Ok, round two here we go! I’ll post the last instalment tomorrow.
Garo proves that sometimes it only takes small changes to make something appealing as despite never really being into tokusatsu, transporting the genre into a Berserk-meets-Dark Souls environment was more than enough to get me interested. That said, I still think Garo’s biggest strength lies in aping the aesthetics of the dark fantasy setting, while remaining true to the core values of its genre. Sure there’s more gore, nudity and misery, but ultimately it’s still about fighting to overcome your weaknesses and helping the ones you love… just preferably in a suit of giant metal demon armour. If nothing else, Garo is metal as fuck.
That being said, despite the deep roots in what came before, the show also operates on its own terms, being nowhere near as grotesque or surreal as its source material allegedly is, nor latching on to standard anime tropes to sell blu-rays. Take Ema, the main female heroine of the show; at all points she has agency and full control of her actions, never falling prey to sexual humiliation, fanservice shots or over-reliance on her partners in crime: indeed, her independence and ability to take charge paints her as the de facto leader for large parts of the show. This might seem an odd thing draw attention to but watching Garo made me realise how rare it happens in anime. Leon & Alphone’s arcs dealing with them growing up and conquering their flaws, whether anger and apathy, or immaturity and naivety, are also far more respectful and less inclined to judge than many similar examples. Dark subject matter might be a staple of the show, but positivity always lies at its core.
Of course it’s still tokusatsu, so just like sentai & mahou shoujo, the plot consists of hills and valleys, with stand-alone monster-of-the-week episodes separating the story-beats. They’re rarely bad, but most are the typical repetition of ‘negative emotions creating literal monsters’ scenarios. Once in a while the show remembers it can actually create more interesting concepts, and you get episodes like the one where the town artisans create a Jet Alone-esque copy of the Garo armour & use it to fight bears with flaming fists, but mostly the formula doesn’t vary. At least the animation, while occasionally off-model, produces stunning fights scenes, proving that you don’t need a Type Moon level of budget, if your cinematography is done right. I’ll take flawed art with weight and impact over detailed set-pieces that are all flash and little substance.
Rolling GirlsMy god, what even was this show? I had doubts by episode 2 whether Rolling Girls’ energy would survive the transfer from super-powered young adults to ‘ganbare’ shouting moe teenagers, and the show seemed more than willing to prove my suspicions. That said, I think my initial comparison with K-on reveals far greater issues with the core cast of this series. Say what you like about that show, but at least it felt deliberately focused (on purely incidental moments, but whatever) and you could easily figure which character someone was talking about from a one-sentence personality description. However, with Rolling Girls the girls all have the same basic personality traits, only with slightly altered levels of prominence. It’s like someone created a ‘genki’ pie chart and then changed the percentages a little for each character. Yeah, this one’s a little more greedy and impetuous, this one gets more nervous, this one gets lost a lot etc., but throw them all together and they generally react in the same awkward and meandering way.
Now to be fair, characters don’t have to be the-be-all-and-end-all if the story and themes are strong enough. Yuri Bear Storm has just proven that. However, the central idea of trying your best regardless of natural talent is both an incredibly rote staple of many anime and also barely implemented in the show. Sure, the girls forcibly insert themselves into various conflicts, trying to solve them with love and understanding (naturally), but they have nearly no impact on anything, instead getting swept up in the flow of struggles are greater than they are. I remember how Kino’s Journey had its main character deliberately act detached when observing the lives of others, yet still ended up having a greater role in the events around her than anything this show could muster up.
The reintroduction of some of the original characters like Maccha Green & Kuniko towards the end confirmed this could have been a more entertaining series if it focused on people with confidence and chemistry, but also cemented that Rolling Girls’ issues were far, far deeper than just the cast. It may be well be that the show was a victim of production committee bs and what started out as an incredibly inventive and expansive story was creatively stifled by being forced to work within the narrow confines of a slice of life series. But does that really explain why all the colourful attacks, unique designs and plot reveals feel completely divorced from one another? Sounds more like directorial issue to me. Space Dandy was another recent example of a show largely comprised of strange ideas and set pieces, but succeeded because the various directors knew how to implement them into the setting. Here, however, nothing fits together so even the most inspired ideas feel like the show is being random for the sake of it, while the pacing is often so languid and meandering that you can tune out even during what should be breath-taking animated sequences.
That such a visually inventive show can feel so boring is easily the most frustrating aspect. It’s like someone created a stack of cool promo art and concepts, only to hand them over to incredibly talented people that lacked the central guidance to tie it all together. What I’m trying to say is Rolling Girls is anime’s Final Fantasy 13. I have nothing more damning it say about it than that.