Horror-of-the-Week plot, but one with a really cool climax. Also features one of the smarter Horrors we’ve seen, who takes advantage of humanity’s natural curiosity to operate almost completely in the open, and allow her victims to come to her.

Appropriate for an episode that’s all about thrills and playing with fear for fun, that it sets up one of the most thrilling final battles against a Horror in the franchise. The battle against this Horror sends Raiga to the edge of the Makai itself , the realm where Horrors are born. When he defeats the Horror, it sends him plummeting into it, and to his (almost) certain doom!

And yes that is Raiga surfing on top of Crow as they fly out of Hell, making everything explode around them in their wake.

I love this franchise so much.

Episode 17

Following those two self-contained, and more-or-less inconsequential episodes, we have one that’s more serious and integral to Raiga’s background.

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It’s 3 am. Do you know where your kid is?

This episode confirms what I had suspected based on Raiga’s fighting in previous episodes – Rei Suzumura, the Silver Knight, Zero – trained him after his father’s disappearance!

Rei wasn’t always such a friendly character. He also didn’t always have that gross goatee, he thankfully looks much better in the most recent miniseries that starred the character, Dragon Blood. But way back in his first appearance in the original series (filmed when Ray Fujita, his actor, was still a teenager!) he starts off trying to kill Kouga, mistakenly thinking that the Golden Knight was responsible for murdering his fiancée. In reality, it was the main villain of that series, Kiba, a fallen Makai Knight, who had done so. When he realizes his mistake, he puts aside his quarrel with Kouga to team up with him against the greater threat.

Notably, Rei didn’t earn his title through ancestry like Kouga. He started off as the son of a butler in the service of another prominent Knight who had the title “Knight of the Silver Fang”, but when that knight died without a successor, Rei took up the name himself. What makes his mentorship of Raiga important is this connection, being left bereft of an instructor to achieve their calling as a knight. Raiga lost his father, who is assumed to be dead at this point, but Rei cares enough for his friend Kouga, the title of Garo, and this directionless kid caught between all of it, to step in and take up that role of teacher himself.

Another important thing to note is that Rei’s job as Zero is markedly different from Kouga’s office as Garo. While the Golden Knight is pretty much the, well, golden boy of the order of Knights, Rei had to earn his title through merit alone, and gets just as many hard cases and incredibly powerful opponents because of his reputation now.

But the difference is that where Kouga had a family and a home to keep him grounded, Rei lives the life of a heroic hobo, sleeping on a couch in a tiny apartment when he can, and working out of a bar owned by a crusty retired Makai Priest. In addition to being essentially self-taught, he also knows the pain of loss, and the continued solitude and tragedy that being a Knight almost inevitably brings. That second part is what develops in this episode.

The main plot here relates to Raiga’s decision to become a Knight and, in the process, giving up the possibility of a “normal” life. Rei takes him on his first hunt against a real Horror, tracking it down, then confronting its ugly mug up close and personally, before being able to defeat it for good.

This turning point in his life connects back to his earlier childhood flashback episode with the wind-chime craftsman. That encounter happened before he had decided to become a Knight, and in the present he sees how a Horror affected a treasured memory, a remnant of what could’ve been an ordinary life if he left the title of Garo behind. This episode shows that, when confronted with the awful reality of the evil they face, instead of running away, young Raiga rises to meet the challenge.

This episode also sets up the dangerous consequences of being a knight though, not just constantly fighting against Horrors, but the possibility of dying to them – or worse. Both are fates which happen more often than not. Raiga’s grandfather, Taiga, was killed by the main villain of the first Garo season, and Kouga himself was left stranded in an unknown world after trying to rescue Kaoru.

Let’s just say that we don’t ever meet old, retired Knights in this franchise.

As another point to develop this idea, we see Rinna another Makai Priest that Raiga encounters. She greets him by reassuring him that she’s from “the same world” as he is, familiar with the existence of Horrors and the fight against them. But she is scared that this young boy will get himself killed, just as we see that she’s praying for the safe return of a Knight that she cares about, and fears for his safety as well.

