Stuck somewhere between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Bokurano, Red Garden generally has the same kind of appeal as the other two without being quite as good. Fundamentally, it’s about how the personal lives of four high school girls are affected when they are forced into a supernatural battle between good and evil. Still, being dark, character-driven, and more josei than shoujo, there is a maturity to its approach which gives the whole product a fresh feel.
While other similar series dedicate a few intermittent scenes to portraying the conflict between everyday life and the duties of a demon-slayer, Red Garden stands out as delving much deeper into the various personal and professional problems associated with suddenly being immortal. For example, one commendable development is how slowly the protagonists get to grips with their new-found abilities. No sudden powerups for them – they spend many agonising hours hopping on the spot trying to remember how they leapt from rooftop to rooftop the first time around. Another personal favourite is the story of Rachel’s deteriorating relationship with her boyfriend, which is probably the easiest to relate to and has the most mature conclusion.
Of course, the downside of Red Garden’s approach is that the first half feels rather slow and aimless; although most fans are likely to watch Red Garden for the monsters and the fights, the first ten episodes prefer to show the girls shopping and spending time with their siblings in stead. Furthermore, the plot has the distinct drawback of being simplistic and being a lot like other similar series on offer.
Nevertheless, there is a payoff of sorts; all that characterisation and build-up does eventually lead to some very emotional scenes in the final half. More importantly, once there is some decent action alongside the strong character development, Red Garden turns out to be highly entertaining on all levels.
The colours are bold, the lines are clean, and the character designs are really very attractive. Moreover, with cool and snazzy costume changes every episode, I often thought I was watching a cast made of catwalk models. Incidentally, the action sequences more often than not look awkward, almost as if none of the animators quite knew what to do with four girls in miniskirts and stiletto heels for weapons. However, this may be due to budget restrictions, since towards the end, everyone leaps around in fairly fluid motion, high-kicking and back-flipping with the kind of zeal more common to shounen series. Overall, Red Garden’s animation should be enjoyed for the style rather than any technical grandeur.
As a whole, the themes are great; they’re very contemporary, very funky, very urban, and probably Red Garden’s single most impressive element.
Also enjoyable is the dialogue, which often angles towards the kind of realism where characters randomly scream at each other and talk over each other during arguments.
Having said that, there is one horrible mistake sound-wise which should never have made it past the brainstorming stage (never mind editing). I speak of the musicals. Yes, Red Garden decides on two or three occasions to have its protagonists spontaneously burst into song, lamenting their situation like Dorothy the morning after a drunken trip to downtown Oz and before the singing lessons. This feature has no benefits for the story and even less for the soundtrack since the songs are godawful; I’m just glad they only occur within the first few episodes.
At the least, Red Garden deserves credit for creating individualised characters with relatable problems and personalities. Initially, judging from their various outfits and temperaments, they appear to be mere high school stereotypes; eventually, as their backgrounds are revealed and their friendship grows, they become believably complex.
What is more doubtful, however, is whether the four protagonists are as likeable as they could be. The weakest is Rose, who, even past the middle still whines and whimpers in the corner while her friends risk their lives defending her from monsters. Her personal story revolves around a broken home where the father has disappeared off somewhere (we don’t know where) and the mother is in hospital all the time for some unknown reason. Despite this, she is often more pathetic than sympathetic. Similarly, although far more interesting, the other girls also have their annoying moments – Kate is rather wet, Rachel spends too much time moping, and Claire needs to tone down her hostility.
Another worthwhile character aside from the girls is Hervé, the central antagonist, who is very intriguing for his combination of good looks and sinister charm. Johan Liebert (Monster) he ain’t, but he’s still gratifyingly two-dimensional; while his actions are deplorable, his motivation is emotional and understandable.
To anyone interested in an anime which is more character-focused than the usual, or anyone who just wants to see an old idea presented from a fresh perspective, I highly recommend Red Garden. It is unlikely to bowl the average anime fan over since it lacks ambition where the plotting is concerned, but for most people, it should still be a very decent romp.
