(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
A haiku I title “Moon-Filled Sandwich.”
Garo: Guren no Tsuki
Garo: Guren no Tsuki takes place in the (coincidentally enough) Garo universe. Horrors roam the land as Makai Knights and Makai Alchemists protect the people. All the while, lots of battling and grounded interactions occur.
And it’s horrible.
One of the issues that the anime has is a tonal one. As can be watched, the anime is filled with depravity, death, and destruction. Yet the show regularly injects mistimed comedic relief. When the characters eat some candy or when Seimei acts playful after turning her deceased mother into a Madou Tool, the scenes come off as less funny and more awkward, considering the violence and turmoil and seriousness about them.
Nowhere is this swing between dramatic and comedic more obtuse than with episode fifteen. Despite the anime beginning to head towards its final set of episodes, as well as being in the middle of its largest conflict, an entire episode is dedicated to comedy. It follows a lecherous man who cannot stop his promiscuous feelings. His character, Raikou and Kintoki reacting to the situation, and the final, cheesy heart do not mesh with the mood of the anime whatsoever.
This second half of the anime also highlights the next major issue: plot structure. The first eleven or so episodes are rather repetitive. An episode starts with a person succumbing to sin (and therefore turning into a Horror), the group dawdles for a while, they visit the Watchdog Center, and then they finally defeat the Horror.
While the main antagonists Douma and Douman are around, the anime during this first half does not include an overarching conflict. It’s not until the second half that the anime finally decides to include one. But it comes out of nowhere. No mention of the super-evil Rudra or the blood-red moon or even the main motivations of the evil men come about until it’s too late.
Simultaneously, Garo: Guren no Tsuki has an insane amount of odd, often poor, writing choices.
For instance, Kaguya is a character introduced in episode four. After she is helped, she goes away – presumably because she no longer has a place in the narrative. But she returns (officially) in episode eighteen, becoming a vital key to the plot. In other words, for fourteen episodes, she was neither important nor relevant.
Another example. Michinaga, the leader in the Light Palace, uses a certain book that generates the barrier which protects the palace from outside evil. But this detail was not made known until much later in the season.
Many more problems exist.
The show keeps its setting within just the capital, inviting stagnation. A lot of the action contains very little actual fighting besides a couple of sword swings. Douma gets killed in approximately two seconds despite his status, power, and involvement. Random happenings, such as characters teleporting (and not teleporting) when they choose and magical powers, make the plot progression convenient rather than natural. The thematic disparity between the poor and the aristocrats receives next to no exploration especially when the same tired idea – that the rich are evil – gets repeated ad nauseam.
And the list goes on.
Even the ending has issues. Disregarding the fact that Zanga, the Silver Knight, disappears, the anime provides no closure for any of the different relationships, plotlines, and ideas. What the future holds is not known: about Raikou and Seimei, about the capital, and about the Makai Knights in general. Instead, the anime literally ends on “Farewell, Ashiya Douman” and a shot of the sky.
To be absolutely fair, the anime does have a couple of interesting moments. Seimei choosing to save Raikou over the people and Raikou becoming incredibly tiny attempt to switch up the show’s tiring tale. But a couple of intriguing scenes interspersed throughout twenty-three episodes worth of narrative problems does not equate to a worthwhile story whatsoever.
Garo: Guren no Tsuki’s art and animation are arguably the anime’s worst traits.
Due to the centralized location, the background depictions are sorely lacking in terms of creativity. The same roads, wooden houses, and caves induce boredom through their gross repetition and missing detail. Lighting, despite the anime’s motif of light versus dark, does not impress. And misaligned faces make the show difficult to stomach.
Worse still are obvious artistic errors. Disappearing cloths and reappearing hats demonstrate clearly that the anime received very little attention on a visual level.
Animation levels are low throughout most of its run. Choreography for the fights tends to be nonexistent, and downtime is filled with missing frames and stiff actions, leading to characters that move in silly, weird, or broken ways.
The character designs continue having trouble. For some of them, the lines that constitute the borders of their characteristics appear crooked. Douma’s beard and Raikou’s hair are the best examples.
Raikou’s design is particularly lame. His weedy hair, plain face, and boring outfit turn him into more of a joke and less of a main protagonist. Yasusuke looks like a hunter instead of a thief. And Douman’s blue-and-grey-centric coloring may be fitting for his evilness, but the drabness makes his design boring – and, no, his different-colored eyes and facial scars do not make him cooler.
To be as fair as possible once again, the anime is not entirely problematic when it comes to its art and animation.
The arena where some of the fights take place gives the show the chance to play with interesting effects, such as shiny, floating debris and different color palettes.
