Garo, Makai no Hana, and the Parallel Narrative
Fair warning that’s only happening once: SPOILERS ABOUND.
One of the other fandoms I’m involved with at the moment has been in the midst of a very heated debate about similar themes being used multiple times by the same show and/or show writers across multiple shows. Some see this as an overtly negative thing and I just want to take a minute to highlight Garo Seasons 1 and 4 as an example of how this sort of thing can be done really well. It’s not inherently bad to address the same kind of story, premise, or themes multiple times. It only becomes a problem when you repeat yourself instead of approaching things from a new angle, expand on them in some way, or otherwise fail to differentiate the characters involved.
This is where Garo and Garo: Makai no Hana come into play.
In the first season of Garo, we’re introduced to Kouga, known as the Golden Makai Knight “Garo,” and shown a modern world still suffuse in the myths and dangers of the old: Horrors. Aside from walking the audience through the concepts of the Makai, horrors, priests, and how they fight, there is not a lot of world building that goes on in season 1. It’s just enough to get you through and keep up with the pace of what is happening in the story, which is perfect for an opening season in most cases and especially in a show like this. You don’t have to know everything to be immersed in this world, and Kaoru as a character is living proof of that.
The characters and basic plotline of Garo are very simplistic. Good guy male lead fights the evils of the world and struggles to deal with the corruption of his own people in the process. A “hapless woman” gets thrown into his world and is used as an audience surrogate as well as a plot and character motivation. Then a third character, the second male lead, is brought in to round out the main cast and provide further conflict with the primary character.
If this is starting to sound familiar, well that’s kind of the point.
Between Makai no Hana and the first season of Garo, there are many, obvious parallels in characters and narrative from the very beginning, not the least of which is the fact that the lead, Raiga, is Kaoru and Kouga’s son. Our holy trinity of Kouga/Kaoru/Rei is simply redone with Raiga/Mayuri/Crow. The narrative even begins similarly: the male lead is doing his job when he gets stuck with the primary female lead in order to continue doing it. As the story progresses, she becomes more and more integral to the plot and the secondary male lead is positioned in opposition to the protagonist as yet another aspect of the evil plot in motion.
When you spell it out like that, it sounds like we’re watching the same exact story with minor tweaks. However, echoing back to an earlier narrative is a very purposeful decision to make and is often used to highlight a particular theme. In this case, there is even a very obvious reason: the Saejima lineage. The idea that the bearers of Garo, whose very name means “Hope,” are locked in a cycle of fighting a ceaseless war at the cost of their own happiness is a very powerful one. In fact, I would argue, that is the driving force behind the parallel stories of Raiga and his father in their first seasons. (Here’s hoping we get a second for Raiga as well!)
Let’s consider this in relation to the character development of the protagonists in both seasons.
Kouga lost his mother young and his father not long after that and with significant trauma. This makes him very jaded and obviously shapes him into the stoic man he’s portrayed as in the series. That is also part of what makes his warming up to Kaoru and his fierce loyalty to his friends stand out that much more. Similarly, his son, Raiga, loses both of his parents very young. The primary difference here, and part of what makes this story a parallel narrative instead of the same thing written twice, is how this is done and the effect it has on him.
Gif Credit: Yamaming.tumblr.com
Raiga has enough memories of both parents and positive human – and specifically familial – relationships that losing the most important people to him just makes him that much more driven to keep the happiness he has. He doesn’t close up like his father did, but instead reaches out all the more. In fact, it becomes central to his affable nature and something of a need to embrace others.
Raiga himself clarifies this in Episode 24 of Makai no Hana:
Raiga: Becoming a kind knight isn’t something I wanted!
Raiga: (For me,) this is the only way I know how to live!
This gives us a separate, equally valid, equally compelling narrative of loss to start from.
