Garo: The Animation concerns itself with one Leon Luis, orphan son of a witch (the magic using kind, not the generally-unpleasant-woman kind). Leon has issues. So so so many issues. He has no home, no friends, no living mom, and no actual dad. All he does have is a somewhat hedonistic guardian named German Luis. The road is no place to raise a kid even when you’re good at it, especially a kid who’s life began when his mother’s ended as she was burned on a stake. German is definitely not particularly good at raising children, though Leon may be more or less raising himself. Leon does have one thing going for him though, Garo: The Golden Knight armor. It might give him the power to conquer all of his problems, but also might just destroy him.
To be honest if Garo: The Animation was exclusively about Leon and his problems it would be pretty boring. There’s nothing all that interesting about yet another “angsty teenager tortured by their superpowers” show. To be fair, Leon does show something more than sullen indifference and uncontrolled rage, but he’s still not especially compelling on his own for a while. The significant amount of screen time given over to German balances things nicely overall. For all of Leon’s dour attitude and barely contained rage, German cuts the other way with a very cavalier attitude towards almost everything and a predisposition to wine, women and song, or at least wine and women. While they may not have much in common personality wise, both German and Leon do have enough in common. They are both Makai Knights, and they both hate Horrors.
Garo is a horror show above all else. They don’t skimp much on the details of what the Horrors do nor what it takes to kill then. Death is cheap, not always quick, and often quite brutal for everyone, Makai Knights included. There is a lot of violence and blood in this show, along with a fair amount of swearing and German’s butt. Somehow he loses his clothing a lot. So, you’ve been warned. Don’t use this as a babysitter, unless you want your kinds to grown up with severe emotional problems.
As best as can be determined Garo is set in post-Roman Spain with a heavy Roman Catholic flavor, personified by Mendoza, the principal heavy of the show. In the best Disney tradition, you can tell the second you see him that he isn’t right, even if the reasons why are a little more interesting than most cookie cutter villains. Yes, he does want to conquer the world and all that jazz, but his reasons are at least reasonably compelling. His preferred method of conquest is controlling the aforementioned Horrors — corrupted souls brought back from Hell or something like it — that mindlessly consume everyone in their sights.
Naturally, the Makai Knights and associated Makai Alchemists are sworn to destroy Horrors wherever possible, leading to the inevitable clash between them and Mendoza. Well, both inevitable and long running, as Mendoza has had a vendetta again the Knights for quite a while. As Mendoza has been slowly poisoning both the country and the royal family for a number of years to complete his control, he makes more enemies, eventually leading the Crown Prince, Alfonso, to defect and try to become a Makai Knight himself. Of course becoming a Makai Knight isn’t easy. The trials could easily consume one’s soul…and it always extracts a price. The more all of the Knights use the armor, especially Leon, the harder it becomes to control if you don’t have the right training and the right head space, and Leon’s headspace is a disaster. Can a Knight who can’t control himself protect anyone else?
Generally Garo is pretty well paced overall. These first 13 episodes don’t feel that they have too much flab in them, nor do they ever feel like they’re rushing to get somewhere just because they are running out of time. Animation quality is decent overall. Not necessarily mind blowing, but there are no obvious problems and they manager to choreograph all of the action sequences pretty well. You’re never left wondering where the heck a character is, even if some of the fights are a little perfunctory. The melding of 3D CGI and 2D is decent enough overall. You can tell when something is and is not CGI, but it doesn’t stick out as much as in a lot of productions. Having Studio MAPPA doing the work certainly doesn’t hurt things. The soundtrack definitely makes some interesting choices, veering a bit towards an 80’s power metal motif a lot of the time. Hopefully part 2 of Garo: The Animation is as entertaining as the first part, and every bit as bloody.