The CG segments, specifically in relation to the Gold and Silver Makai Knights, show a surprising amount of fluidity. The final fight, with the first-person-enemy perspective, was nice to see.
And Seimei’s design – long hair, mostly purple outfit, and attractive figure – and the Silver Knight design – with its embroidery and all-white coloring – do not fall prey to the same problems that the other designs notably have.
Even so, the negatives far outweigh these miniscule positives.
Perhaps it’s obvious at this point, but the cast of Garo: Guren no Tsuki are filled with so many writing problems that it is astounding they were even conceived in the first place.
Starting with the main protagonist, Raikou is the fabled holder of the Golden Armor, permitting him the honor of becoming the Golden Makai Knight. But he is not allowed to use it all will-nilly. Seimei, the woman who watches over him, only grants him temporary usage of the armor when she unlocks the seal. It’s all done with the best of intentions, for, after wearing the armor for too long, Raikou becomes visibly shaken and weak.
Early on, the anime sets up Raikou’s character in a two-fold manner. On the one side, his past is filled with death and turmoil, forcing him to not have much of a past at all. On the other side, his emotions, his disregard for his own self, prevents him from fully controlling the golden armor. It’s why Seimei keeps tabs on him; he has yet to prove his worthiness.
But true to the anime’s form, his character plummets. Coincidentally enough, it’s due to two separate issues.
The first is asinine. In episode eight, the anime throws Raikou’s entire background at the audience. Who his father is, the brother he didn’t know he had, and so on. Yet Raikou was not surprised in the least bit by the revelation. Yes, Raikou literally says he already knew all of this information, making his past-self conflict moot.
The second is simply an unforeseen consequence. At the halfway point of the season, Raikou overcomes his emotional instability when he realizes that Seimei’s protection of him has been a sacrifice of herself. He matures slightly, and, as a result, he finally commands the golden armor without her aid.
While this development is one of the first actual competent pieces of writing, there’s a problem: It occurred too soon.
In essence, Raikou’s character peaks. Without any other conflicts for him to face, his character does not have anything else to do but simply be around. Indeed, for the last half of the season, he takes part in the various happenings, fights the baddies, and interacts with the other cast members. But his character completely stagnates.
Many of the other characters are simply handled poorly. Yorinobu, Raikou’s (later learned) brother, seems as though he will have more importance in the overall story. But beyond crushing on Seimei somewhat, getting a quasi-girlfriend, and worrying about Raikou occasionally, he does not contribute much. To be fair, his main role is acting as a good guy within the bad guys’ camp, but other characters, such as Seimei’s father and Yasusuke, fill that role, too.
Speaking of Yasusuke, he suffers the same fate. Despite obtaining the silver armor of the Silver Makai Knight, he does not influence the direction the anime takes. On more of a writing level, the show fails to make his relationship with Raikou more meaningful, and the whole “skip out on training and get right to being a Makai Knight” decision is unbelievable.
Even more baffling is Kintoki, Raikou’s child assistant. Kintoki is around for the entire season, yet, besides a passing aside about him being a child still due to a curse, the anime gives next to zero background on his character let alone development for him as a person.
And while it may not even need to be said, the main antagonists are awful. Two of them exist: Douman and Michinaga.
Douman is the more important of the two. He has his hand in nearly every evil event, doing his best to bring about darkness. This word, “darkness,” is practically the only word in his lexicon. He says it in nearly every other line, turning his dialogue into a repetitive mess.
The rest of his character does not fare any better. For the longest time, his tiresome yelling about darkness is all he has. Later on, however, the audience learns that Douman’s brother is actually Michinaga. Douman, apparently caused by familial and class conflicts, was abandoned, his face cut up. Perhaps expectantly, the anime fails to expound on his relationship with Michinaga beyond the singular conversation they hold, making the quick look into his background pointless.
His conclusion makes it obvious just how lame his character is. The show tries to push the notion that, because he did not truly meld with the evilest Horror Rudra, he still has some light within him. I.e., he is still good. But it’s a feeble, ridiculous attempt at humanizing his character. Not just because it literally happens in the final few moments of the anime but also because he next to never showed any signs of goodness. His vocabulary made sure of that.
Michinaga is the other main antagonist, but, honestly, it would be unfair to give him that much credit. The reason? He does nothing. He sits in the Light Palace for nearly the entire season, conniving to make his place of power safe for himself and himself alone. That’s it. For twenty-three episodes, he sits around.
The kicker, though, is that when an opportunity to finally make him a relevant character – when the townsfolk are clamoring to get into the Light Palace due to the destruction wrought by Rudra – he disappears. Worse still, the anime apparently forgets about him entirely since the anime does not revisit or explain where he ran off to. It’s astoundingly asinine.
The only possible positive throughout the entire cast is Seimei.