We also see Rei later vow to risk his own self to go after Kouga and Kaoru when Raiga gets older, and has finished his training. Rei goes with at least the outward confidence that he will be successful in bringing them back, but we see no sign of him in the present day, meaning the journey for all of them continues.

As a small spot of hope though, we come back to the initial framing of the episode – Raiga’s birthday! Raiga asked earlier as a child what difference does getting a cake on his birthday make, if his mom’s not there to share the special occasion. We see the reminder of her influence though, with the painting that brought her together with Kouga still hanging in their home watching the event, both in the past and in the present.

Episode 18

Even though Makai Priests play a big role in the setting of Garo, they’ve been peripheral characters in this series so far. In this episode, Raiga and his crew are assigned to help a “Dark Hunter” named Biku, a powerful Makai Priest.

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Her specific order is a new addition to the setting. They function somewhat like the Internal Affairs overseeing the other orders, assigned with tracking down and eliminating Priests and Knights who stray from the light and either become Horrors, or engage in shady dealings. After the events of Makai Senki, I can see why this would be a necessary force (the main plot of that season dealt with a conspiracy from some dissatisfied Priests seeking to overthrow the Knights) but as a result, they’re a group that’s disliked and distrusted by everyone else. That distrust is revisited by Biku herself, immediately challenging Crow to a duel, and similarly confronting Raiga in their initial introductions. Although in the latter case, they’re both good enough to merely size each other up mentally, rather than actually fighting.

Despite being outwardly cold, she’s not unnecessarily violent or mean, just focused and professional, and even treats Mayuri with surprising deference. A welcome change from episode 14 where the other officials associated with the Tribune see Mayuri still as just a utility, rather than a person.

Just… please try to ignore the literal leather breastplate. Yes, I know, it’s very distracting.

Anyways, Biku is concerned about her new Knight partners not having the strength to defeat the fallen Knight she’s hunting, Izumo, and the Horror-possessed former knight himself wants only a strong adversary to defeat. This episode in general plays with the idea of strength displayed in various ways.

(As a side note, you’ll notice they went with an explicit wolf theme for the design of the Horror. This is not the first or the last fallen Makai Knight we’ve seen in the series, and they all have have some sort of corruption of the traditional lupine knight armor. It’s a neat recurring detail.)

In this episode , we see how physical strength plays a role, in the actual fight to defeat the fallen Knight. There is also moral strength, in comparing the bright and shiny Golden Knight with Izumo’s failings. And then the emotional strength to continue the fight, even when things seem the darkest.

Even when we find out Biku’s real connection to Izumo.

Personally, as someone who constantly brags on her younger brother, that line destroyed me when I watched this for the first time. But Biku hardly even changes expressions as she walks off to continue on the trail of the suspected Priest who released Eiris at the beginning of the series.

The real tragedy here is that while the role of the Dark Hunters means that they are shunned and distrusted by others, that same role and the evil they face in the course of its duties paradoxically requires that trust and those connections all the more. At the very least, Biku has made some allies in this episode, and will most likely be back to fight alongside them when things reach the finale in the race to seal Eiris.

Episode 19

Another stylistic, self-contained episode that focuses on Raiga and Mayuri confronting a Horror that consumes the “music” of people’s lives. While the Horror itself is over-the-top flamboyant….

the episode itself has a bit of a darker undertone, as we’re quickly approaching the finale, and we see Mayuri worried about their deadline, the time of Eiris’ awakening, coming soon. The Horror even taunts her with this, comparing her to the titular cursed princess of the Swan Lake suite that he plays after capturing her.

 

Good thing Raiga is awesome enough to hijack the entire illusory symphony to play an orchestral version of his own theme song.

No seriously, this is a thing that actually happens.

I love Raiga as a protagonist. His overconfidence accidentally brought Mayuri into the trap the Horror set for them, but he’s more than skilled enough to overcome it and come to her rescue regardless. That firm assurance in his ability, as the inheritor of his family’s title as Garo, is what allows him to still hold out hope that they can find and defeat Eiris before it’s too late.

Mayuri needs that hope now as well.

