Revisiting Garo: Honoo no Kokuin

I generally try to stick to live-action series for this column, but when there’s an animated series that’s based on a tokusatsu franchise, it’s only fitting to make an exception.

This week, I’m revisiting Garo: Honoo no Kokuin. Now that the series has ended (although I think I saw something about more coming later), I feel like we have a much better picture of what Yasuko Kobayashi-sensei was trying to do.

Honoo_no_Kokuin

Right up front, I of course have to acknowledge how different animation and live-action are. There are things that can be done in one format and not the other, and vice versa. As I mentioned in the “first look”, Honoo no Kokuin started out with a much bigger cast than we’ve typically seen in previous offerings. It did get whittled down as the story progressed, but there’s no denying that it contributed to a lot of the elements that typically show up in Garo falling by the wayside until that happened. Even when they did surface, they weren’t explained very well, as if the audience would already be familiar with how things work. One thing that she did well, though, was the telling of Leon’s arc. Being the title holder of Garo for most of the series, and despite seeing other characters’ threads while they were all walking separate paths, the story truly remained primarily about him.

Secondly, the cinematography was also very different, in this case especially noticeable through the lighting filters. The live-action offerings are far more muted than can really be accomplished through this style of animation. In order to help convey Leon’s journey, they had to show audience a more vibrant environment for him to discover himself and his needs. In this comparison, the fight scenes were really the only elements that aligned with a typical Garo story – even though much of the early fights in the live-action were done with suit actors, they began to animate them on the computer after a while. Oddly, it was as jarring going from animation to animation as it was going from live-action to animation (think of something like Initial D, for a good idea of the distinction). That being said, expecting that leap actually helped bring it back into focus.

All things considered, fans of the main Garo franchise will probably not like this series much, unless they have the patience to sit through the first half. It is far more recognizable after that, but the plot depends on that first half to form a basis of understanding for how it reaches the climactic ending. People coming in to Garo through the anime will hopefully be able to grasp the various live-action series without having much of an explanation as to why things are the way they are in this world. It certainly doesn’t help that it takes place in an alternate universe.

Rating: 3rd Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Ressha Sentai ToQger

Twice a year, the main tokusatsu (special effects filming) franchises conclude one story, and prepare to start the next one – Kamen Rider in the fall, and Super Sentai in the winter. Last week marked the passing of the baton from Ressha Sentai ToQger to Shuriken Sentai Ninninger.

TOQ08-1002

Tokusatsu series (both riders and sentai) generally have two main themes – a physical theme and an emotional theme, in ToQger’s case these being trains and the railroad, and the power of imagination. The biggest gimmick at the outset last year was that the five team members weren’t being referred to by their colors, like previous teams had been. Each of them had a numerical designation, and once transformed, they were able to change colors among themselves. It was actually pretty entertaining, because various members were caught by surprise from it. The most prominent rule governing the ToQger world was that items worked the way characters thought they did – if they could imagine it, that made the item’s behavior reality. The various trains combined to form a giant robot because ToQ-1 though that was something they should be able to do, and he figured out how to use the mid-season power up by imagining it as well.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, most tokusatsu falls into the category of “these are stories which are designed to sell toys” (sort of like Pokemon, if that helps). With every new physical theme, there comes a whole new set of transformation devices, play weapons, figurines, and other associated items. Most people will say that a show’s success actually depends on how well these toys sell, and they’re not wrong. Frankly speaking, ToQger has some fun toys. ToQ-1 through 5 transform using a wrist brace that actual train car pieces slide into, and since there’s potential to transfer colors, the brace was programmed to remember which one you put in first. There’s even a deluxe box that comes with all five colors of trains, and they assemble to make the robot… but they also all fit into the brace (the basic box usually only comes pre-packaged with the red piece for any team you’re looking at). Also, they’re trains, for goodness sake.

That’s not to say the show isn’t also important, though. The progression of any particular story can usually be anticipated by looking at who the head writer is. The head writer for ToQger was Yasuko Kobayashi, who also wrote for Tokumei Sentai GoBusters, Kamen Rider OOO, Kamen Rider Den-O, and Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (she’s also done some work with Garo, including Honoo no Kokuin, but that’s a different article). Except for GoBusters, which was a darker story the whole way through, her work tends to start out on the light side, and then part way through start to drop some seriously heavy ideas on everyone, eventually ending on a heart-wrenching note in the finale. She did not fail to deliver this time around.

ToQger will not likely be adapted for western audiences for various reasons, not least of which being ToQ-1 transferring to pink, but I think that’s okay. GoBusters wasn’t adapted either, and when they looked at Shinkenger, they made a pretty close copy of the source story (from what I understand… sadly, I haven’t watched that version yet). We’re a few hours away from the premiere of Ninninger, so the only thing to do is keep looking forward.

This series may not necessarily be the best one to come into the franchise on, although your mileage may vary. Even if you watch something else first, I definitely recommend coming back to it.

Rating: 4th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]