I’ll get it out of the way now and say I haven’t been watching as much newer anime as I did last year, but the one show not named Pop Team Epic that I have been watching week to week on FunimationNow has been GARO: Vanishing Line. Yes, I know how much everyone has been liking Laid Back Camp, but it doesn’t have an official dub I can stream, so I haven’t been watching it. What I have been watching, however, has been an insanely fun adventure.
Looking at the show on paper, I really thought this was going to be a dud. I actually mocked the premise and the protagonist being named “Sword” on our AniTAY preview podcast that usually has me going into the seasonal anime listing completely blind. The buzz never went away from our writers, and I slowly perked up and got curious. I started watching right towards the conclusion of the first season it was airing and was pleasantly surprised.
For those who don’t know, the show serves as a sort of coming of age story that blends in with some hardcore action. Young Sophie tries to track down her missing brother only to get tangled up in a surreal underworld of people turning into monstrosities and the specialists who hunt them. It has that appeal of the 80s action movies where the young rebel inadvertently crosses paths with the coolest, most 80s looking dude who drifted into town and together they go on a little adventure, both slowly becoming more endearing as time goes on. This is coupled with the tried and true approach in anime of there being manifestations of the darkness of desires to be fought.
All of this is to say, the beats in Vanishing Line are very familiar, yet they don’t feel stale or unoriginal. The mysteries from the episodes aren’t groundbreaking, sure, but they help keep the audience pulled into the world of hunting “Horrors”. Through most of the first act of the series, Sophie forces her way into the world of Horror hunting by trailing a man named Sword (sigh it really is an odd name) who has a talking motorcycle and dons a magical golden suit of armor to fight various Horrors. After a few attempts at it, she manages to convince Sword to let her accompany him and meets other hunters such as the femme fatale Gina and the sharpshooter Luke.
When the first half of the series was airing, I was intrigued to see how it would take off, then the other shoe dropped right before the end of the first cour. A series of events forces Sophie, Sword and later Gina and Luke to pursue the illusive El Dorado- a mystery only mentioned by name for a chunk of time. The second half of the show serves as one part road trip, one part world/character building, and finally a glorious showdown. While I’m aware it might not come off as the most apt comparison, I found a lot of the appeal of the second half of this series to be like that of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders in that the thing that kept me coming back week to week was seeing what trouble the group would bump into along the way. Where it diverges from JJBA, however, is that this theme doesn’t stay around for double digit worth of episodes.
There is a kind of artistry from how the storytelling is controlled in this half in that it is not just the week to week journey and there are different angles of the world building used. For example, there are entire episodes that show just how warped and demented El Dorado is, using gripping stories of people seeking their futures beyond the walls of the fabled city. By the time Sophie and the others get to El Dorado, the audience has already experienced the city and knows what is lurking around the corner. In addition, there are really gripping backstory episodes that are sewn in with whatever conflict is occuring at the time. I found one of the most effective episodes of the series to be one that had nothing to do with Horrors at all- a tragedy of an impoverished city along the way to El Dorado that tears young lovers apart from one another. In hearing a tale of loss, there are some details shown for Sword’s reason for being and what really does not sit well due to the circumstances being as dark as they are.
Most importantly, I found the sort of brotherhood the hunters had to be incredibly endearing. What starts as a nosey girl and a tough guy who might be a little aloof quickly comes around to being two very animated individuals to accompany level headed partners that certainly have their own soft sides. Somewhere right before the group reached El Dorado, I audibly proclaimed how much I loved this group makeup and that I was all in with them. When there is a group that is compelling and diverse, it makes an approach such as the road trip plot all the more exciting and entertaining. If you’re interested in English dubs, I can vouch that the main cast here is phenomenal- Madeleine Morris really picks up the pace with voicing Sophie towards the end and there are really convincing performances by more well known names like David Matranga and Trina Nishimura as well as lesser known names like Taliesin Jaffe.
Seeing as it took me this long to get around to it, I just want to say that the action is not something to be hurriedly looked over. Sure the animation for the armor that Sword wears gets a little wonky looking, but the action sequences are breathtaking here- I found myself rewinding entire fights to watch them again. I joked with a friend that how Luke fires his weapons in such a smooth fashion is what I was hoping to see when I heard that there would be a film adaptation of The Dark Tower novel series by Stephen King. There is a lot of fun action going on in Vanishing Line, but it never feels excessive or takes away from the narrative, which goes a long way in effectiveness.
Overall, GARO: Vanishing Line is a great thrill ride that has incredibly likeable characters and action to tout. It might be betting a bit too much on black with its characters, but if they resonate with viewers, the series is an immediate must watch. There are a few nuances that accompany a GARO project that might turn people away, but they are worth forgoing for the sake of enjoying this ride.