Episode 20

Crow starts out this episode a little jealous, it seems, of Raiga! His role as a Phantom Knight is to remain in the shadows, and it seems almost like he desires the same kind of prestige and title that the bearer of Garo has. He’s been very concerned about decorum and duties up to this point, but this is really the first time we see the work wearing him thin.

(Yes, that is a typo on Over-Time’s part, do not adjust your computer screen.)

This episode also echoes some elements of the original Garo series. In the events of this story, a girl they thought was possessed by a Horror was only being used as fuel for it. Rather than being forced to destroy her, Raiga comes up with a clever way to rescue her from inside the giant iron Horror that imprisons her.

This is actually something Kouga did to rescue Kaoru in his own series, but it also reflects back on a common element from that series as a whole. Kouga constantly had people tell him to give up on Kaoru, after she was exposed to Horror blood, which would lead to an unavoidable, horrific death eventually as it infected her. But he fought the entire series to protect her, even almost sacrificing his own life to find a cure. Here, it’s with the help of Crow that Raiga is able to attempt to save an innocent life by putting his own on the line.

Rather than being reckless or suicidal, he does it because he knows he has backup in case things go wrong. Just as we’ve seen over the course of these episodes (And in Ex-Aid… and in Mebius. And hell, in pretty much every toku series I’ve covered so far!), those bonds with his friends and comrades allows him to do more than he could on his own.

____________________________________________

One of the most common complaints I heard against this series, Makai no Hana, is that the plot is almost entirely absent through most of the show. And that’s definitely true. While we have important character development and some REALLY cool single-episode stories, the actual progress on the main storyline, of defeating Eiris, has been frustratingly stalled out.

This isn’t necessarily entirely bad thing though, the single-episode plots are individually very strong, are a lot of fun to watch, and distinct from each other, whether through style, or other elements of the background setting that are introduced. Not everything has to be a high-stakes end-of-the-world conflict to be meaningful, and I can’t think of any single episodes within the season so far that I’ve outright disliked. Even the clip show was a lot of fun!

So what’s the deal with the title? Well a recurring theme through this section of the show is strength. I touched on this in reference to Biku’s introductory episode, but we see different kinds of strength displayed in the various conflicts. We have strength of character and morality, in Raiga’s strong commitment to protecting other lives. We have physical strength, as we see in his self-assurance in his abilities in some of the flashier episodic plots. And we have emotional resilience, how he deals with the grief of losing his family and moves forward.

“Strength” in Raiga’s case doesn’t mean “hardness”. As noted before, he’s unfailingly honest and open about his thoughts and feelings, and shows affection and gratitude for those around him. Mayuri is still trying to figure out how to deal with those emotions, and Crow still hides his own self under stiff professionalism. We see cracks at certain times in Crow’s armor, his drive to prove himself to others, his gradual acceptance of Mayuri, but he’s still largely a mystery. (To the point where I half suspect him of attempting to turn traitor in the finale in some way. Maybe. I kind of get the feeling that he’d be subject to that sort of temptation.)

I went with the title of “Aegis” to describe this stretch, after the mythological invincible shield of the Greek gods. To be “under the Aegis” of someone, means to be under their protection or guidance. Raiga acts as an aegis for his friends, and the humans he fights for, be he himself is also protected by those around him. His friends, the legacy of his family, those who have trained him, all keep him on the right path, and focused on what’s most important. He wouldn’t be who he is today without those bonds, and tries to create them with others to also afford those who need it the same strength. The strength to protect others then comes from the vulnerability that those bonds create, rather than eschewing them totally to live in solitude.

And judging from what I know of other Garo series, Raiga and his friends will need all the strength they can muster, as they head into the finale next.

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2 comments

  1. I agree that Makai no Hana’s biggest issue is the lack of focus on the plot, and I would even say that the plot that there is it’s not that interesting to being with.

    That said, Raiga and the strong stand alone episode really do make the show work for me, and these batch of episodes are some of my favorites.

    I think I’ve even shown non-toku people the one with the Orquestra Horror.

    Random question: do you plan to talk about the Bikuu movie at some point?

    Like

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