Strange suicides have been taking place in New York. One day, four girls from the same high school wake up in the morning feeling tired and dizzy and not being able to remember anything about the previous night. In school, they find out that one of their classmates has committed suicide. School is canceled for the rest of the day, but instead of going home, the girls are drawn to a park by butterflies only they can see. Suddenly a man and a woman approach the girls, telling them that they all died the previous night.
Murder, suicide, butterflies,Roosevelt Island and young undead girls. Welcome to Red Garden.
Red garden is a creepy horror-story starring four girls, Kate, Rachel, Claire and Rose who all died at the same place. Even thought they are dead they have been granted a life by a woman in exchange for them to at anytime fight all kinds of unnatural beings. Along with trying to live a normal life they also is trying to figure out what happened to them that night where their normal lives ended. This is just the beginning but the 4 first episodes gives hints on that there will be many plot-twists to
come and that everything is not what it seems. The one thing that they do have in common is also the most interesting thing about the story, their common friend Lise who supposedly took her life the very same day they all died. This makes a really interesting way to start off a new series and I myself found it really interesting that you from the very first episode easily got sucked in the world that is Red Garden.
The art in is truly beautiful from the opening to the end but those who are not used to different animation may find it unusual and even ugly. Gonzo has done a brilliant work with this title and the artistry and style is really unique. The thing that I first noticed was that the hair of all characters have a gradient tone and no paint-on-shadows that most shows do, this makes the hair look really smooth, not hard and spiky like the stereotypical anime hair. Although this is nice it makes the already shoujo style of the characters even more shoujo-ish. There should be no problem with this if you have seen shows like Paradise Kiss and Nana before but even if you haven't the story will suck you in and you will get used to the style pretty quickly.
The music is also great, not only the opening and ending but the music in between is also very fitting to what is happening and what mood the scene is in. They seems to have been putting a lot of effort into making the mood just right as in many shows but the difference here is that they actually succeeded.
The characters in Red Garden are really something, the high school girls and really acts like it too making them easy to relate to. The girls are not meant to be superheroes with superpowers, they are just regular teens that for their own survivals sake must fight even though they don't want to. This can be seen early on in the anime, the agony the girls are in for doing what they do that will eventually take its toll and break them down.
Though it may not seem like it at first glance, this is actually a thriller and has a depth not seen many times before. The mystery is like a mist that slowly lightens and at the end of the first few episodes always leave you with a desire to watch the next and the next. This never ends and the anime always manages to keep you interested in it.
To summarise, Red Garden is a visually stunning with a interesting story that just makes you want more and more. The downside is that not everyone will appreciate the special art-style but for those who do gets to see a great story with deep life-like characters. Girl or boy (woman or man), either way I highly suggest that you watch it, for your own good.
It's funny that when I first started watching I thought the characters looked ridiculous and now I find it much more 'natural' than purple-haired, bug eyed smurf-sized lolitas. Maybe it's the fantastic characterization and development that has made me warm to them. Either way the glamorous look Red Garden is given really enriches my understanding of the very unglamorous conflicts, emotions and changes the characters endure. At times I feel that they could've made it just a little bit more filthy. In fact I get thirsty during the fight scenes for some unnerving material. The first couple of episodes where Rachel's nail is cracked, really
sold it for me. I love that sort of imagery, where it's such a noticeable detail that makes a vein character feel so ugly.
I've never been to New York or a city as large but I definitely get the feeling in Red Garden of the girls being alone in a place packed with people. I love this element and I think it's portrayed so well through each of the girls reaching out to people they love and dealing with the social problems their condition creates. The relationships present in RG are so intricate and developed that they rival with Honey and Clover. The series really spends a lot of time encouraging the viewer to empathize with the girls and really understand all the realistic problems; socially, financially, academically and physically, they go through.
