Red Garden Collection (Episodes 1-22 + OVA) (Cert 15)
4 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 554 minutes approx.
In the classic ditty Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, Eric Idle sang “Death’s the final word”; it seems that anime didn’t get that message. A spate of suicides in Roosevelt Island, New York City, are confounding police but it seems someone outside the law has an idea what is going on. When a girl from an exclusive private school, Lise, is found dead, four of her friends all find themselves drawn to a nearby location by butterflies that appear before them. They are greeted by a mysterious couple dressed in black suits, Lula and her partner JC, who break the news to the girls that they are all dead then forces them to fight a feral man with their bare hands.
Sounds intriguing right? Red Garden wastes no time throwing the viewers into the thick of things as much as our four protagonists – Rose, Claire, Rachel and Kate – have been thrown into a world beyond their comprehension. Delivered to us from the prolific studio Gonzo, this is another series rescued from obscurity by MVM in the wake of ADV’s folding and despite its age (it was made in 2006) it provides a decent mystery drama that takes time to unfold while exploring the “real” lives of our four leads.
One thing that is not explained is how Lise was friends with the four girls ate the forefront of this tale as they are all vastly different in both personalities and social standings. Rose is a meek young girl tasked with brining up her two younger siblings while their mother is in hospital and their father is nowhere to be seen; Rachel is the spoiled rich kid whose life revolves around designer labels and superficial friends; Claire is the rebellious one who left home under a cloud of animosity and literally lives hand to mouth; and Kate is the girl with the pushy parents who is also part of the school’s Student Council called Grace who effectively run the school. Quite how Lise manages to have four such disparate friends remains a mystery but it allows us to follow four distinct sub plots win between the main horror thread.
Back to the main story and how can four girls be dead yet still alive? Simple – they have been reanimated into temporary bodies while their real bodies are in Lula’s care until they complete the deadly tasks set for them. When the butterflies appear the four are expected to convene to the nearest location where a seemingly ordinary member of the public will slowly turn into a vicious and feral man beast, running around on all fours, with slowing white eyes and sharp teeth, baying for human flesh. Naturally out heroines’ individual personalities determines how well they do on the physical front but over time, they bond as a group and give strength and support to each other.
A concurrent subplot involves a large pharmaceutical company Vivelo where a young man named Hervé Girardot, along with his uncle, is part of a series of experiments to help his young sister Anna and his cousin Mireille improve their health. Their illness? They are young women who have yet to manifest into the fearsome beasts our heroines are forced to eliminate. And through her sister, Kate meets Hervé and thinks he may be perfect first boyfriend material but Hervé’s intentions are less than honourable.
One thing Red Garden cannot be accused of is lack of character development. For a large part of its twenty-two episode run we get to know our four protagonists, each with their own individual life problems to face. The strongest is that of Claire who stubbornly walks away from her family to live her own life which is not as easy as she hoped but she is never disheartened. Kate is forced to live up to the high expectations of her parents and the Grace group at school while Rose literally runs herself into the ground trying to keep her family together. The weakest story is Rachel’s, who spends most of her time falling out with then making up with her snobbish friends, offering little else but repetition to the proceedings.
With such care given to building up the characters – including Hervé – it is something of a shame that the last few episodes are see a mad dash to the finish line, literally throwing in some last minute contrivances and deus ex machina twists to facilitate the rationale and motives for the all out blood fest climax to what is a tense, horror tinged mystery drama that even threatens to turn into a musical at one point! While much of the main issues are resolved some hang in the air and sadly are never to be addressed in the Dead Girls OVA that appears on the fourth disc in this release. Instead it presents a standalone tale set in the near future where our heroines are now bounty hunters called the Dead Girls, all living together in a hi-tech penthouse.
Since the story is set in New York, the character designs are intentionally non-anime which results in the cast looking quite unattractive. The quality of animation is also hugely variable, with the faces changing from shot to shot. Claire suffers the worst from this with her short hair and tomboyish look, often looking more male than female in some shots. One clear anomaly is the ridiculously catchy and upbeat opening and closing songs which clash egregiously with the show’s dark tone. Incidentally, the voices were recorded before the animation, meaning the mouth movements were made to match the audio, which is a rarity in anime.
The animation style may date Red Garden on first inspection but beneath this rough veneer is an engaging horror mystery tale that allows the viewer to invest in its main cast and for the most part uses its episode count wisely. A pleasant surprise and a worthwhile watch to boot.
Disc 1 & 3 only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Disc 2 only:
Disc 4 only:
Dead Girls OVA
Rating – ****
Man In Black