“Men are what their mothers made them.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames reminds us that behind every hero, Mom’s involved.
It goes without saying that heroes generally want to be like their fathers–strong, brave and heroic–but it’s often really their mothers who play a huge role in shaping their people they grow up to be. Garo, a tale of humanity’s primordial-long war against a demonic race of evil creatures called Horrors, explores the impact mothers have on their children. Leon and Alfonso, two Makai knights in training, are foils in many ways, their personalities unmistakably shaped by the presence of their mothers.
I’ll start with Alfonso because his story represents a textbook example of the hero’s strength wrought from motherhood. He might be a prince, but it’s really his mother’s legacy that has shaped him. With his father largely absent from his upbringing–not much quality time you can spend with your son when you’re bedridden–Alfonso’s mother has basically raised him, ensuring that he grow up knowing the tales of the Makai knights–specifically, Garo–despite living in a kingdom that’s hostile to them.
She teaches him to be a good prince, to selflessly prioritize the safety and wellbeing of his people above all else. When an opportunity to rescue his mother presents itself, Alfonso prioritizes the defeat of Mendoza over freeing her, a decision that Leon can’t bear to have made. In other words, Leon’s mother raises him to be the ideal Makai knight, one worthy of inheriting the power of Garo.
On the other hand, Leon’s upbringing has been molded by the absence of his mother. Despite German’s dubious recreational activities, we see that he’s done the best he can in raising Leon, although we also see that German has not been able to heal the wounds in his son’s heart.
“Forgive me, Leon–I wasn’t able to put out the flames burning within these seventeen years.” -German Luis
Having lost a mother is crippling enough for any child, but to learn that his mother died at the hands of the very people that she protected is a far deeper emotional blow.
It’s far too easy to condemn Leon for his weakness, for succumbing to the darkness of his heart, for giving in to rage and destruction. His anguish for a mother who he has never known seems excessive, one might presume, but a mother’s absence is a wound that Leon has never properly taken care of. German has shown that while he’s a good man, he hasn’t been a very good father. And while Leon has had to shoulder the heavy burden of becoming the next Garo, German appears at a loss when Leon needs to be comforted. Instead German assures himself that Leon doesn’t need someone to help him up when he falls, that he can get up and walk on his own. It isn’t a father’s place to comfort his son–it’s his mother’s and German doesn’t realize that Leon’s never had the luxury of a mother’s gentle touch.
The major difference between Leon and Alfonso is their level of emotional maturity. Alfonso, raised by a loving mother, has grown up to be a wise, young man, one worthy enough of becoming Garo. Leon has grown up, haunted with fulfilling a destiny too big for him to fill, still very much a child that longs for a mother’s touch that will never come to ease his pain. And that’s an obstacle that will remain insurmountable, should Leon stay a child. We might condemn Leon for his lapse in judgment and the destruction he wreaks but even Alfonso admits that even he–someone who has known his mother’s love–was not sure he would have been able to make a better decision were he in Leon’s shoes.
“If Mendoza held my mother hostage, I wonder if I would have been able to chastise Leon?” -Prince Alfonso
Stripped of the only legacy of his mother’s–for that’s what Garo really meant to Leon, who saw it as a keepsake and connection to the mother he never knew, Leon is truly lost. Without his mother’s armor and sword to guide him, Leon’s path of vengeance has ended, with no sense of closure or peace. When he falls, who will be there to grab hold of him, to console him in his darkest hour? Despite German’s “Do or Die” philosophy, there’s no doubt that this is the moment when Leon really needs a parent’s love, if he is to have any hope of moving on.