There has not been one moment in the series where I've wanted to see more action, or wanted a plot twist. Everything is timed perfectly and I believe that pacing in a series makes a very big difference to the enjoyment. Each character cries for just enough time before they get annoying. We go through a cycle of the four girls and switch from problem to problem between them and not once have I hated one of them even though they have obvious weaknesses. This is because I understand their situations so well thanks to the magnificent characterization.
The music is great too. I even liked the singing at the end of a few episodes, though unfortunately it stopped. I thought it was a little bit embarrassing and I still can't really figure out why they were singing but it was a little rest from all the emotional stress we had gone through in the first few episodes. The OP song is good, it's glamorous and does sound a bit 1920s American jazz-like. I think it suits the series well. I like the OP animation, it's subtleness is admirable and I prefer it to slow moving shots of the characters' naked silhouettes.
Finally I think the most obvious strength in Red Garden is it's reason, it's restraint and it's sensible realism. Four girls given super-human powers and a chance to kill crazed cannibals sounds like a girl-kick-butt action packed saga. Instead Red Garden has realistically depicted it's characters being challenged instead of automatically displaying masterful martial arts skills. No leather-clad voluptuous cyborg vampire slayers here. These are emotional and quite normal teenage girls with different backgrounds. It's very impressive stuff and the ending didn't disappoint.
Red Garden is a show full of weird little quirks, but there's nothing particularly quirky about its premise: four girls are forced to fight supernatural forces. Each evening, at any time before midnight, a team of female students from a prestigious school in New York may be summoned by a mysterious woman named Lula to engage in a deathmatch against fast, vicious, zombie-like monsters. Surrender and nonparticipation are not valid options. The girls know nothing about why they've been chosen or who they're really working for, but they hope to find out before it's too late.
Studio Gonzo's artistic work here is wholly different from the
norm. Red Garden's characters are tall and lanky, distinctly European-looking, mostly pale and thin, as if to emphasize their fragility and their proximity to death. Their hair and their hard, angular faces are rendered with an attention to detail that borders on obsessive. The backgrounds do a competent job displaying the ins and outs of a big city, from elegant party halls and bustling streets to half-vacant, slummy apartments; none of them draw the eye in quite the same way as the characters, but the effort is nonetheless appreciable. Shortcuts are taken in the animation here and there, but for the most part they're at least placed in such a way as to not be obtrusive, neither adding to nor detracting from the visual experience. The fight scenes are more about the emotional element than the actual combat, so I'll look past what could generously be described as uninspired choreography on that front. Red Garden is at its visual best during moments of calm, when its uniquely stylized character designs can draw a breath and do their job.
The soundtrack is orchestral, almost exclusively low and atmospheric, sometimes rising with a subtle and foreboding crescendo during developing scenes of action. On its own two legs, it's humble, not what you're likely to remember as an awesome musical score, but it blends seamlessly into the show, quietly touching the right notes and enhancing the mood from its place in the background. That merits a certain amount of praise. It does its job, and does it well.
Red Garden's biggest strength lies in its characters, who are drawn from different backgrounds and social circles to fight for their lives. We meet Rose, a shy and caring everygirl; Rachel, a rebellious partygoer; Kate, the daughter of a wealthy family who is held to high expectations in school; and Claire, a tough loner with few friends. In the past, they've all been passing classmates at best, and they have no common ground. They simply don't like each other. Their personalities don't mix. Two are meek and timid, two are strong and overly confrontational. They bicker, judge, and throw insults without considering the consequences, as teenagers are apt to do. Combat only amplifies these difficulties—how can you entrust your life to (or risk your life for) someone you don't even respect, someone who talked down to you earlier that same day? The end result, curiously, is that all of the girls are too hesitant. No one makes a move during a fight, out of fear that none of the others will come to their aid.
