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Red Garden – Only in death do they find true happiness

I’ve been an advocate of Red Garden since the first episode, but until this past weekend I hadn’t seen beyond episode three. Red Garden isn’t easy to watch – if the characters aren’t paralysing my brain with screaming, tearful grief, they start singing instead. I like that the show is trying something different with the insert songs, but put simply, it doesn’t sound good, it feels awkward and out of place.

Regrettably the horror element is fairly dull too – the episodic monsters are just bland zombies, minus the gore. The girls fight them off with wooden sticks and baseball bats; what happened to the samurai swords? This is Japan after all. We want severed limbs, decapitations, blood squirting from major veins, all that good stuff. If GANTZ has three good things going for it, it is imaginative monsters, big guns and exploding heads. Red Garden could be cooler with a little bit more of the old ultra-violence.

That said I’ve now caught all the way up to episode 12. I’m watching for bald sensation Dr. Bender (nice name), only kidding – but the characters, and especially the four central girls, are interesting personalities showing some important social development. Kate was hopelessly isolated by her own perfection, Rachel consumed by a superficial life of fashion and parties, Claire needlessly pushing others away to prove she can live on her own terms and Rose was locked down by a broken home. In each of their own ways they were lonely and ironically, only in death have they found the true friendship they so desperately needed. Their apparent misfortune has become an escape from the prison of their regular lives. To see them change over the first half of the series has been a worthwhile journey, sometimes hard-going and slow, but none the less heart warming. The real test will be when they have to choose whether or not to return to their old bodies. Red Garden excels outside of the horror angle, and is just much more riveting as character drama. The character designs are still as beautiful as ever (I love how they change costume from episode to episode too, every episode is refreshingly different; this is a rare thing for a viewer as entrenched in Naruto style same-clothes-every-day-every-year as myself).

So despite the singing sucking, the horror being dull, Red Garden is proving itself a brazen, involving character drama. And the yuri fans have GRACE.

Comments

Hazel says:

I love the female character design in this, it’s so refeshing, Claire is my favourite. I like the fact that it’s more pyschologcal than limbs flying everywhere, but the missing horror element certainly isn’t made up for by the singing. Make it stop! @_@;

David says:

Oh come on. The singing’s very appropriate for a horror series. It’s horrible.

j.valdez says:

I was geared up to catch up with Red Garden a few weeks ago, but I was sidetracked by something (got kicked out of my apartment). Plus, Kanon and Black Lagoon took priority.

I didn’t expect the horror aspect to be that impressive if it were not to be GANTZ type blood shed. As for the singing, it isn’t too bad in my opinion.

psgels says:

I’m actually one of the few people who liked the singing. For once, characters don’t suddenly appear to have the singing talent of a famous J-Pop idol.

bateszi says:

So basically, you like the singing because it sounds bad? :) I’m not particularly bothered by the voices themselves, I’d just rather there was no singing at all. You’re right though, it’s better that they are not JPOP idols… At least this way it comes off as more of a natural reflex, it’s almost like being at the theater or watching a play.

kuromitsu says:

Just a something that I forgot to mention earlier – it seems to me that people are under the impression that the singing sucks because the seiyuu can’t sing. Now, that’s not true. They can sing, pretty well, actually (at least those whom I’ve heard before). But it always seemed to me that in Red Garden the unprofessional sound is kind of the point of the whole singing. It adds a touch of realism (because, as psgels said, we don’t have to believe that the characters suddenly sound like professional singers), it sounds natural, and in fact, it sounds less like singing and more like some quiet angsting which fits the show very well, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Hige says:

Red Garden is the only anime this season that’s interested me in the slightest. Bar the heinous singing, it seems to be doing something slightly different, and when you’ve got pish like Kanon stinking up the place, that makes a nice change.

Design-wise I agree it’s great; the variety in the girl’s costumes is a refreshing change (and one of the few Shoujo tropes I can abide). It doesn’t hurt that I occasionally get hints of Sadamoto’s work from the character design, either. Plus, the gradient colouring for their hair is mystifying in a good way. I still can’t work out why it works so well. Overall, it’s just a very stylish and attractive show. I’m glad people have stfu’d about the noses.

Story-wise, it has started lag quite badly with the recent episodes but as you’ve said, taking it as a character-driven drama provides plenty of enjoyment when the plot slows down. I wouldn’t mind some more plot development, but the intrigue fuels a lot of the enticement, so it’s a delicate balance. I agree that the fight scenes need to step-up the violence; it gets boring to see the same set of events each time they fight a monster (though the hysterical screaming is bone-chilling and so well done). I’m still waiting for Rachel to become uber again after her bit of acrobatics early in the series.

So yeah, Red Garden is my shining light this season. It’s not as brash or showy as previous favourites, but it has thoroughly enjoyable drama and lots of potential.

Impz says:

And….this is a really good series. I am very sad that there is not much love for this series. Other than you and me (i kept up to episode 15 currently), I see absolutely no one loving and blogging about it.

Sigh, I really wish more people will be involved and discussing this series because the character complexity is very interesting to say the very least.

bateszi says:

I suspect it’s too left field for the casual anime fan. The art is a genuine stumbling block for most, the same thing happened with MONSTER too – the typical otaku isn’t a fan of characters with noses. I showed screen-caps of Red Garden to a guy in my office and his first reaction amounted to "looks ugly, me no watch".

xocy says:

Story wise, it has been terribly slow, but I’ve stuck through to episode 15 now and things are suddenly picking up very quickly. I suspect that they wanted us to get comfortable with the characters, who they were, what they were going through, perhaps to understand them better. I agree that it’s too left field for the casual anime fan. I, for one, think the character design is gorgeous. The costume design for it is amazingly realistic. I could honestly see these girls as real people, not just characters. I easily see a Rachel-type girl walking around New York with her designer-looking clothing.

The singing hasn’t come up in a while, either. It bothered me at first, but I agree with what kuromitsu said about the singing. I feel we’re all just put off by the singing because it isn’t the usual kind of singing. Plus, it’s just pretty damn random, but I think that’s part of the point. Isn’t the singing ALWAYS random in American musicals? This anime takes so many elements from American culture, and it does a damn good job of it, too.

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