The king of the Valiante Kingdom launches a witch hunt under the advice of his advisor Mendoza. The problem is the "witches" in question are actually Makai Knights and Makai Alchemists, people who wield magical armor and spells to fight demonic Horrors to keep the land safe. A Makai Alchemist named Anna Luis is sentenced to burn at the stake in a grand execution that even the royal family attends. But she wasn't the only one who would burn, as she was pregnant at the time. Anna gives birth while being burned and her Makai Knight husband, and the father of her child, German Luis breaks out of his prison cell and rescues their son. German then escapes capture and spends the next seventeen years training his son Leon to use his Makai Knight powers as the Golden Knight Garo. Leon proceeds to use his Makai Knight abilities to hunt down Horrors and to avenge the death of the mother he never knew. Is GARO: The Animation worthy of wielding its legendary title, or is it just a pretender to the throne?
The father and son duo of German and Leon Luis easily steal the show early on. Despite their clashing styles, what with German being a seemingly carefree man who goes around sleeping with any pretty woman who falls for his charms (and German is one very charming man, so it's a lot of women) and Leon spending much of his time brooding and being focused almost solely on revenge, the two of them actually manage to get along relatively fine. They act as kind of a classic comedy duo with Leon being the straight man in the team.
Looking at the designs for all of the characters in GARO sends me on a bit of a nostalgia trip, as they look extremely similar to the designs of characters from anime from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, aka the anime I watched growing up. Simple, yet instantly recognizable outfits and hairstyles run rampant amongst the cast in this series.
GARO: The Animation takes place in a heavily fictionalized version of Spain during the height of its infamous Inquisition. This is great, because this setting is rarely seen in media, be it either through fictionalized versions like in GARO or through the real deal. This kind of setting has so much potential for stories, and while GARO doesn't fully take advantage of that potential, it is still great that the show even uses the setting in the first place.
GARO has great fight scenes from start to finish, but the show's fight scenes really kick it into high gear during its second half after MAPPA wrapped up working on Rage of Bahamut: Genesis. Not only were the fight sequences on their own amazingly planned out and animated, so was the environments surrounding them. These fight scenes showed that Bahamut's amazing animation wasn't just a fluke occurrence and are ultimately some of the best I've ever seen in anime.
Ema Guzman is easily one of the best women to ever appear in the history of anime and my absolute current favorite when it comes to modern anime. And I'm being dead serious here. She's tough as nails, able to take more punishment than even most male anime characters have succumbed to. She's total badass, as she's a Makai Alchemist, meaning she specializes in spells, yet is more than able to hold her own in physical combat, even fairing better than Leon and German against some foes. And to top it all off, she's sensual and knows it and uses her sensuality on her own terms. She's not some random victim to wanton fanservice. When Ema wants to show a little skin, it is on purpose and because she wants to. Ema Guzman is more or less the poster child for what women in anime, especially shonen anime should be. As a result, Ema sets a gold standard to which I will be weighing other women in anime against from henceforth.
One of GARO's recurring themes is the motivation for why the Makai Knights and Alchemists fight the Horrors. For Leon, early on it is revenge, but he eventually sees being fueled by the flames of rage can only take him so far, and so he undergoes a change from an avenger to a protector.
The musical group JAM Project has a long history of doing the theme songs to GARO series, and that is no different in GARO: The Animation, as they deliver two excellent opening theme songs.
I'm not going into specifics here, but suffice to say, GARO: The Animation has some incredible sense of continuity, and will pull out references and utilize plot points that I am certain you will long forget about by the time they happen. This makes the series feel like it was all planned out well in advance, and thus things feel natural and less like asspulls.
Look, I like German, I really do, cause the guy is funny and charming and stuff (and just look at that chest hair, that's a man's man's chest hair) but during the middle of the series, he's just a massive dick to Leon. Leon falls upon really tough times in the middle chunk of the series and German's response is more or less, "What, me be a father to my mentally confused teenage son? Nah, I'm sure he'll figure it out on his own.", and I get that there was a point behind German's behavior, but it still rubbed me the wrong way from time to time.
This isn't a major issue, but there are many twists and character fates that you can see coming from a mile away. Thankfully the show isn't overtly predictable, and actually has some nice surprises when it comes to character fates, as they expertly play on our predictions.
There's no real way to get around it, there's actually a surprising amount of nudity and sexual situations in GARO. The bulk of it is in the first episode, where they somehow got away with a cleverly shot sequence of German receiving a blowjob and some conveniently placed objects that just barely cover German's junk (to wit, his pubes where practically in full view), and that's just the stuff with German. There's been multiple instances of exposed breasts in this show, and usually not to titillate the viewers, as they are usually used with women who turned into Horrors. Now I'm no prude, hell I didn't mind any of this at all. I'm just surprised this stuff went uncensored, at least in the simulcast version. And of course this serves as a word of warning to those who have to be careful with what they watch in regards to sexual content.
GARO: The Animation is a modern day blast from the past. It fits into the mold of the dark and violent fantasy anime series I've seen over the years. Thankfully no prior knowledge of the GARO franchise is needed to watch this series. This was an exciting series to watch that kept me on the edge of my seat week in and week out. MAPPA proves without a shadow of a doubt that they are legit and that Rage of Bahamut wasn't a one off thing. If you want a fun and more mature shonen series to watch, or if you are just trying to fill the void left by whatever fantasy action-adventure series you have recently finished, there are few shows that can top GARO: The Animation.