Garo: Makai no Hana – Ensoulment

Author’s Note: This is the final installment of my series of articles commenting on the Garo season Makai no Hana after watching it for the first time. If you haven’t already, you should first read my other articles on the show, along with its general introduction here: 

Introduction

Part 1 – State Your Name and Business

Part 2 – Where the Heart Is

Part 3 – Aegis

The final five episodes of the show move smoothly into each other, so I will be addressing this article as a single piece rather than breaking it down episodically.

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Strap in folks, this is going to be a long piece. But it’s necessarily long, as all the plot that’s been delayed is now finally at the forefront of the story, and as a result we get to see the final culmination of all the character arcs that have been slowly simmering along with it.

So at first, we’re confronted with an illusion – that this is just another Horror, just another job for Raiga, despite the undercurrent of tension the characters are feeling now that Eiris is close to awakening.

This whole episode to start off the finale is all about illusions, in fact.

 

It opens with a man wielding a sword in a way similar to a knight. Through this, we’re inclined to first think that he’s another fallen knight like in the Biku episode. He’s also a Horror with a connection to a little girl he claims as his daughter and the audience, along with the characters, think that that could be his focus, his reason for falling to become a Horror in the first place.

 

But the appearance of the girl causes Raiga to hesitate, multiple times. At first, the viewer’s reaction might be to question why Raiga doesn’t understand the fact that it’s an illusion and cut through it, but the fact that Raiga hesitates at even the possibility of harming an innocent girl is what makes him a uniquely kind and ideal knight. He and the others eventually figure out how to destroy the illusion, and we find out that it’s simply a copy of one of the Horror’s victims. There is nothing redeemable or sympathetic about it at all. In anger, Raiga strikes down the Horror.

I don’t mean “anger” lightly either, Raiga is PISSED at the idea of a Horror laughing at the slaughter of an innocent life and charges at him in a rage we haven’t seen before.

 

This episode is pretty much a stand-alone one on its surface, but it brings to light several conflicts we see going forward into the four episodes that make up the finale.

  1. Concern for Mayuri’s well-being as the time to seal Eiris comes closer
  2. Crow’s envy of Raiga’s own achievements and seemingly-comfortable life
  3. Raiga’s own conflicts between his naturally kind personality, and the hardness required of his duties, and the horrors (both in figurative and literal) he must face
  4. Creeping desperation at the possibility they may not be able to stop Eiris’ awakening in time.

That last one is a thread throughout episode 21, but then at the end when they kill the Horror and release the seed it was carrying, they’re prevented from destroying it by a cloaked figure – the same one we saw release Eiris at the beginning of the show. With the brief pause, the as-yet powerless seed disappears into the last of the nine Horrors still left from its unsealing.

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The identity of the man who released Eiris is what throws a wrench into what had been a strong trifecta of friends, made up by Raiga, Mayuri and Crow’s bonds with each other. Turns out, the man is Eiji, the Knight of the Serpent Bone (which is an amazingly badass title), and Crow’s own mentor. Why does he want Eiris to be awakened?

To bring a loved one back from the dead.

Of course.

Another Garo series, another fallen Knight trying to use god-tier powerful Horrors in order for selfish gain. Happens every damn season. As you might imagine, it inevitably blows up in their faces every season too.

Anyways, the natural suspicion, like what I noted in the last article, is for Crow to turn traitor when faced with his own mentor acting against the Tribune and the general obligations and responsibilities of Knights. But Crow resolves himself against Eiji’s misguided plan and returns back to Raiga and the others with some new insight.

Turns out that Mayuri plays another role in this than just providing the method of re-sealing Eiris eventually. Eiji plans on using her as a container for the soul of his dead loved one (Girlfriend? Mistress? Wife? They don’t specify in these episodes), the final component needed to authentically resurrect his lover with Eiris’ power.

 

As Eiris grows closer to its full blooming, it looks amazingly gross. Earlier in the series, the seed was ethereal and glowing. Now, it’s slimy, organic and looks like a tiny little wriggly baby cuttlefish as it bargains with Eiji and threatens Mayuri. But when Raiga and Crow find Eiji’s hiding place, where the ritual has been set up, he interrupts the process to go out to try and defeat them.

It’s during this showdown between the three knights that another twist is added to the finale’s plot – a bell on Eiji’s coat.

