Toku-Talk: Garo is Toku for Adults, Or At Least It Thinks It Is

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

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By


seajimabluedragon

Those of you who have been following along may notice that I’ve been doing older stuff on Toku-talk. You may also notice that I’ve been covering shows for children. There are reasons for that, partially because almost all of it is for children and I have perhaps too much fondness for old stuff with lovably terrible special effects. That said, both of those things are set to change today with perhaps the only foray into tokusatsu for adults: Garo.

Unfortunately, I don’t like Garo as much as the other stuff that I’ve covered in the short time I’ve done this column. That isn’t to say I dislike it, but rather that I think this series has a lot of the wrong ideas of what constitutes mature. It’s the kind of mature envisioned by a fifteen-year-old who loves Wolverine and will hail the newest action anime that’s dark as ‘saving anime’. Here, mature doesn’t necessarily equate to more complex or morally gray narratives. In fact, Garo is just as straightforward as any of the other shows I’ve covered that are for tiny, tiny babies. However, it takes advantage of its 18-34 demographic by having loads of blood and tits. I’ve learned to accept it for the fifteen-year-old-boy fantasy it is since then. I mean, after all, if you had asked me what I wanted to see in my teenage years, it would have been a dude slicing off another dude’s head with a katana and a hot naked lady respectively. Even so, there’s a bit of sadness I find in not having a more deftly-thought and crafted show.

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Garo has been going on since 2005. It had a sequel series entitled Makai Senki in 2011. Later, in 2013 The One Who Shines in Darkness aired which was made to be more of a jumping-on point for new viewers. It has had numerous series since of varying lengths, with Garo: Goldstorm being the most recent. Each series follows the Makai Knights and the Makai Priest who fight unspeakable monsters called Horrors. There are variations on that theme but overall it’s a very simple theme with bits of soap operas thrown in the midst.

Both the characters and overarching plot of the first series are pretty basic. It follows Makai Knight Kouga Saejima, who is familiarly stoic and badass. When he saves a girl named Kaoru, she becomes infected with demonic blood. Normally a Makai Knight is duty bound to kill infected humans to spare them a painful death, but Kouga is more interested in trying to find a cure. Honestly you could make this the plot of a PS2-era hack-and-slash game without changing much. The character developments are rather standard and honestly incredibly misogynistic at times. There are even times when the cameraman seems to forget that there’s a face attached to the thighs they’re filming. That said, the characters are charming enough that you never resent them for their cliché.

Garo has a lot about it that is unremarkable, so you may wonder why I even bother talking about it. Well, it’s because there’s something that Garo absolutely excels at, and that is presentation. While the super-serious overwrought drama can be hard to take seriously, the enforced moodiness and darkness actually adds to a level of campy fun, enforcing the idea of how much you would have loved this show at fifteen. The fights are creative and stylish, managing to keep a mood reminiscent of an anime or a JRPG. To me, it’s vividly similar to the Devil May Cry video game series, or at least as much as a show on a limited TV show budget. The ridiculous outfits feel like they come right out of a seinen manga, with guys in long coats carrying katanas around — which is weird that the cops never stop them — and women in preposterous outfits meant to display their assets. The monsters are also incredibly cool-looking. While a lot of toku shows have creative designs that are really cool, they rarely dip into the very visceral and creepy-looking horror monsters that populate Garo.

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Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Garo for me is how it handles the transformation sequences. In most of the shows, you’ll see our heroes can’t wait to get into their outfits, transforming right away to fight the bad guys. In Garo, Kouga and his fellow Makai Knights save their transformations until the third act as a last resort. While those who want to see the armor and superhero outfits might be disappointed, it does give the Makai Knights’ true form a sense of power and sacrifice. You can’t help but think ‘oh man, shit’s gonna get real now!’ and the fights get more dramatic and exciting with the passing of the show. It helps that the show has gotten better at making the special effects more seamless and impressive-looking. Plus, because they’re used less than usual in your standard toku show, they look far better. Rather than the spandex that Kamen Rider and any of the Super Sentai don, the Makai Knights have full-bodied mystical armor, reminiscent of something you would see in a fantasy manga, something you wouldn’t be surprised to see in Berserk or Dark Souls.

The real tragedy of Garo is that the recommendation is half-hearted. Material for children has often been the inspiration for brilliant material. Naoki Urusawa’s love of Astro Boy is what got us the masterpiece Pluto. And without the campy sixties Batman television show, Frank Miller wouldn’t have been inspired to create The Dark Knight Returns. The difference is that those pieces use the premise of children’s shows and make them interact with issues confronted by adults that only those particular premises can handle. Garo is a brand of “mature” that wants to bring us quick excitement through titillation and extreme violence rather than bringing adult issues that elevate material. At the end of the day though, Garo is still a lot of fun for the juvenile part of your brain. Violence and titillation have their place and I can’t deny the cheap thrills I have, but I also can’t help but lament what it could have been.

Sadly, this is another show that is not available in America. Not the live-action version anyways. An anime adaptation called Garo: The Animation is available on Hulu. However, we cover live-action stuff on Toku-Talk, so I have yet to actually watch that. The live-action series did get broadcast in Italy though, so Italian readers may know more about where you can get this show. Not the highest recommendation, but if you want something that feels like a live-action anime, check this out.

