Gonzo is finally in full form for this finale.
What They Say
Now that they know their fate, the girls begin embracing their battles - and discover remarkable powers within themselves. So while their daylight lives fall apart, their nocturnal battles become more violent, more bloody.
Yet as one of their members continues to be their weakest link, they begin to plan - they may need to leave her behind to die. And their shadowy enemy? They are making their own advances, sacrificing an innocent child to a disgusting curse, and trapping a beautiful girl in their horrible experiment.
Red Garden features a stereo Japanese track and an English 5.1 dub. For the purposes of this review, I listened to the English track. The show itself offer little opportunity for directionality but the track feels appropriately deep and offers some satisfyingly rich bass. This is especially evident in the lively songs played during the credits. The final scene of every episode transitions with an explosion of bass as the rock song cues up. All in all, a good track even if it’s not exactly reference material.
Originally airing in 2006, Red Garden is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. I’m a fan of the vast majority of Gonzo’s work, but the style of animation here is damning because it makes it difficult to judge the video quality here. Red Garden features some heavy grain and some seemingly intentional soft shots. The grain present is so overbearing at some points that it’s hard to tell if there’s unintentional noise as every part of the frame is alive. Edge enhancement does pop up from time to time, but I noticed no banding or blocking. After careful evaluation, this seems like a solid presentation of the source material but the stylistic choices will make even the least trained eye question the quality.
Red Garden is packages in a standard box housing two slimline cases- one for each disc. Funimation went above and beyond in making the front cover darker and more arresting. The front cover features Herve holding a mangled, bloody Rachel as darkness shrouds his face and this is juxtaposed over the girls on a stage bathed in light. The front cover features a nice layout of the girls with Lula emerging from the night sky and one of their monstrous enemies in the foreground at the bottom. The back has an equally arresting collage of characters with some decent screen caps arranged along the bottom. The slimline cases feature reversible covers with thematically and spectrally dark designs on one sides and lighter imagery with a white background on the other. The duality and choice are appreciated especially since it fits the variety of tone present in the show itself. This boxset compliments the first on the shelf and is even more eye-catching.
The menus here are the epitome of bare-bone as all selections (including every episode) are presented on the menu upon start-up. The choices are arranged nicely across a simple background, leaving a clean look. Current selections are identified easily by a butterfly next to the item and load times are fast. It looks nice, and you can get around really quick.
Aside from trailers for other shows, the only extras to speak of are the expected textless opening and ending credits. The OVA, "Dead Girls" is included but since Funimation doesn't call it an extra, I'll consider it content.
Kate, Claire, Rachel and Rose are still growing accustomed to their new situation as tension mounts both in their personal lives and in their nightly guard duties where they must fight a clan cursed to become inhuman monsters. In Kate's case, the tension in her daily and nightly routines are almost one in the same. Herve, one of the cursed, has become involved in her life by posing as her boyfriend, and he has a startling revelation in store for Kate and her friends who are bonded in death. Both sides of the battle clearly have agendas so can the girls trust either? And why was their friend Lisa resurrected by the other side?
In my review for the first collection, I noted that the show started off extraordinarily slow but that the last few episodes were showing more promise. It would be more accurate to say the show got better near the end of the first collection so Red Garden is already good at the beginning of this volume. It only gets better as the writers finally delve into the mystery at the heart of the series in full-force.
This turn-around began with the introduction of Herve, a member of the cursed clan who was previouly revealed to be Lisa's boyfriend and was present during the deaths of our tragic heroines. While it took some time for the main characters to develop unique identities, Herve is immediately intriguing once the audience is witness to his daily activities. Herve has already witnessed the destruction of his mother after she "manifested" into an inhuman monster and the same fate is soon to befall his adolescent sister and cousin. He has a very personal stake in finding a cure for their condition and is very passionate.
Because of his passion, his compassion equals his cruelty. His heartfelt exchanges with his family make it hard to dislike him even in the face of his deception of Kate. The organization who is supposedly treating his cousin and sister has apparently started paying less attention to their welfare after finding possible salvation in Lisa who they are keeping alive and under close supervision. The situation leaves Herve's loyalty in question and this unpredictability makes him even more interesting.
With his introduction, the audience was given more insight into the "enemies" that the girls face in the night. Clues as to their curse and the girls' condition are spaced appropriately throughout leaving just enough room for the soap opera dynamic of the girls' daily routines which are more engaging thanks to some sterling character development and dramatic plotlines. One of Rachel's closest friends openly tries to steal her boyfriend. Rose seeks her father who left out of shame for not being able to provide for his family. Claire becomes involved with her estranged family after her brother runs into some trouble. The drama is no longer "melo-" thanks to the writers giving more insight into the situation. The girls' hysterics in the beginning of the series would probably have been equally accomplished if they had made sure that the audience and characters fully understood the moral dilemma. Fortunately, this is no longer a problem.
Good news on the action front too. The girls are facing tougher enemies- and more than one at a time! I found myself warming up to the character designs as Gonzo's trademark fluidity in action was finally allowed to shine in scenes that were more like fights and less like the previous 4 on 1 beatings. The girls also discover a new ability almost immediately that may not be unique to anime but adds some variety to the already more interesting encounters. Hair and clothes whip around as characters evade and rush to deliver blows that feel appropriately powerful.
After the first few episodes, I was wondering if I had scored the first boxset too harshly or if the series had really improved that much. Then a scene of genuinely stirring drama unfolded, and it wasn't capped off by a mediocre musical number that ruined the moment. The increased quality in characterization, drama and action also increased the tension by making the danger more palpable. Although the girls have been in harm's way since the beginning, it's not until a massive encounter between both sides near the beginning of this boxset that it seems like they could seriously get hurt or die... again. Death, deceit and abduction see even the secondary characters evolve in interesting ways. That's not to say that the series doesn't still feel like a soap opera sometimes, but at least it's a damn good one.
Scoring this boxset is actually a little problematic. If the series were in one set, the higher quality of these episodes would have offset the earlier episodes that left me cold. It's hard to give this a high recommendation when it requires the purchase of another volume of mostly inferior content. Still, the payoff is really great and those who have invested in the first have absolutely no reason to throw down the cash for this one. Others interested in what the series has to offer should pursue the single complete collection boxset recently released. My 'A' review here counteracts my 'C+' to yield a 'B' or 'B+' which is a good estimation of my feelings on the series as a whole.
The decision to split Red Garden into two boxsets was unfortunate since it takes so long for the series to get off the ground and eveolve into the entertaining spectacle that it eventually becomes. The slow pace in the first eight or nine episodes was already a major hurdle without forcing viewers to shell out more for a second set of episodes after it finally became interesting and delved into the fantastical mystery show promised at the outset. I have little to no issue with the content contained in this set though. The characters have become more believable, the action is more powerful and faster-paced and the story is enthralling. Fortunately, Funimation has just released a single boxset containing the entire series which is a better avenue for those interested in this dark fantasy tale which is slow to start but pays off big.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
46” Toshiba REGZA 16:9 LCD HDTV, Sony Playstation 3 (upconverted to 1080p through HDMI), Yamaha YSP-900 Digital Sound Projector w/ 100-watt subwoofer