(Warning, the following article contains spoilers for GARO: Crimson Moon. If you do not want to be spoiled, then read no further)
I loved the first GARO anime that wrapped up earlier this year, GARO: The Animation. I think it was one of the more unsung series of this year, especially since it featured many of the things people bemoan many modern anime for lacking. Still, when news that a second GARO anime series was coming in the Fall 2015 season, I was over the moon.
The studio that handled the first anime, the excellent MAPPA, would be returning to animate it. It would have three of the voice actors from the main cast of the first series returning in major roles. And probably best of all, it would have a female protagonist, and considering how well the main female character in the first series, Ema Guzman, was handled, this bode well for the new show. All of these things combined to make GARO: Crimson Moon one of my five most hyped shows of the Fall season. Unfortunately it is now on the fast track to being the most disappointing instead.
Let’s start with the much hyped female protagonist, Seimei, based on the legendary real life onmyouji Abe no Seimei. Going into this series Seimei was the object of much intrigue, not only because of how amazing Ema Guzman was, but because a GARO show had never been hyped around a female protagonist before, and that is because in the GARO franchise, women literally cannot be Makai Knights, due to the magical armor of the Knights burning the skin of any woman who tried to wear them. So this was getting even long time GARO fans interested in seeing how they would handle this. Would they change the fundamental rules of GARO? Would we be seeing a female Garo for the first time? Or perhaps we’d be following a Makai Alchemist who merely gets help from Garo.
To get it out of the way, Seimei is far and away the best reason to be watching Crimson Moon. In fact I will honestly say she is currently the only reason to watch it. However she is less like Ema Guzman and more like German Luis, being a sexy, charming, goofy scenery-chewing ham of a horn dog. Except without the horn dog part, which I’ll get into a little bit later. And normally that would be perfectly fine, except now they are doing things with their main female character they weren’t doing in the first GARO anime. For example, Ema was never subjected to the usual kind of sexual tropes you typically see in anime. She basically owned control over her sensuality and doled out “sexiness” at her own pace and volition.
With Seimei, we get such time honored things like grabbing an easily sexually frustrated teenage boy and shoving his head between her breasts, or something that was utilized in the most recent episode, the good old “woman is incapacitated in some form, but has a hidden item in her cleavage that is helpful to the situation at hand, so she has a young male grab it out and use it”. In this case said item being one of Seimei’s magical paper dolls used to defeat Horrors.
There’s also an issue with her being the protagonist. Oh to be certain she is a protagonist, but not the protagonist like many of us were led to believe in the months leading up to the start of the show. Things started out fine, with Seimei being easily the main subject of the first episode, but as the episodes have gone on she has had more and more of her screen time cannibalized by Raikou, the Garo in this new show. Currently her main purpose seems to have been reduced to unsealing Raikou’s Zaruba ring (which grants him access to his armor) and providing support in the fights against Horrors.
This really shouldn’t be that shocking in hindsight now, as it is becoming more and more clear that she is this show’s German, and in the first series the first episode was also predominately focused on German. However German was always relevant in the show and he had no trouble beating Horrors on his own. Seimei, on the other hand, was flat out stated to be unable to beat Horrors by herself, which also seems to imply that Makai Alchemists received a power nerf in Crimson Moon, as Ema, who was also a Makai Alchemist, had no problem whatsoever defeating Horrors, even ones strong enough to kick the ass of the Makai Knights.
Now on the subject of German, I mentioned earlier than Seimei is like German without the horn dog part. What I meant by that is, we see German time and again in the midst of his sexual conquests, a good chunk of the first episode alone was focused on one such thing. With Seimei, though, all we get is someone talking a big game but we’ve yet to see them show proof of it. And that has to do with my next big issue with Crimson Moon; it’s toned down.
I don’t mean just with things dealing with sex and sexuality. I mean in every facet this show is toned down. Blood and violence is greatly reduced, with many victims of the Horrors getting gory discretion shots with maybe some blood splatter on a nearby wall if we a lucky. Whereas in the first series, people were dying violent deaths left and right, with one of the first show’s most powerful moments being a disturbingly presented main cast character death.
