Today I finish this look into the Tokusatsu genre that I started on Monday. Yesterday I spoke about Kamen Rider, my favourite tokusatsu series, aimed primarily at children though it doesn’t shy away from dark subject matter and some interesting plots. Today though, I’ll talk about a tokusatsu series designed for adults: Garo.
Unlike Kamen Rider where each series brings a new monster race and new transformation systems, the world of Garo remains the same throughout the different seasons. While each has its unique concepts and even creatures, the basic rules of the world remain the same.
In the world of Garo, the darkness within humans, known as Inga, draws creatures from the nether realms to the world. In bad places charged with negative energies, the Horrors cross over into our world with only the desire to feed. Some possess humans and others inanimate objects, but the result is the same: people are going to die. Once the Horror devours enough victims, it evolves into a unique form, with the base one looking very much like a Lovecraftian Nightgaunt.
Horrors, while their purpose is simple, go about their killing in different ways, some of them really creative and others freaking disturbing. One horror in the first series trapped his victims in a nightmare realm where we played a game with them. Sounding like SAW yet? It’s really disturbing. One early Horror attracted her victims like a succubus, with the power of partial frontal nudity—read boobs.
In this world, there are also Makai Knights and Priests (Makai meaning demon world but it’s quicker to just say Makai) who actively fight the horrors and protect humanity, though much like in Kamen Rider, they often act as avengers, as they usually only find the horror after it’s left a considerable trail of bodies. It doesn’t help that Horrors possessing humans can take on their shape. The only way to identify one and kill them is by shining a magical light in front of them that reveals the creature’s darkness in their eyes. It adds a layer of investigation to every episode, making the Makai Knights feel like detectives trying to find a runaway criminal.
This wouldn’t be a tokusatsu series if someone didn’t transform into something else and both Horror and Knights can do it. Horrors assume the nightgaunt form I mentioned or their evolved one, which will vary depending on the nature of the inga that drew them to the world, the person they possess and of course their feeding habits.
Makai Knights have battle armours they summon by raising their swords and forming a circle in the air. This opens a portal and brings down the armour to them. It’s very quick and with no pomp. Garo takes itself seriously so there aren’t any goofy poses, just badassery. The armours all have variations on a wolf theme, as Garo means “Fanged Wolf”—at least according to Wikipedia. One of the things I like the most is that Garo never shows too many Makai Knights in armour at the same time, so that when you see one, it still feels unique.
Another thing to point out is that Garo is not just the name of the series but also a title in the universe, one held by the protagonist. Garo is the Golden Knight, literally so, with a Golden armour and a giant gold-inlaid two-handed sword. A long time ago I read the Garo TV Tropes page and it mentioned it subverted the “Katanas are better” trope and it’s true. No one in the Garo universe uses a Katana, instead favouring European swords, lances, axes and even bows and arrows. The protagonists, the ones bearing the title Garo, use a Chinese-styled sword and one of the characters in the alternate universe of Garo: Yami wo Terasu Mono uses a scimitar.
So far there have been five different seasons, three set in the “main” universe and two in the alternate universe of Yami wo Terasu Mono. The difference between settings is really just the characters. Now, I call them alternate realities because Garo has never stated how these series relate to one another, so we don’t know if one is in the future of the second or if indeed they are parallel to each other.
There are differences though, the Yami Wo Terasu Mono universe relies on CGI much more than the main one, which actually shows the characters in their armours without animation and more than once has them fight in them, leaving the CGI for the really spectacular moments. In Yami Wo Terasu Mono and its sequel, fights are almost exclusively CGI.
The CGI is generally good, much better than you see in other tokusatsu and TV series in general and the filming is meticulous enough to choreograph around the fake fighters, so that when the CGI monsters come in, their hits connect and have weight.
One of the things I enjoy the most about Garo, particularly the first couple of seasons is that the cast does their own stunts and fights. Ryosei Konishi, the actor playing the original Garo protagonist, Saeshima Kouga, did all the fights and it’s a treat to watch them rehearse in the many making of videos you can find online. It’s actually quite fascinating to see even those actors playing non-combat roles take part in the training and work out the choreographies.
The series have a lot of style, particularly introducing new characters. Most special monsters or Makai Knights and Priests have an introduction sequence with a paper background and kanji written with water paints and thick brushes. It’s unique to Garo and very special. In fact, when Yami wo Terasu Mono abandoned this approach for its first season, I was seriously disappointed. It’s part of the Garo charm after all.
You can also see the more serious approach to tokusatsu in how they don’t use the traditional special effects. If sparks show, it’s because of clashing sword, and they don’t shy away from showing blood if someone gets skewered with a blade—though horror blood often gets some extra styling with black kanji swimming in it. Explosions rarely happen, often only as part of some big CGI blowout ending with mass Makai Knight-induced carnage. The still use dudes in rubber monster suits though, because you have to keep some things around!
Garo certainly takes a different approach to the tokusatsu genre, one that is perhaps a better fit for newcomers, those who can’t really deal with the classic special effects. The world is great, the characters as well and the action is phenomenal.
You should really check it out!