The same bell, in fact, that Raiga gave away to the unnamed Makai Priest from his flashback during episode 17. When we visit Eiji’s own flashback where she entrusts the bell to him after his return from the unknown journey she described, we finally learn her name – Akari. (I can call her something else than Rinna now!)

 

This bell also brings back another theme that I briefly mentioned in a previous article, regarding episode 6. If you remember, there was a thematic connection between the concept of the soul and the metaphor of voice or sound – both being conveyed through air. The bell’s represents Akari in a way, her hopes for both Raiga and Eiji to be strong knights who hold up the ideals of their chosen duty.

Keep that metaphor in mind, it’s essentially the crux of all the themes and events of the finale.

Aside from that, there’s a REALLY cool scene transition going from the flashback, back to the present-day fight, where the camera focuses on Eiji’s reflection in his sword, then to the reflection of Raiga charging at him during the battle.

 

You could read this symbolically as Eiji confronting what those ideals of his duty actually are, and then seeing them compared to the ideal representation that Garo is held up to be.

Crow tries to remind him of his duties as a knight here, but as I’ve noted, telling him to cast aside his personal feelings entirely isn’t honest either. All of them bring unique personal convictions and experiences to their work as Knights, and those are important for driving them through dark times and tough choices. Like in the previous Horror encounter, if Raiga was ONLY concerned on killing the Horror, he may not have hesitated at the sight of Ai, the illusory girl that the Horror wielded, but do you REALLY want a knight that shows no instinctive mercy when confronted with an innocent life?

The issue here is that Eiji’s feelings are fundamentally disordered, in that he is prioritizing a life already lost above all others. The problem with trying to use these Horrors for personal gain, or what usually seems like sympathetic motivations, is that the characters who seek to do so routinely underestimate the cost involved with such means. At best, they only lose their own souls to the darkness. At worst, they put the entire world’s existence at risk. Especially with a Horror that is associated with the legendary power of Messiah, we can only assume that reviving such an elder Horror would lead to even greater evils being unleashed when it awakens.

But Eiji is blinded by his own grief and refuses to listen to this very reasonable concern raised about the wisdom of his course of action. To emphasize how far he’s gone in pursuit of his goals,  we see another flashback from his perspective. Before Akari died, he tries to use Mayuri’s abilities to seal Akari’s soul into her as a vessel, which would then be transferred to the new body that Eiris creates. But the ritual failed and Akari died before he could claim her soul. In fact, she dies with her final words being an exhortation to keep her memory, contrary to Eiji’s own actions.

 

If Akari’s own wishes couldn’t sway him from this stupid plan, then how could any of our three main characters do so?

With Eiji set on his path, the fight escalates further. Crow bolts to Mayuri to try and rescue her from a rapidly-strengthening Eiris, while Raiga still tries to force Eiji to back down, now with their armor summoned.

You know, it’s a crying shame that some of the coolest armors in this franchise wind up being neglected side characters because holy hell Giru’s armor is so cool looking.

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LOOK AT THIS SWEETNESS.

 

The fight does a good job of showing it off too, it makes use of these unique camera movements where they follow a first-person perspective that travels along the lines of the swords and armor. It’s a bit difficult to show it off with just screencaps, but it looks very impressive in motion. I feel sorry for the suit actors who have to wear the close-up detailed suits because of it though, those things must weigh a ton.

 

While Raiga and Eiji get to show off their shiny suits though, Crow is unsuccessfully trying to free Mayuri from the barrier that Eiris has set up. In desperation to save her – a stark contrast to his coldness to her earlier in the series – Crow offers himself as a vessel in exchange. Admirable sentiment, but remember, if Eiris awakens, then everyone’s screwed anyways, so Crow is just falling into the same issue as his mentor. He’s letting his personal feelings towards an individual affect his judgement in negative ways.

Eiris takes him up on the deal.

Back up top, Raiga has forced Eiji to submit after a hard-fought battle, but he refuses to kill him. And this chance at mercy gives Eiji the opportunity to do something I didn’t expect – he backs down finally when shamed by the memory of Akari and her hopes for him, again, symbolized by the bell.

 

The change of heart might be for naught though, as Eiris is still in control of Crow, and uses him to abscond to the necessary site where it will become fully awakened. Raiga summons his golden steed, Gouten to go after him, while Mayuri and Eiji are left behind to have their own scene, reflecting on Akari’s memory. (I’ll go into this scene a little later on, as it’s key to a specific event that happens in the finale episode.)