And there there is the reasons for people becoming Horrors in the first place. Many of the Horrors in the first series had complex reasons for falling down the path of darkness like they did. But so far we’ve had mostly generic reasons for Horrorfication in Crimson Moon, like people being driven by greed. You know, lame shit like that.
On top of everything being toned down, thanks to Raikou and the third member of the main cast, a child-like (I say “child-like” because this character looked the same in a flashback as they do in the present and in said flashback Raikou was a kid) character named Kintoki, the show just feels much more “shonen-y” overall. Whereas the first GARO anime was a dark action-adventure fantasy series peppered with some comedic moments for levity, Crimson Moon feels more like a cartoony and goofy action series with “dark” moments seasoned in for dramatic effect. To put it another way, GARO: The Animation felt more like it was made for adults, while GARO: Crimson Moon was made for teens.
My issues with the show don’t stop there, unfortunately. Next up is the setting. I “get” what they are going for by placing the series in the Heian period. They get to mine all the well known historical and mythological characters from that age. By shifting the setting to Japan, they can also work in classical timeless Japanese tales such as Princess Kaguya (which they did). However I feel that allows them to also be lazy. Because they are working with a location, time period, and cast of characters that many Japanese people know and love, they don’t have to take risks, nor do they really have to do too much heavy lifting. They can just adapt the known material. In other words, by moving the Heian period, they are doing things a “safe” way.
Which is a bit of a let down, considering how the first show took so many risks by being set in a fictionalized version of Inquisition Spain. They actually had to develop the characters and stories. They didn’t really have anything to co-opt, as how many Japanese people know a damn thing about Inquisition Spain? This led to GARO: The Animation being new and fresh in its writing. Right now Crimson Moon is old and stale.
Oh but the disappointment train doesn’t stop there, now I get to talk about the visuals. How to put this...Seimei is probably the only character in this show that doesn’t look silly or generic, and that’s only when talking about her normal clothes. Her battle clothes look really damn silly, at least in the context of a character in Heian period Japan. The worst offender so far has to be Raikou, though, with his hair often being mockingly called “crab hair”.
Now for probably the biggest disappointment of them all, the animation is, well let’s just say it is not up to MAPPA’s standard. Or rather the standard that MAPPA inadvertently created for themselves through their coming out party last year in the form of Terror in Resonance, Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, and GARO: The Animation. When people think of MAPPA now, they almost immediately equate it with quality animation. Unfortunately, this show is anything but that.
The consistency and quality is just all over the place. In some episodes, the scale of objects will change just between shots. For example, at the end of the second episode, Seimei was holding a human skull. In one shot it looked like the size of a normal human skull. In another shot it looked like it was the size of an apple. Probably the most unnerving thing is character expressions. They often don’t reflect the same tone as their voices. Time and again Romi Park will deliver a great line full of loud emotion, and Seimei’s face has the same expression from when she was speaking calmly just a few lines before.
Now I feel I must say this, but despite all the above paragraphs, I don’t hate GARO: Crimson Moon, at least not yet. I am just extremely disappointed in what it has offered up to me through its first five episodes. Could it get better? I’m sure it could. It has two consecutive cours (at least for now, for all we know it could be another one of those “Surprise! It’s actually a split-cour show!”) to work with, and that allows for a slightly slower pace.
Though I am going to err on the side of caution that this won’t improve. At the very least this is definitely not as good as the first show was, even just comparing them to this point. I was enthralled from the beginning with GARO: The Animation, even the monster of the week episodes didn’t waver my love in that show. Each new episode of GARO: Crimson Moon is sapping my will to continue.
To put it another way, the last time I have been this disappointed in a show, five episodes in, it was Tokyo Ghoul √A. Then again it is entirely possible that GARO: Crimson Moon is a perfectly passable show, it just looks bad when compared to its drastically superior big brother. However you look at it, GARO: Crimson Moon is the runt of the GARO litter.