More crazy than you can shake a really big Sword at
Respectively spurred on by ominous stirrings and a missing brother, a knight donning golden lion armor and an orphan named Sophie battle monsters called horrors in an attempt to find out what the hell is going on. The only clue either has is the name El Dorado, but Sophie, for better and worse, just happens to be target number one. At least her being a mark means there’s an unrelenting trail of danger to trace back to the source. Now all they have to do is survive the trip.
The animated Garo series is based on a tokusatsu (special effects drama) show in which Makai Knights and Alchemists battle horrors—monsters that take over souls overwhelmed by grief or rage—and those that (hope to) command them. Vanishing Line is the third installment of the anime series, but you really don’t need to know any of the lore to get into it. Actually, it might even be better if you haven’t seen the other installments.
Garo: Vanishing Line does what most anime should: drop viewers into a world and let them figure out the circumstances. From the start, this series boasts bloodthirsty monsters, badass heroes, bodacious art and animation, and an adrenaline-inducing soundtrack. Vocabulary really doesn’t hold any sway here; other than the term Makai, which viewers can grasp via context as some sort of secret order of mystics, everything except the subversive joke about the diner is pretty (and) straightforward.
The animated Garo series has been helmed by Maruyama’s MAPPA from the very beginning. Each installment has had its ups and downs with very distinct visual styles, but Vanishing Line is a pulpy romp like no other. The fictitious setting of Russel City, which feels very much like New York City, and the Western/Southern settings that follow are the first in the series to feel like they take place in the Americas. So, needless to say, everything is big. Sword (the Makai Knight in the golden armor), for instance, has really big muscles, a bottomless appetite, and a stupidly huge (and awesome) motorcycle.
Beyond truly stand-out character designs (humans and monsters alike), the action is also huge. There’s a fight scene in just about every episode that will drop your jaw or make your eyeballs pop. (The latter would either be from amazement over the overall camera work and CGI implementation or the jarring shaky/handheld camera effects early on.) First-time director Seong Ho Park hits it out of the, err, stadium from Episode 1, so at least Vanishing Line requires relatively little commitment to gauge personal interest. But action is only part of the formula.
Underneath all the nifty action and art are some pretty personable heroes and sympathetic stand-alone episode characters. Sword is one of my favorite types of superheroes: the eternal, indestructible child (a la The Tick). He’s huge and collaterally dangerous but well meaning in every way and selfless to a fault. His Makai Alchemist sidekick, Luke, is plastered with a one-episode backstory for humanization purposes, but the love he has for Sword as friend and partner is evident from his actions and how they warm with every passing episode. But there are problems too.
The other Garo series have had solid villains who were the heroes’ foils—complements that brought a sense of purpose to the heroes’ struggles. Vanishing Line, however, just feels like an endless trail of (albeit really cool and inventive) monsters, end-level bosses, and big bads. (The biggest bad is even super-derivative and disappointing but at least has a decent-enough connection to one of the main characters to justify the plot and add a drop of depth.) Perhaps most disappointing is a twist on the other series: a corrupted Makai Knight that never feels effectively utilized even though he’s given a decent enough backstory. And even the horrors, which occupy huge roles as sympathetic tragedies of human nature in stand-alone episodes in the first cour, are relegated to simple (but visually awesome) monsters in the second cour.
Garo: Vanishing Line is turn-your-mind-off entertainment at its pulpiest, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Rating: Not Rated