I suspected Crow would eventually find himself fighting against Raiga, but I didn’t expect him to turn in this manner. Interestingly enough, despite his initial indifference to Mayuri, we find out that it’s actually his attachment to her that Eiris is preying on. Remember, Horrors feed off of the darkness naturally found in human nature, and Crow’s own darkness is jealousy. He’s jealous of Raiga’s title, his easy-going nature, and his relationship with Mayuri.

 

But more than that, Eiris’ manipulation to magnify those feelings also brings another element to the forefront, the fact that Crow is also angry that Raiga actively hides some of those feelings.

I’ve been saying throughout most of my articles that Raiga is remarkably open and honest when compared to his predecessors, both Kouga and Rei’s own bearings as knights. Kouga was outwardly hard and professional, and only really drops his guard around Kaoru. Rei is a sarcastic joker, but hides a lot of pain, both from losing his own love, and from the horrifically awful cases he tends to attract in duties. I had initially mistaken Raiga’s easy smile as a sign that he more easily dealt with both his own personal feelings and his duties as a knight, but that smile itself is actually a mask too. The anger we saw when Mayuri, or other innocents, were threatened?

That’s the real Raiga.

 

 

That anger that drives him to protect others at cost to his own life is really what motivates him to be a knight, and paradoxically in this scene, it’s associated with his kindness. Raiga empathizes with others, he never wants to see people in pain, and because of that he takes on that pain himself in his role as Garo. It’s what he does here in acknowledging Crow’s own feelings, as exaggerated as they are by Eiris’ influence.

And it’s by doing so that the power of their bromance is powerful enough to literally shove Eiris entirely out of Crow’s body.

Okay then, show’s over now I guess? Everyone’s redeemed, Eiji has given up his stupid villain plan, all the Horrors are dead, and Eiris is….

 

…Well Eiris is doing just fine actually.

Because it wouldn’t be a Garo series unless we had a final boss fight against a naked woman.

Not just any naked woman, but one that immediately summons a giant tree around herself that apparently reaches through time and space to threaten to destroy everything and provide an interdimensional access point for limitless numbers of Horrors to enter the world.

 

So yeah, things go bad extremely quickly.

To make matters worse, Mayuri finds that it’s too strong for her to seal away now. They’ll need to weaken it by crashing the focal point of Eiris’ power, the orb at the top of the tree that forms the bulb of its “flower”. Raiga immediately jumps in, but this brings up another pressing issue regarding his role as a knight.

I didn’t mention this earlier, but the armor that Makai Knights use is highly specialized and carries many dangers with it as well. The lore of the setting tells that the armors themselves are fabricated through use of a Horror’s powers, involving incredibly powerful Makai magic. To wear it requires intense training itself, but even the best knights can only bear it for a limited amount of time before very bad things start to happen. Because Raiga has already used it in quick succession to fight against Eiji, he’s unable to bring its full power to bear to summon Gouten, his golden horse to help him against Eiris. And when he reaches the top to challenge the Horror on the verge of its full, terrifying advent of power, he’s not strong enough to fight it back.

 

This is what I mean by bad things happening.

Say hello to Lost Soul form.

 

Essentially a berserk state that knights are driven into after wearing the armor for too long, they fall victim to corruption from its power, and eventually mutate into a Horror-like beast themselves. It’s a scary fate, and it’s even more awful to see Raiga forced into it not from his own poor choices, but from simply failing to defeat Eiris with his own power in their confrontation.

But good thing – oh you all knew this was coming eventually, this is a toku show finale after all – Raiga never fights alone.

 

Eiji, swayed by Mayuri’s words and in remembrance of Akari’s wishes, shows up late to the party to help Crow punch Raiga back to his senses.

Mayuri herself is helped out through the timely arrival of Biku, like a black-leather-clad, butt-kicking Mary Poppins. Her magic lends necessary assistance to allow her to reach the trunk of Eiris’ body in the hopes of trying to seal it for good.

 

However, it seems all their teamwork may not be able to turn the tide from its inevitable conclusion, as they’re all overwhelmed fighting. Mayuri is restrained and trapped by Eiris, Raiga overpowers Crow and Eiji, and all hope seems lost, until….

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Remember, sound and voice are tied to the concept of air, or breath, which represents the soul.