How to define Red Garden?
Surely this is a hard question that a lot of reviewers will face. It
isn't a straight up thriller, romance or even drama. Genres are mixed
and influences from a well known horror title - GANTZ,
loom ahead. What saves Red Garden from needing one genre to be fit
under is that it is very good (not great) at incorpotaring all those
The animation for the title is to the quality one would expect from a
show of its age. CG and 2D are incorporated effectively - and colours,
rendering and all other aspects one whould classify under the
"technical" are used to the standard advantage. The fighting sequences
could have benefitted from a little tweeking here and there but nothing
about it was distractingly bad. Everything else can easily be
classified under good to great as the character design is interesting
and edgy, especially from a fashion standpoint where characters have
been given height and swanlike necks (which are very much the standard
for catwalk models, and also a look that worked for Utena).
The costume design is equally gorgeous, with the intermissions also
featuring some delightful croquis. What I have just defined will work
for or against the show for some, as one might prefer a more staight
forward design and less stylised characters but this was apleasant
change from the usual for me.
The sound aspect was thought of quite well by the creators with the
characters given a chance to convey their emotion through song in the
early parts of the series. This was also another way the show managed
to stand out from the rest for me. This aspect was dropped later on in
the series though fortunately, the voice actors were so good at
conveying emotion just thru speech that feelings were conveyed to the
same extent anyway. It is worth noting that this anime was actually
created using a fairly revolutionary technique whereby the dubbing was
done before the show was actually animated, allowing the seiyuus to
convey their emotions to the fullest without the constraints of seeing
what the characters would look like. The only reason I am not giving
sound a 10 is because the intro and outtros are pleasant enough,
however they fail to make an impact and stand out on their own.
The storyline starts similarly to GANTZ
(which is where the similarities also stop), the main cast comes to the
realisation that they are dead and that they have been chosen to fight
possessed humans to unsure their survival on the "borrowed lives" they
were given. Unlike Gantz though, the characters do not spend the whole
of the series internalising their emotions. They break down, they let
go, they yearn, they befriend, they FEEL!
The great seiyuus allow the characters to reach you in ways few animes
can. The pain they feel, the reasons why they fight, what made them
this way - all these are explored and expressed to the same standard
one has not seen since the glory days of Saint Seiya.
Even when the story fails the characters (the end works but feels a
little rushed in parts), the seiyuus manage to make the most out of
their characters. Overall though, the story is well adapted and
although it can be a little slow at times, those parts are quite
important when one looks at the series as a whole.
I have enjoyed this anime and applaud what has been done with the main
cast in terms of development - but it might not be something I would
rewatch in a hurry as it is very plot based, and it would be difficult
to pick one episode I really enjoyed to view on its own. I would have
to view the whole thing again, and there is no need to do so for
comprehension, as the story does not have many plotholes at all.
I would put in under the titles I have enjoyed once and would watch
again if I had a lot of free time. Other shows that fit this list in my
opinion are (maybe these can also be recommendations to some):
Right off I'd like to say if you decide to watch Red Garden I highly recommend you also watch Dead Girls afterward. Being a kind of after story well concludes the girls endings that Red Garden kind of leaves a bit open.
There was a lot to this title, I enjoyed it once I got past all the melodrama. At first it kind of went a story telling in a pulp fiction style, and poorly at that, but thankfully it moved away from this style and continued in a more linear fashion. It had pretty decent progression from ep to ep and made it well worth watching after you're into it. Really only the first ep was hard to finish and even then it ended on a pretty awesome note.
This was really only about average for me, it had it's ups and downs and I was thankful for no rainbow spectrum hair colors. Some of the scenery was quite nice to look at but from time to time it just kind of seemed drab and unimaginative... then again this went well with the theme of the show anyway. Still, I've seen better and I've seen worse.
