Red Garden Vol. #2 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, November 20, 2007



What They Say
Life is harder when you‚€™re dead. Under orders from the mysterious Lula, four young high school girls struggle with the fact that they are, indeed, dead. Now, living on ‚€œborrowed lives,‚€� they are forced to fight glowing-eyed, drooling monsters long after school is over. But when the battles become too terrifying one of the four tries to run away leading to terrible repercussions. Yet darker, murkier secrets are hidden in this underworld battle. Coded corporations, a family curse, and horrific experiments deepen the mystery, shaking the already fragile strength of the girls. Seductive, bloody, and wicked-cool, Red Garden is this year‚€™s most addictive horror thriller.

The Review!
The mystery begins to deepen as some of it is explained only to open far more interesting questions.

Audio:
The bilingual presentation of this series is pretty well done for what it's offering on both sides of the track. For the fans of the Japanese language, there is a solid stereo mix done at 224 kbps which, since this is mostly dialogue based, comes across quite well. English language fans get a nice bump up to a 448 kbps 5.1 track that adds a bit more clarity in the placement of dialogue and a richer bass level. Both mixes do quite well overall and the end result is that we had no problems with dropouts or distortions on either language track and came away happy.

Video:
Originally airing in late 2006 and early 2007, the transfer for Red Garden is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Gonzo is no stranger to doing some interesting processing on their titles but Red Garden just leaves me in the cold. The animation for the show is rather good for them but they softened it up severely by putting a lot of grain/noise on top of it. The result is a show that looks far too alive in general, far too soft and seemingly introduces a kind of edge enhancement to the characters on the inside. The noise that's introduced doesn't devolve down into blocking thankfully, but it's like we're getting a stylized flashback moment for the length of the entire show. Some scenes make out worse than others but the nighttime scenes look good in this form. It's an unusual choice and one that's likely to be noticeable even among those who tend to not see such things.

Packaging:
Red Garden's second volume is similar to the first in that it has an overly dark feeling that is appealing with its character designs. It doesn't have the same kind of murkiness though as the characters are much more distinct this time and stand out better against all of it. Filled with character artwork of the leads and other key characters from this volume, they're set against either a moonlit background. The back cover works well with some larger headshot artwork of the four leads with another murky background behind them. The summary is well done in the way it's laid out as well as how much it doesn't reveal. The production information fills up a chunk of the bottom in a fun red on black layout while the bottom technical grid is expanded to include more logos and some website information. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.

In addition to the disc only release, a disc+box edition comes with this second volume. The heavy chipboard box is rather good as it utilizes some of the stylistic designs of the series to good effect. It has a lot of dark white space to it which has some very atmosphere pieces blended into it such as trees with no leaves and uncolored butterflies. It's made all the more stark in appearance by the black shadowed character artwork pieces that are around the edges. It's from these areas that the color comes in the form of red butterflies that float out from them. The box isn't entirely lacking of character artwork as it appears that both Kate and Rachel show up in some form on it but the box overall isn't something that shows us something very distinct when it comes to them.

Menu:
Continuing a growing trend I suspect, the main menu design for Red Garden is very simple with a static image of a butterfly up close. Using a lot of the signature colors from the series with reds and blacks, it's an attractive enough piece on any size monitor. A bit of character artwork sneaks in on the sides but it's fairly indistinct overall and there is a bit of simple instrumental music that plays along to add a bit of atmosphere. Navigation is straightforward and easy to access and the disc correctly read our players' language presets by going with Japanese using full subtitles.

Extras:
The extras for this release are the basics with the inclusion of just the clean opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The opening salvo of this series left me somewhat disinterested in it simply because of the pacing of it all. While there was certainly some tension in the way the girls were thrown into their first battle, having it play out over as much time as it did left me feeling bored. The initial setup had a lot to offer in terms of potential but that was squandered by the pacing of it all and the lack of enough real hooks to make you want to come back for me.

The action side of the series is far less this time around as it focuses more on the repercussions of what ha happened to the girls. Each of them are having very difficult times in adapting to it which is to be expected. Rose is weak to begin with and the encounters have her running scared if she can run at all. Claire is handling it better than most as she's been more prepared for each of the encounters but it's taking a huge toll on her personal life since she can't hold a part time job she has at night. Her life has been tough from the start due to circumstances so the loss of any wages impacts her heavily. Kate for her part seems to be holding it together better than most but she's suppressing a lot of what she's feeling which makes her ready to explode if given the chance.

The best material surprisingly enough comes from Rachel. The spoiled girl with that lives the high life with her friends has taken the change to an undead warrior the hardest. The situation has been difficult for them all but for her it's even more so as she's become the most violent of all of them during the early encounters. The realization of what she's done has changed her quite a lot and it's straining the limits of how well she can cope. Her personal life has gone to hell far more than the others have, partially because the connections she really had with people were so tentative to begin with. Having an absentee father and a mother that's spending more of her time with the alcohol and pills doesn't give her a crutch at home to use either. Her descent into madness is the most interesting of the four at the moment, especially because she acts out far more than the others.

Red Garden focuses a lot on atmosphere for how it tells its story and without the rush we had in the earlier episodes it plays out a lot better here. The tension that the girls feel in the night as they wonder whether they'll be summoned is very well done. Each tries to go about their lives but they're either tense about it or filled with dread when they do see the butterflies. Some of this is alleviated by the song they sing, something that still hasn't worked well for me despite how good it is at being blended into the show itself, but the toll it's taking on their lives is strong. The late nights and the changes in their bodies are altering how they're able to handle their daily lives.

And that's another area that's undergoing a change for some of them. While Rose and Claire are still focused the way they have been in the past, Claire and Kate are starting to see the world in a different way. Things that seemed important to them before aren't quite so important anymore. Kate's beginning to question her role in Grace and isn't as involved as she was at first. That's causing tension among some members there but she's seemingly shielded in a way that's confusing others. Rachel is finding herself becoming overly defensive about her relationship with Luke yet at the same time she's hardly spending any time with him. Her sense of self has been shifting gradually since it started and is keeping her from feeling like she can make a connection with anyone. Anyone other than those in this small group which is becoming increasingly tighter with each other as time goes on.

While the focus is heavily on how the characters are dealing with everything, there are some larger elements that are brought into the show. Those that are organizing things, which is represented by Lula, start to talk a bit more about things. Or more specifically about how the four girls seem to be the best that they've seen so far and have the most potential. That's giving them the idea to start showing them more of what's going on in order to motivate them. It certainly has that affect in the long run but it's not without its pitfalls. At the same time, we start to see another story arc that will have impact as it revolves around an organization that's dealing with those that transform into these deadly creatures. People with personal connections to all of it are making more appearances which will alter the course of how it will be told. Much of it is very peripheral right now though so it only hints at larger things to come.

In Summary:
While Red Garden hasn't won me over to its side yet, the four episodes here certainly make up for the first volume which left me disinterested. The character material is very well done as everyone is attempting to deal with an unreal situation. That situation is made only more unreal as more revelations come to them. Some of it shows them a path of hope but it also illustrates how much they all need each other. The bonds that tie them together is where the focus is at now and that's being done rather well. More of the larger storyline needs to come into focus soon though so that the viewer at least isn't operating from such a lack of information. Sometimes that can work well but if it goes on too long you start to feel like you're being teased too much. Some of the potential of the series is being revealed now however and it has me intrigued to see whether it can be pulled off or not.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Red Garden