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.

Observations of Everything: Bye-Bye November

Still hopelessly hooked on…

Black Lagoon (2nd Barrage)
Episode 19 and counting

The bog-standard Naruto fillers would be a lot more interesting if they managed to nab the creative bastards working on Black Lagoon. With that said the 2nd season has often flattered to deceive and appears to be more content to up the ante in terms of fire-power and “phat explosions” than provide any real character development. The end result is a darkly fun but superficial couple of action-packed story arcs. And something needs to be done about the painful Engrish – sorry Balalaika; you can’t be a bad-ass and talk like an idiot.

Code Geass
Episode 7 and counting

It feels wrong writing this but for what it’s worth I’m thoroughly enjoying Code Geass. I’m a sucker for colourful animation and this, mad haircuts and Victorian costumes abound, is so hideously over the top, melodramatic and knowingly fun that it’s become a ridiculous parody of everything that’s cliche within anime, from cloak wearing mecha to ditzy college days romance.

Death Note
Episode 9 and counting

Death Note isn’t an especially clever show but the suspenseful battle of wits and jaw-dropping brinkmanship between an increasingly unhinged Light and the quirky L has had me edging off my seat from the very first episode. I’m totally addicted to this show, and episode 8 contains the most dramatic opening of a packet of crisps e-v-e-r. What with all the Pizza Hut pimping in Code Geass, surely Walkers could have stumped up for some Shinigami flavoured chips?

One Piece
Episode 172 and counting

Well into the Skypiea arc now, but following on from the grandiose adventures of Alabasta, I must admit I’m finding it (“Save the country!”) all fairly predictable, same old music and same brand of narcissistic super villains’ ala Crocodile. Still though you can’t beat the smiling enthusiasm of Luffy and if I’m looking for something purely entertaining to stick on, One Piece has it all. That and Wiper is hella cool.

Welcome to the N.H.K
Episode 21 and counting

No Yamazaki, don’t gooooo! After the lull of the unengaging MMORPG arc, the last two episodes have shown Welcome to the N.H.K is back to its melancholy and border-line suicidal best. Yamazaki’s sad departure and Satou’s subsequently lonely realisation that he’s just lost his best mate rivalled Honey & Clover in its atmospheric reflection on the vital importance friendship. I can’t believe the end is so close now.

Stuck in backlog hell is…

  • 009-1 – Old school sci-fi anime revamped and I’ve read a lot of praise for this show.
  • Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto – Traditional Japanese dialogue is extremely confusing
  • Bartender – Sounds massively boring but because of that, I’m desperate to give it a shot!
  • Red Garden – Stop crying god dammit! No, don’t sing about it either!
  • Tokyo Tribe 2 – The animation looks odd and creativity deserves attention. Also going in its favour is that it isn’t harem.

Red Garden – 3 – Theatrical heart break

Episode 3 of Red Garden is the best yet; the viewer leaves this instalment drenched in suspense, mystery and blood, and all the while we’re slowly beginning to understand what’s happened to the girls – or rather, how they died! There are still big question marks hanging over why they were all together on *that* night (since they were never friends before all this), and why must they fight the “dog men”? I’m desperate to know the answers.

This is a show that looks absolutely ravishing, but it can be absolutely brutal too. The death scenes in this episode are especially harrowing because of the voice acting – the way the victims scream; they sound genuinely terrified and desperate. We glimpse at another group of girls who, just like the main characters, have to fight the monsters to live – but they have given up hope and die in the throws of painful physical violence; we hear strangled throats buckle and bones break. I’m getting frustrated with characters running scared now though – the girls need to bring weapons. Swords. Anything!

I’ve also realised that Red Garden has a brilliant soundtrack. Composed by Akira Senju, the music in this episode was particularly compelling; full of dread, sadness and realisation. The style suggests a very emotional and sweeping opera, a worthy match for such an elegant series.

Having now taken in three episodes, I don’t hesitate to say that Red Garden is my favourite show of the season. Death Note is suspenseful and thrilling, but Red Garden combines such a theatrical and stylish art direction with a heart breakingly mysterious story that just begs to be watched. I need more!

Red Garden – 2 – Expensive shirts and werewolves

I do love mysterious horror stories, especially when the viewer is as much at a loss as to what is going on as the characters themselves. The supernatural Red Garden is growing with this creeping intrigue, it’s bizarre and confusing and a lot of my interest is now centred on eventually finding answers.

In some quarters it is being compared with Gantz, though beyond the familiar premise of confused teenagers fighting off an unknown enemy, it’s a misleading reference. Where Gantz was extremely cold, violent and absolutely cynical, Red Garden has fluffy hair cuts, scared girls breaking out into theatrical song and air-heads more worried about ripping their expensive shirts than being eaten by werewolves. It’s a completely feminine anime, where fashion sense collides with survival. Elegant and extremely self conscious.

The characterisation feels very American, drawing on stereotypical high school cliques to bring together four distinct personality types, but it works quite well in the heat of battle with the girls forced to put aside their superficial differences and fight to survive. The constant crying and self pity can be tiresome, but it makes a refreshing change to see people who are genuinely too scared to move when faced with a razor toothed terror.

Red Garden – 1 – Colourful teenage exuberance

Many people couldn’t be bothered with Vision of Escaflowne because the character designs sported big noses. The almost-ignored Fantastic Children suffered from this same shallow discrimination. I dare say both of these are modern classics, and now Red Garden will face the exact same battle against a community that largely considers the likes of Kanon the epitome of animated beauty. What went wrong?

For me this is hands down the best looking show of the fall season. Alongside the vastly different but none the less outstanding Kemonozume, Red Garden makes an immediate impression with its angular character design and eye catching colour scheme. It is like watching a feminine art book in full motion; bursting with attitude and elegance, bridging the gap between the colourful teenage exuberance of FLCL and grandiose beauty of Paradise Kiss. However keeping in mind Red Garden is being produced by GONZO, whether they can maintain these high standards remains to be seen.

Unfortunately there is something seriously wrong with this episode; the insert song. Taking its magical girl influence to scary new extremes, a particularly tearful girl breaks out into the kind of spectacularly cringe inducing, brain melting song fit to grace hell. I’m all for experimental anime, but this girl can’t sing. Fact.

I haven’t seen a good magical girl anime since Mahou Shoujotai, but on this evidence Red Garden’s wonderful style and enthusiastic charisma may well win over my heart.