About Jerry Hrechka

Jerry Hrechka is a writer and journalist. He was born in the Catskill mountains and now resides in Georgia, still trying to work out how exactly that happened. His work can also be found on nerdstock.com as well as on his horror podcast 1001 Frights.




  • James

    I like a lot of the points that you bring up in this article, but If I had to disagree on one part, it’d have to be the character development. One of the series strengths for me, especially in the first two seasons are its strong well developed characters. Kouga and Rei are great examples, their character development is a slow burn that builds up as the first season goes on in a good and believable way. Its not instantaneous for either of them, Kouga has to deal with the responsibility of his actions by letting Kaoru live to be bait, and it all comes crashing down on him HARD, even if he did decide to try and save her instead. The influence that Kaoru has on him is shown well in Makai Senki where he is noticeably more patient and kind with the people around him like Leo and Rei.
    Rei grows up a lot as well, when we initially meet him he is a ball made up of loathing towards Kouga and a lot self guilt for what happened to his fiance. This drives him to do terrible things to Kouga and Kaoru for the sake of revenge which even his Madou Tool Silva questions. However as the series go’s on we get to see him question whats going on and if he really thinks that Kouga killed his Fiance. I think its pretty significant that the scene where Rei decides to help Kouga and fight alongside him happens before he finds out about Kiba because it shows that he had finally decided that despite what he had been told by the watchdogs and what he had seen through the curtain he did NOT believe that Kouga killed her. I also really love that Kouga still obviously dislikes Rei at this point, even having a line of “You’ve done terrible things to me, And to Kaoru”. They only truly become friends after Rei saves Kouga from becoming the Lost Soul beast
    I could probably ramble on a lot longer about some of the other great characters like Jabi and Rekka or Leo but I’ve already written a LOT which I apologize for lol, I just get a little defensive about Garo because the first two seasons and their movies are some of my favourite Toku series ever, the Anime is REALLY good too
    tl;dr: I think Garo does character development pretty well, except for YamiTera because fuck that show every one besides Ryuga and Rian are completely wasted

  • Luiz S. S. Baglie

    Great article. The first two “seasons” of Garo are some of the best Tokusatsu shows I have ever seen and James above added some valuables insights about the main characters of these “seasons”.

    I don’t really know if it was a change in directing or just my tastes that changed and I started to notice things I couldn’t before, but I feel that starting with YamiTera the quality of the series as a whole began to go downhill. Every single thing, from the plot twists to the characters to the fight scenes, seem like copy’n paste of the most basic stereotypes you could find in shonen anime. While these stereotypes may work relatively well with anime, in a live-action show it just seems silly or downright retarded. YamiTera is actually the worst offender, with paper-thin characters, predictable everything, and really bad CGI – it’s easily one of the worst Tokusatsus I have ever seen.

    Anyway, as long as Garo airs I will watch it. Actually, even after everything I said, I don’t think that Makai no Hana was THAT bad (just slow and boring) and I’m trying to enjoy Goldstorm (Ryuga now has a fair better haircut, lol). All in all, I think that the series would improve a lot should they drop this apparent need in making Garo like every shonen anime you’ve ever seem. There’s enough material to put originality to good use, as seem in Soukoku no Maryu.

    • James

      As far as I know, Yamitera was mostly made by a new crew with no intervention from series creator Keita Amemiya at all. This is a big part of why there was stuff like extremely generic looking CG horrors and Suits for the Knight Armours.

      I agree that Makai no Hana wasn’t that bad but it suffers from the fact that Raiga is the only character that ever gets to acomplish anything, while the other characters like Crow and Mayuri just sit and gather dust. Raiga himself is kinda underdeveloped too, despite some of the hints about his character that get dropped throughout the series. Still a decent season, just nowhere near the level of Makai Senki.

      Goldstorm has been a massive improvement over Yamitera, there are still CG horrors but they all have pretty creative designs that make them fun to watch. The Suit for Ryuga’s new version of the Garo armour is beautiful as well, its a big improvement over just having CG for the armour which fucked over a lot of Yamitera’s fight scenes.

    • Magneto

      Yami WAS made with Amemiya input. It’s Garo, of course it was. Heck, he even directed the ED little videos himself, with Rian doing whatever it is she does in those.

      The “big part” of why there was CG Horror and knights was because of the lack of a budget due to them making the very expensive theatrical film at the same time. It is not because of the incorrect reason you stated.

  • Magneto

    “That said, both of those things are set to change today with perhaps the only foray into tokusatsu for adults: Garo.”

    …I stopped reading at this point. If you’re going to write about tokusatsu and you believe that Garo is “perhaps the only foray into toku for adults”, then I don’t care to hear your opinion on it, because it’s likely to be as ill-informed as that statement. You show a stunning ignorance of a genre you are writing about.

    Just off the top of my head, with no solid effort, Lion Maru G, Mirrorman Reflex, UltraSeven X [and arguably Nexus], Sh15uya, Skullman Prologue, Cutie Honey Live, Shougeki Gouraigan, Tekkouki Mikazuki, Neo Ultra Q, Daimajin Kanon. There will no doubt be more. Heck, I believe every single one I list there has been subtitled in English too, so it’s not like I’m using obscure shows.