Mostly forgettable, though both the ED's were actually worth listening to a few times... must be the heavy metal fan in me. All and all, I wasn't really annoyed with them and that, in my book, is always a good thing.
At first I was kind of annoyed by a few of the characters, but frankly this was probably the point. Especially since they eventually grew out of it anyway, my only real problem was understanding the motives behind the antagonist. He did some pretty off the wall and unexpected things that were counter productive to his goals. This pretty much caused a perfect score to dwindle to it's near perfect state you see now.
This title went with the rare yet more realistic, there is not ultimate bad vs ultimate good just shades of gray, approach to it's story. Each character, even the antagonists, weren't really good or evil per say. They just had their own motivations and sense of righteousness. That being said, sometimes their motivations and actions weren't really in sync and it left a kind of confusing taste.
In any case, this title along with it's OVA Dead Girls, was well worth watching. It was entertaining, enjoyable, and at times, down right funny. If you can stomach a little bit of melodrama, or even enjoy it, you just might find something you'll like here.
Red Garden is one hell of a supernatural drama with great character development and story telling. I have to say that it is pretty slow paced but after the first eight or nine episodes things really begin to pick up. There are moments where the main characters main seem melodramatic but consider the moment in which they're doing so and you'll see that they're actually quite justified in their responses. Red Garden can basically be cut into two parts with the first 10 episodes really paying close attention to how the girls are dealing with their current situation and how it affects them mentally and emotionally. The next 12 episodes is where we really get into the plot and how the main characters decide to do the best they can with the events that have transpired.
To those who are impatient, the first 8 to 10 episodes will seem boring and unneeded but I felt that was actually one of the good things about this series. Most anime of today tell the story of a character who finds themselves thrown into an unbelievable situation and just go with the flow and after the first two episodes, they're pretty much unfazed by anything and everything. The main characters of Red Garden give real reactions to an unbelievable as well as unforgiving set of circumstances. Their lives are completely changed as they are forced to fight these demonic creatures while having to maintain their high school lives. The pressure and stress felt by the main characters is understandable and instead of a quick reaction of "get over it and move on," we're taken through a full course of emotional turmoil that really brings out each character. Of course, they eventually grow and come to grips with their new lives but the difficulty of maintaining their normal lives as teenagers and their new lives as "Dead Girls" is still a hassle.
Red Garden has a fluid story that progresses a bit more with each episode, detailing both sides of the story. Neither side in this anime are necessarily good or evil but it's that they both have their own ulterior motives for fighting that are each legitimate. Red Garden really packs on the drama with having the main characters not only have to deal with fighting as "Dead Girls" but each character also has either a complicated family life or a stressful school life that really gives this series two plots in one. You might not love this series for its slow pacing and outdated animation but you'll love Red Garden for its great storytelling and the exciting drama. I suggest watching the ova after you're done watching the full series as it clears up a few things that weren't fully explained in the series.
What I Liked: Interesting design choices (e.g. using gradients in hair colour). The focus on the psychological effect of the series' events on the main characters (not only as a collective, but individually). Classy opening theme. Takehito Koyasu as Hervé Girardot. Lula, full-stop. Characters feel well-rounded and interesting.
What I Didn't: Odd musical-style interludes that mess with the pacing of the series (happens maybe 6 times? And each song is sung at a rate of 1 syllable a measure...). Average animation, with low-quality parts and weird line-weight choices. Crap 1st closing theme. The voice acting on young Hervé. Has its fair share of weak narrative moments. There seems to be only one "attack" sound, and it doesn't work as a stand-in for a stabbing sound!
Final Verdict: Bolstered by an intriguing cast of well-developed characters and a cosmopolitan setting, Red Garden is an interesting if not frustratingly average thriller about death and rebirth. While the animation sometimes falls woefully flat (much like the unnecessary musical interludes) and the plot sometimes seems to slow to a snail's pace, it is still a good series to watch if you like a little character development in your supernatural anime.