Red Garden Vol. #5 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2008



What They Say
An odd string of suicides surrounds a private institution on Roosevelt Island. On the night a classmate dies, Kate, Rachel, Rose and Claire wake with no memories of the evenings' events. The next night, the four girls are drawn together by mysterious red butterflies only they can see. Converging at Central Park, the girls are approached by a strange woman who tells them they are dead. Now, the four girls must work together to learn the secrets of their death-and the means to return to their previous life.

The Review!
The girls try to cope with the latest revelations about their "lives" at the same time that Lise's life converges with theirs once more.

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:
The covers for this series have worked really well in general, even with the kind of collage that they are, because they all evoke a real sense of darkness and dread. This one is no expcetion as the central focus is that of Lise in her hungry mode. Complimenting this is a captured Kate image with her being forced down along the top while the bottom section has a very creepy image of men along the riverbank that are shadowed by the lights. 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.

Menu:
Continuing a growing trend I suspect, the main menu design for Red Garden is very simple with a static image from the opening of one of the girls' arms done in the creative design. 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 both closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Red Garden draws pretty close to the end with this volume and the four episodes here really do play out much like most of the show to date. This series has a very slow and deliberate style and take on what it wants to do that it can feel like it's dragging out. While there is the larger meta story that's going on between the two sides seeking the respective books, the bulk of it is focusing on the girls themselves and how they interact with each other because of their situation.

This is something that the four actually comment on at one point during these episodes, about how they were all leading their lives before all of this happened. How they never connected even though there were common bonds, and they wonder what their lives would have been like otherwise. So much has happened to them at this point and they've learned a lot about each other that they've definitely grown close, even when there's friction and frustration. The closing of the gap between characters like Rose and Rachel is where it's most apparent of course, but it's something that has happened to all of them as they've spent so much time with each other.

The individual threads have come and gone throughout, some of them stronger than others to be sure depending on the time within the series. These episodes focus on them as a group for a time, but the individual stories are still there as well. Claire's is one of the strongest as she deals with her brother being in the hospital and learning about how her father is now, in her eyes, manipulating him even more. Randy has had an about face because of events and he's now trying to right his ship, but she can't believe her father is doing it for the reasons he's professing. Their confrontation is rather engaging since it plays out opposite of their encounter in the hospital, where she really has to grow up and realize things in a somewhat subtle way.

The less interesting of the tales here involves Rose as she deals with her father issues. Since she found him, she's been doing her best to get close to him again and try to bring him over to her view of things since he can provide the continuity that the other two kids needs when she dies. She's being rather pragmatic about a very emotional issues and it's not really expected from her considering how she's been for most of the series. On the flip side, Kate and Rachel don't have too much going on here but there are some really good moments to be found. Kate and Paula finally have their heart to heart and Kate realizes just how much she's done for her. Even more interesting is that Luke and Rachel finally talk again as he's still trying to get back in her life and the reflect on how they first got together, which is very charming in the obviously high school manner in which it's done.

Red Garden isn't all about the interpersonal stuff though as events do progress some, particularly towards the end as Herve makes his move. After the drama with his sister, he's intent on upsetting the family plans and kidnaps Lise out of the facility in order to send her off to her normal life, as best as can be. This starts a chain of events as Lise proves that their plans don't work as expected and it starts to bring the police into the picture which raises the overall awareness issue for the other girls. While the pharmaceutical company figures large into some of this part of the storyline, Lula starts to reveal more of what's going on with "their" side of the story and some of the history behind the books. In a way, a lot of this comes far too late in the series and would have helped it to be far more engaging earlier, but it's better late than never.

In Summary:
The four episodes of Red Garden here do a pretty good job of putting all the characters in place with what's been going on while setting them up for the finale that's due. It takes a bit to get to the meat of the meta story here, but a lot of that is made better by the character interactions and relationships that have been worked out so far. Red Garden still hasn't won me over completely, but it has slowly become more engaging as it's progressed. With its US setting, great character designs and odd visual design, it's offered a lot to like but it hasn't really capitalized on it for me. Hopefully the last volume will have enough payoff to have made it all worthwhile.

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
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Red Garden