Seimei’s first impression is one of beauty, yet she frequently approaches life with a carefree attitude. She is good at being a Makai Alchemist. She knows it, and everyone else knows it, too. And so the first half of the season has her mainly as a side character, teasing and supporting Raikou indefinitely.
Simultaneously, the audience learns more about her past. She was the one to save and raise Raikou. Her parents sacrificed themselves for her (rather unnecessarily), causing her to leave home of her own free will. And, at that time, she took Douma (Douman’s current teacher) as her mentor.
Her compassionate and dark past persists to the present. When Raikou is consumed by darkness, she takes it from him, burdening herself with the evil that plagued him. And when given the choice between saving the people and saving Raikou (again), she chooses Raikou, demonstrating where her heart and mind truly lie.
Seimei is set up well, but the follow-up falls apart. Raikou, in turn, comes to Seimei’s aid – only to have her walk away from the group. Then, for several episodes in a row, she does not appear, taking her out of the spotlight and subsequently harming any type of build-up she had accrued thus far. When she does return, her roaming around, attacking her grandfather, and losing to Douma each come off as silly.
Interestingly, Seimei does succumb to the darkness. Although her constant appearing, spouting a few words, and then running away, only to repeat the process again the next time, continues the silliness. The show tries to tie in her hatred of butterflies by making her evil persona use them, but her being evil and hating butterflies does not exactly correlate.
Regardless, her character arc concludes when Raikou enters her mind (through her grandfather’s magic), saving her from herself. This contrast fits well with her light versus dark motif, which in turn coincides with the anime’s, ending her character on a surprisingly passable note.
As a whole, though, one barely passable character out of the whole cast is simply not enough.
Without a doubt, Garo: Guren no Tsuki’s strongest facet is its music and other sound-work.
The first opening track adopts more of a Spanish vibe with its acoustic guitar and castanets. The vocalist, the leveled beat, and the background singers come together to create an interesting track. It doesn’t exactly fit the show – the setting and the tone are a testament to this statement – but it’s still a nice piece nonetheless.
The second OP is much more grandiose. The range of the vocalists, the different paces, and the emotional instrumental compositions feel as though they match the destructive and intense scale of the anime better than its previous counterpart. It’s neither catchy nor overly impressive, but, once again, it’s a nice addition to the show.
The first ending track is easily the best part of the entire anime. The cultural instruments. The background choir. The build-up in the first half that leads to the resounding relief in the second half. Combined with the catchiness and the strong vocal work, it stands above anything else that the anime has to offer.
The second ED starts off strong – the metal guitar and shamisen bring about a cool mixture. But the rest of the track lacks the same finesse and power that the first ED does. At the minimum, the vocal work continues to impress even if the majority of the piece does not.
As for the rest of the original soundtrack, it does have tracks reminiscent of the previous series, such as a laidback guitar for the more laidback moments and creepy, ambient tracks for the Horror-related conflicts. But nothing too memorable. In fact, the tracks can sometimes play at awkward times, especially when the jarring comedic scenes appear.
Last but not least, the voice-acting performances. The metallic sound-effect for the armor was still a nice touch for the series, but no noteworthy performances were had.
While watching this one, I couldn’t believe how the whole package could get any worse, but it continually proved me wrong.
The characters were unlikable. Raikou barely showed any emotion, Kintoki was annoying, and Douman was lame. The action sequences were boring to watch since the Horrors never made for compelling enemies. The rough visuals had me grimacing.
Other parts I couldn’t help but laugh at. Certain events or directions the anime either took or didn’t take were just plain silly. Seimei’s grandfather’s body floating into the sky made me chuckle. As did Yosusuke’s girlfriend’s Horror persona chucking sheets of cloth.
All of this says nothing about the inane plot, the feeble attempts at sexual content, and the weird way in which the show depicted kid Raikou. Altogether, the anime is one of the worst I have ever seen to date.
Garo: Guren no Tsuki fails at nearly every single turn. The story has no coherency. Each character lacks meaningful purpose. And the art and animation leave much to be desired. Some of the music has strength but not enough to carry the show anywhere. One would rather consume a half-eaten, moist, and moldy sandwich than whatever this anime ended up being.
Story: Terrible, tonal issues, ridiculous plot developments, and numerous narrative pitfalls create a mess of a tale
Animation: Terrible, weak artistic direction, obvious artistic errors, low levels of actual animation, and lame character designs outweigh any potential visual positives
Characters: Terrible, while Seimei may be passable, Raikou, Douma, and the other important characters are clearly not
Sound: Fine, okay first OP, okay second OP, good first ED, okay second ED, okay OST, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Terrible, nothing of value to be found within
Final Score: 1/10