It was thought that Mayuri did not have a soul, and so Eiji sought to use her as an empty vessel. But she does have a human heart, even if it was not shaped by her experience, being denied a fully human life by the Tribune for so long. During her scene where she talks with Eiji immediately after Crow and Raiga fly away, we find out why Eiji has continued to pursue this scheme for over a year. He believed that Akari’s soul still lived on in Mayuri, despite the ritual appearing to have failed.

However, she doesn’t express Akari’s soul as Eiji had hoped, but her own kindness responded to his need to reconnect with his loved one again by calling his name before she was put back to sleep. As with Barg earlier in the series, it’s her ability to empathize with and respond to the feelings of others that demonstrates that she herself has a soul, rather than being simply a tool or an empty vessel

Back when Eiji originally tried to use Mayuri, she responded to his own pain, but he mistook it at the time for Akari’s soul instead. It wasn’t until he reunited with her later in this series that he recognizes it not as a copy of his loved one, but as a reflection of the same capacity for love that all of them share. On realizing this, he gives the bell to her, before both of them reach the grounds where Crow and Raiga have fled to have their own battle.

When Raiga gave the bell to Akari originally, he did so out of a similar empathy. He freely gave something that gave him happiness, to cheer someone else in need. Akari then did the same for Eiji, at the same time passing on the hope that the same simple kindness would remain close to his own heart. Being reminded of that kindness, that hope, is what shamed him into remorse for his actions and brought him back to the heroes’ side in the present.

The bell may be small, but it’s connected and influenced all the characters in one way or another, directly or indirectly. So it’s only appropriate that the same bell is also what saves Raiga, by giving him the fortitude to overcome Soul Loss.

Quite literally, it gives him back that soul.

 

When I say “overcome” I literally mean “forcibly expel its darkness to use as a ridiculously over-powered upgrade”.

Let’s break down just how utterly bonkers this power-up is for those of you not familiar with the franchise. The fortitude and clarity of mind that the ringing of a tiny little mundane bell created, the connections and responsibilities he has for the other characters, the mentors and role models over the years that have allowed him to come into his own as the inheritor of the title of Garo, all those memories let Raiga literally beat back soul-consuming corruption and physically change his armor to use the massive loads of power it contains as a new weapon against evil.

 

I know that was a ridiculous run-on sentence but OH MY GOD THIS FIGHT IS INCREDIBLE. 

In case you’re wondering what the words are at in the upper-left hand corner, that’s the OP theme for this season being used as an insert song to make this one of the most hyped showdowns I’ve seen in the franchise.

 

Raiga has sacrificed so much to be the ideal representation of the purity Garo is supposed to embody, that it’s amazingly satisfying to see that power returned to him, not just in this individual match, but to destroy Eiris’ power as it reaches across time and space. Raiga’s own power as Garo came from all his predecessors extending into the past, and we see that same concept here as he delivers the final blow to destroy the Horror at the height of its power.

 

Fittingly enough, the strike that cements the lethal damage to the Horror comes from the sound of his sword being sheathed, reverberating not just in the present, but across all knights who have held the title as well. It spreads out, like ripples in a pond from a single stone.

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Like a bell.

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Like a tsunami.

So Eiris dies, Mayuri seals it using the condensed malevolence from the nine Horrors they defeated before it, and the day is saved. Almost.

We’re not done yet!

The last bit of thematic development we haven’t capped off yet comes to a head here, with the question of Mayuri’s value as a human now that her utility to the heroes has been fulfilled. We find out that in order to prevent her from being corrupted by the darkness she absorbs from Horrors, she needs to be sent to a magical sleep that also erases her memories – symbolically dying, in other words. Unfortunately, her strong experiences – and the complementary negative emotions that such experiences inevitably produce – are preventing her from sleeping. Raiga can enter her mind, like he has done earlier in the series, in order to cut out that negative “karma” , but Mayuri asks to be killed literally rather than to forget the experiences that now cause her emotions.

 

In many ways, this is the same dilemma the others have faced, wanting to sacrifice valuable lives because of their strong emotional desires. In this case though, the life being sacrificed would be Mayuri’s own.

But as Raiga and the others remind her, she had value even when she woke up at the beginning of the show, with no memories of her own, as a blank slate. Even if she does lose those experiences, her actions and the effect they have had on the other characters aren’t changed. In fact, it’s because of the effect she’s had on the other characters, on Raiga himself, Crow, Eiji and everyone else, that they’ve grown to see her as a human being, and treat her as such, without being used merely as a magical tool.

