Garo Gaiden: Tougen No Fue (Japan 2013)

Rating: **
Review Date: 3/7/15

A fun spin-off of Keita Amemiya's "Garo" series that focuses on the women in the show and highlights my favorite character, Reika. I find Garo himself to be rather uninteresting, but the girls of Garo are an entirely different matter. Without subtitles or context, the film is really difficult to figure out, but it revolves around a magical relic referred to as "tougen no fue" (whistle of the phantom peach?), which a couple of girls named Maki and Aki are using to reincarnate an ancient evil being. They dupe the cute and feisty Reika into becoming a vessel for this reincarnation, which puts her at odds with her rival/mentor, Jamaya. These four women duke it out until the relic is destroyed and the evil is vanquished.

While series creator Keita Amemiya wasn't directly involved, his style, designs, and sensibilities are readily apparent. All of the girls are delightfully adorable and their costumes are wonderful. The actress who plays Reika is amazingly cute and sexy, and I love her fierce and feisty personality. Maki is also quite cute, and looks like a pop idol pixie armed with a couple of bladed tonfas. Unfortunately, they decided to add a goofy male sidekick to the otherwise exclusively female cast, but he's thankfully not as annoying as he could have been. While it was obviously made on a lean budget, the cinematography is quite good, apart from a couple of overly messy handheld shots. The use of color is fascinating and brings a lot of depth and contrast to the setting. The action scenes are fun, fluid, and graceful, and the actresses present themselves with deadly seriousness. Unfortunately, the execution is overly soft and slow, which robs the fight scenes of intensity and impact. The visual effects are very good for the most part, but the wirework is sub-par and unconvincing. It's not great filmmaking, but I found the characters and the fantasy setting to be thoroughly enjoyable, and the female action elements definitely hit my sweet spots.