It is, also, the fundamental deviation that separates the two seasons and what makes Raiga’s story echoes of his father’s instead of the same thing over again. Many aspects of their stories are similar: they each have 100 days to fix something that involves the lead woman in a way that is probably going to end in her death; both meet another knight along the way that is in some way entwined with the final problem; and both are ultimately incapable of preventing the boss battle due to their connection with their fellow leads. However, this bit of repetition to the events of the story does not invalidate how they happen and who they happen to.
These parallels are designed to hammer home the cyclical nature of what it means to be at the forefront of this war. We are shown, especially in Makai no Hana, that the support staff, so to speak, do not necessarily have to spend their lives in service to this war. (See: Anna) In part, that is what Makai Knights are for. They are shields to the rest of humanity, and the best even provide shields unto their fellow knights and priests. That incredible strength comes at a cost, however, and time and time again the narrative for those knights in particular is a tragic one. Even should you survive to the point of creating a family, chances are it’s going to be taken from you.
This is especially pertinent to Raiga’s story due to two specific events in his life: his parents being taken and time being literally snatched from him while in the Garo armor.
During Kouga’s run, we are shown that he was raised from the very beginning to be a knight and it is clarified even further in the second season that he never really had a choice in the matter. That is not the case with Raiga. There are multiple flashbacks throughout the series in which we are shown that his parents wanted very much to give him that choice. Even after they are torn from him, Rei gives him this choice yet again, after he has shown Raiga what his life is going to entail should he insist on becoming a Makai knight.
In both cases, however, the war reaches out to get him rather than truly afford him any options at all. First, when his parents are taken from him by the very forces they wished to separate him from, and again in the case of Rei, who seems to come off more along the lines of trying to keep Raiga off Rei’s previous path by allowing him to think he still has that choice when it was already taken from him. Thus, the cycle of the Garo armor being a necessary evil in the lives of its bearers continues.
The notion of choice, however, doesn’t end there. I’m sure we all remember this, from season 1:
Also known as the moment the audience realizes Kouga himself is not immune to that desperate power grab that has corrupted the very man he is trying to fight. The story makes it very clear that its protagonists are just as flawed as their fellow knights and priests, both of whom can be just as much, if not more of a problem than the horrors themselves. Beware that you do not become the monsters you fight, indeed.
I’m sure you know where I’m going next:
It’s not the fact that this is happening to the son as well as the father, but how it is happening. In the first season, Kouga purposely keeps the armor on in a last ditch effort to defeat someone between him and Kaoru. It is a moment of desperation terrifying in its humanity. Rei, whose character is presented as far darker in almost all aspects to Kouga’s, never once falls into that same well of desperation and even manages to drag Kouga out of it. For Raiga, that moment never happens. His choice, his literal time, is snatched from him and he is forced into the same situation his father willingly entered into.
Not only does this mark yet another parallel event in their stories, but it proves that Raiga himself is a hard won step forward in this hellish cycle. Even as cyclical as this tragic narrative is, Garo remains a center of hope for this world because of how these tragedies forge each bearer. Taiga was good enough to shield his son from his disciple’s mistakes. Kouga was powerful enough to teach his son to learn from his own mistakes. Raiga takes all of that and runs with it.
He makes friends and keeps them close. He always tries to save people first, just like his father, but unlike Kouga, when his power doesn’t seem to be enough, he doesn’t lose hope. That is what lets him save Crow, and what allows him to turn down Eiris’s offer quickly and firmly.
Just because the story structure remains the same, doesn’t mean we are going to be given the same story. In fact, rather than detract from the narratives, it adds to it in a very profound way.
Personally, I can’t wait for the final episode.
Some final thoughts:
- Please note the scare quotes around “hapless woman” to describe Kaoru and her function in the story. I love Kaoru and think her character was handled very well in both seasons.
- In spite of being a very gendered show, Keita handles women in his narratives very well. That might be another post sometime.
- I should also note that Crow and Mayuri are not direct substitutes for Rei and Kaoru. In fact, Crow has many scenes where his character is functionally similar to Kaoru’s role. Probably another future post.