But necessity's hand is at work. The girls soon realize that the choice between cooperating and dying is really no choice at all, and they begin to work as a team, slaying their opponents with newfound proficiency. In the process, they find their common ground: a strong desire to live. Trust in battle leads the group to new highs, and eventually the stilted pseudo-friendship turns into the genuine article. Interactions under the moon and those under the sun bleed together. The team meets in everyday life, and its members warmly help each other work through personal problems. The girls are well-written, well-developed, and believably frayed. Red Garden's drama can sometimes seem over-the-top, but it's usually justified. After all, its characters live each day on edge, trying to get through school while dreading the summons of Lula, never knowing what might happen at night, frequently haunted by what happened the night before. Anyone would be a nervous, screaming wreck in that situation.
If only the story were handled so gracefully. Early in the series, the girls reach the realization that they're being forced to fight because of two ancient families who cursed each other, and the series takes it from there, delving deeper and deeper into a labyrinthine backstory about the two families and the set of rules by which the curses can be removed or applied. Now, that's a neat (if somewhat trite) idea in its own right, and it could have lead to something rather slick; it has a certain sort of dark, modern folklore appeal to it. But suffice to say that no matter how many ways I look at the dozens of details piled upon this story, they simply don't add up to anything coherent. Every time something is revealed, more inconsistencies and unanswered questions are revealed along with it. At almost any point, they could have (and should have) stopped adding to the top of the structure, and reinforced its base instead. But they don't, they keep stacking and stacking until the house of cards falls. It is a brute-force approach to storytelling which relies on the incorrect assumption that the sheer number of elements is what makes a story intricate and involving. It is dense but ultimately nonsensical, and it ends up serving as a vehicle to carry the infinitely more interesting character drama to us rather than serving as a strong addition to the show.
One other thing: the characters sing. Much as I wish that were a joke, an exaggeration, or just a bad dream that I had, it really happens. Red Garden's characters sometimes burst into song at the drop of a hat, and it is every bit as awkward as it sounds. Where this idea came from, the world may never know; there is nothing else in the show that hints at it being a musical, and the songs occur once per episode at most, sprouting spontaneously out of normal dialogue like tonally-challenged tumors. The singing itself is mediocre (in both Japanese and English) and the lyrics are cringeworthy. I wish I could pass this off as just another little quirk in a series that's full of little quirks, and some might choose to look at it that way, but the truth is that even without this element Red Garden would be a bit of a confused experience, and the moments of song produce an even more heightened sense of unreality, as if begging the viewer to ask: am I really watching this right now? In fairness, they appear to have scrapped this idea about eight episodes in, and the last two-thirds of Red Garden are blissfully singing-free, but the “what were they thinking” damage is pretty well done by that point, and it's not easily forgotten.
I don't see any of these as fatal shortcomings, though combined, they might come close. When Red Garden works, it works surprisingly well, with a unique artistic presence, fitting music, and a group of interesting characters serving as the high points of the series. It's certainly not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but if it sounds like it might be yours, giving it a try couldn't hurt. I can't sing its praises, but I'll give it a soft recommendation.
Manga, Anime: The manga of Red Garden started running just under a week before the show started airing on Japanese television in Gentosha Comics' magazine Comic Birz, with story by Gonzo and art by Kirihito Ayamura. It is still running in Japan, and has two volumes to its name. It has yet to be licensed Stateside.
The anime itself ran on Japanese television from October 3rd, 2006 to March 13th, 2007, and was directed by Kou Matsuo (well-known for directing the Rozen Maiden project) and animated by Studio Gonzo (well-known for Gankutsuou and Saikano). ADV has licensed the show Stateside, and
the third volume will be released on the twenty-second of this month.
Story: Red Garden's focuses in on four girls -- Kate (the one who's rich and is on the student disciplinary council Grace), Rachel (the bitchy queen bee of her clique, you know the type), Rose (the sweet, quiet one with the little siblings) and Claire (the punk) -- who go to the same school (Roosevelt Academy, which is strangely Japanese-esque for being in the middle of New York) and, for whatever reason, can't remember the night before. As the day goes on, they find out that a girl they all knew, Lise, was found dead that day. After being let out for the day, each of the girls sees a bunch of red butterflies, and mysteriously wind up in the same place. A creepy lady and her male partner show up, inform the girl that they're their instructors, and before telling them to kill a man who turns into a freaky wolf-demon thingy with their bare hands, that they're all dead.