This scene, in addition to making me cry pretty hard, effectively ties together the major theme of this show. Raiga chooses to be a knight, to uphold this awesome and onerous duty, because he values all life and wishes to protect everyone he can. That includes Mayuri. His example, and Mayuri’s own growth over the show, has illustrated the value of life to the other characters, and helped them to achieve more, and become better people, better Knights and Priests, as a result.

All of them have had to make personal sacrifices to uphold those duties, Eiji is denied the chance to bring back Akari, Biku was forced to eliminate her brother, Raiga gave up the chance of a normal life. But these are sacrifices of selfish desires, that is, protecting a single relationship that provides for one’s own personal happiness at the expense of others. It’s by reaffirming the value of all life through the connections they’ve made throughout the show that all the characters find the strength to make those hard choices. To save everyone they can, as Raiga said.

Their victory over Eiris would’ve been meaningless if the source of Raiga’s power – his convictions as the inheritor of his title of Garo – were immediately abandoned by throwing aside Mayuri once her utility was served. It’s by saving her in the end that everything truly is made right.

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So yeah, that was Makai no Hana!

I can’t believe it took me so long to get through this series. That’s mostly due to the fact that this is a hard series to marathon, since it’s so heavily episodic for the majority of its run. Don’t get me wrong, almost all those episodes are really strong when taken on their own, and all tie nicely into the general thematic and character development for the cast. However, the basic overarching plot is really weak, and shoved almost entirely into the last handful of episodes.

The final showdown with Eiris is impressive in scope, and really exciting in terms of execution with its climax, but Eiji’s motivation was incredibly simplistic, and cliched even by standards of other Garo antagonists.

I generally have found myself comparing this season to the original Garo season, since we see the initial development of a Saejima from being wholly devoted to their duty impartially, to extending that duty to more personal connections around them and discovering the strength that it provides them. Because of that, both series have a much heavier focus on a smaller cast of characters.

However, the first Garo season took a while to get moving in an interesting direction. Kouga doesn’t actually become a likeable protagonist until episode 3, and in my opinion, I wasn’t really engaged in the series overall until after Rei showed up in episode 6. In comparison, Makai no Hana is a fun series right off the bat…but Garo’s plot development is stronger and has more satisfying twists to keep the momentum going. Past a certain point, it’s extremely hard to stop from marathoning the rest of the season to the end. So I’d still put the original Garo season over this one, despite Makai no Hana’s strengths in its favor.

Of course, Makai Senki tops both of them by a country mile. (It’s amazing, go watch it.)

Before going into this season, I had heard that the plot of this season was boring and thin, and that Raiga was an equally boring protagonist. While I’ll agree to the first point, I definitely disagree with the second. Raiga is instantly likeable – far more than his father was, at least – and the fight he has with Crow near the end reveals some fascinating depth to his character that casts previous interactions in a new light, while also setting up the action climax of the finale where he overcomes Soul Loss to defeat Eiris.

In short, while its simplistic plot arc may put it slightly lower than the two seasons that deal with his daddy, Makai no Hana is still a very strong season of Garo that I highly recommend people check out on their own. As for me, I’m very happy to now be able to claim that I’ve seen every single one of the live-action installments of the franchise, so I can pr-

 

 

Wait, what’s that you say?

They made a movie about Biku? Seriously?

Well crap. Guess I know what my next commentary project is going to be then.

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One comment

  1. I pretty much agree with all of this.

    The story of MnH is, perhaps, too simple for it’s own good. Even with the strong one off episodes the main story is simply not enough to carry a 25 episode season.

    Still, the characters pretty much made the show for me, especially Raiga; it goes without saying that he has a charm that few lead characters have in Toku. I honestly would not mind a sequel series or movie just to see him again.

    (fun fact: Masei Nakayama, the actor who portrays him, also voiced Raiko, the main lead in the anime Garo Crimson Moon. He is just as charming in there, but that show’s story is also not that great.)

    One thing about this show that is always a point of contempt for me though, is the character of Mayuri; the way her character is handled in the last stretch of episodes is really good, but for most of the show she is far too emotionless for my taste.

    I understand that she is supposed to be almost like a robot, but it would have been nice if her progression towards humanity was a bit more gradual instead of just dumping it in the last few episodes.

    But then again, I am extremely picky when it comes to robot-like characters.

    Like

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