Quite the first episode, huh?
The rest of the series focuses on how the girls deal with the fact that they're dead and all and the fact that they now have to fight and kill these monsters in order to stay alive, and the mysteries behind all this unfolding bit by bit.
One of the most frequent complaints that you will hear about Red Garden is that it's slow. And I won't deny it; the series does overall focus more on the personal lives of the girls and how what's going on now affects that more than the actual how and why of what's going on, and it makes things seem painfully slow. However, the latter does come into play, and when it does, it hits hard. The first ten or so episodes lays the groundwork for what's going on, the next six develop the situation as things are revealed and the stakes are raised, and the final six shows all the cards and lays everything on the line.
By the end of the series, you know everything that's going on in these girls' lives, and you feel like you've known them your entire life. They did really well, developing them. And even most of the bad guys and minor characters get some development, so they seem more human and less like cardboard cutouts.
Oddly enough, there are a lot of references to American pop culture, which makes sense, as it's set in NYC, but it still throws you for a loop at first.
It's not perfect, though. The how and why of what's going on is never fully explained, which is mildly annoying, but not unexpected, seeing as this is the guy who directed Rozen Maiden (and could've resolved it quite nicely in Traumend, but NO!). And there are random bits of song that are thrown in in the first half that many will find painful, but they're quickly abandoned by the second half, which was a good call. And the ending and its vagueness (another hallmark from Rozen Maiden) will probably piss some people off, but know that there is an OVA called Dead Girls that is available raw, but not subbed, and some group should really pick it up.
Art: Red Garden has an interesting style in how they design their characters -- more like the Korean style that I've seen in manga, really, than what I consider manga. The necks are unrealistically thin, the noses are really weird, and the lips are huge. But you get used to this by the third episode or so, and it grows on you after a while. And they use gradient shading here and there, and it really looks nice, but only because it's not overused. They also had the budget for outfit changes at least once every episode, which is nice, but the fashion sense was a bit lacking at times, and resulted in painful outfits.
Otherwise, fairly decent animation.
Music: The background music for this is very heavy on strings and piano, and it's really done well. It does seem a bit overdramatic at times, but those times are few and far between, and for the most part, it adds to the scenes quite nicely.
JiLL-Decoy Association does the OP, "Jolly Jolly", which is a lighthearted bit of J-Jazz, and seems a bit out of place with how dark the rest of the series is, but is still pretty nice. LM.C does the two EDs; "Rock the LM.C" for the first half of the show, which is a blend of hard rock and rap, and "Oh My Juliet" for the second half, which is more rock-oriented and a bit more of a love song.
Seiyuu: Red Garden is unusual in that the dialogue was recorded before the animation was created (when it's usually the other way around), and you can tell the difference in the quality of the acting, which is top-tier. They've also got three of my favorite seiyuu (Rie Tanaka, aka Suigin Tou; Takehito Koyasu, aka Ilpalazzo and Hotohori; and Daisuke Ono, aka Koizumi), which just adds to the awesomeness.
Voice Actors: However, as normal, the awesomeness of the seiyuu does not translate to the VAs for the English version. Most of the VAs perform their lines like robots, and/or are painfully fake-sounding/high-pitched where they shouldn't be.
Acting like this is the reason I've gone to subs and never looked back. Also, this is why America should just stick to subs. Fail, ADV. FAIL.
Length: 22 episodes is just the right length for this series. Yes, it drags a bit in places and probably could have used more development in others, but any shorter and it would've gotten the shaft, and any longer and it would've gotten painful.
Overall: An excellent series with an unusual art style, beautiful music, and excellent story and seiyuu. Yeah, it has some problems (most notably with VAs), but it could be far worse.