See… Kate meet her sister’s boyfriend!
Watch… Claire look for a job!
Marvel… as Rachel reads a book!
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.
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. 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. Although I think the marketing of the show seems a bit misleading, the packaging is eye-catching and looks nice on the shelf.
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.
Kate, Claire, Rachel and Rose are four average everyday teenage girls living in New York coping with all the usual troubles that come with it. However, circumstance has just added a much bigger problem than being late for class or fighting with your boyfriend. Even though they don’t associate much, they’ve all got something in common: they’re dead! So says Lula anyway, a mysterious woman who informs them that her group resurrected them in order to fight animalistic men that roam the streets at night. The girls can’t argue their current state since they can’t remember anything from the day they died. Is this so-called life worth living when they have to fight without cause? What happened to them on that fateful night and who was pulling the strings?
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Maybe they’ll get to all that in the second half of the series. There are two major faults with Red Garden: everything in the show has been done better elsewhere and the series suffers from a major identity issue.
Those with even passing familiarity with Gantz or similar series probably got a sense of Déjà vu during the plot description. This is with good reason. The central story starts off very similarly to Gantz, but with less machismo. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the series very quickly tries to inject the tension and drama that Gantz has and it just can’t pull it off. When the girls are confronted with their first enemy, he only has the form of a human. From his glowing eyes and bared teeth to his seemingly non-existent emotion and reasoning, he seems like an animal in a human’s skin. The girls are understandably upset at the prospect of killing, but their inhuman enemies make the first move and seem more like monsters than neighbors.
A justifiably dramatic situation is turned into melodrama simply by poor pacing. The girls immediately are thrown into a moral dilemma way before they’re introduced to the fact that their enemies are actually people cursed to become monsters. They also lament the situation they’re forced into (that actually has considerable freedom) without testing its limits. In these first twelve episodes, the girls are called to fight rarely and are free to do what they want with the rest of their time. Likewise, their living dead status doesn’t come with any real side effects or drawbacks. The four are still distraught at their situation, but the most any of them do is run a few blocks. They’re immediately stopped however, when Lula, whom none really trust, tells them they’ll all die if all four don’t show up. That’s the end of their rebellion. No questions asked. No reason why.
The melodrama is also highlighted quite nicely by some scattered singing by the main cast which, at best, is irritating and at worst, is insulting to the audience’s intelligence. These songs cue up sporadically and only serve for one reason: to relate the emotional state of the characters. This is incredibly unnecessary because none of these are complex characters who hide their emotions. Also, the lyrics and tunes are cliché so they serve no artistic purpose, and I can’t see these ending up on anybody’s iPod. There are four of these moments in this boxset by my count which is just enough to become irritating but not enough to become accustomed. Thus, they always surprise and seem out of place.
The horror and action in the show are right on par with the drama. The fights are very subdued and many are witnessed vicariously as the audience is looking over the shoulders of other characters commenting on the spectacle. When the girls get their bearings, the fights become one-sided affairs with the girls beating their enemies senseless, leaving them writing like a dog in pain. At this point, the moral issue seems more prevalent but the girls are already getting adjusted to the new life and are less prone to question their nightly routine. Every one of the fights in these episodes is four to one and the monsters are as simple as slapping some gray paint and glowing eyes on a regular character. The only tense moment that holds true to the dark show promised on the back cover is when the girls are shown the night of their deaths. It seems like this would plunge the story more in-depth but it takes several episodes before another major plot point is revealed and the next follows suit.
Readers may be looking up at my score by now and wondering why it isn’t lower. Even though the show doesn’t really work in the way advertised, it does hold promise as an entirely different creature. Less than half of the show actually deals with the girls facing their new lives head-on. The majority of the time deals with the everyday troubles of the highschool girl. I wasn’t entirely thrilled when I noticed that the character design in Red Garden was similar to that found in many girls’ romance mangas (pronounced, Jolie-esque lips and angular facial features) and even less so when I discovered that the show is actually a high school soap opera at its core.
This hesitance had less to do with the style and more to do with the characters. At the beginning of the show, all of the girls fit a common stereotype. Kate is the quiet, studious one; Rachel is the party girl, Rose is the outcast and Claire is the rebel. None of them seemed particularly interesting in the beginning, and the social circles of Kate and Rachel are just irritating. Rachel’s friends are vapid and only care about the late-night happenings so when Rachel starts to study, they’re confused and angry that “she’s changed.” Kate is a member of Grace which is basically manners police for the high school, and if you think that sounds like a bad idea, you’re right.
Claire and Rose fair better because their problems aren’t entirely commonplace. Rose is left to take care of her younger siblings after her single mother gets sick. Claire has detached herself from her family for unknown reasons and is having problems with money and at work, especially with her abrasive attitude. It’s not until death bonds them together that they move away from their cookie-cutter archetypes and the show begins to work as a soap opera centered around the bonds of friendship and the trials of dealing with their changing lives. As a male, I know I don’t fit the demographic for this show, but I can appreciate that the story begins to evolve and offers something more than the average experience.
The “villains” present at the girls’ deaths also provide some incentive to keep watching once they enter with a rival secret organization and an aura of despair. By the final episode of this boxset, the viewer has a decent feel for both sides, leaving them finally compelled to question motives and continue the story. Although the early episodes aren’t so bad as to make the viewer want to turn them off, it’s not until the final few in this boxset that they’ll care if someone else does.
The first half of Red Garden suffers from some horrible pacing and offers little in the way of the dark material promised to its viewers. Instead, the show has some decent drama as the main characters come to terms with their new lives and find comfort in their new social circle. Unfortunately, the audience has to wait through at least half of these twelve episodes for this to get off the ground. This boxset features some decent packaging and audio but the video seems spotty due in part to the show's style, and extras are sparse. So would I recommend the show after all these complaints? Yes. If you enjoy high school soap operas and wouldn’t mind some ghouls thrown in the mix, this show might be worth a look. The increase in overall quality in the final few episodes of this boxset also makes the second seem promising. There certainly are worse shows out there and hardcore fans will probably find something to like even if the series borrows heavily from more accomplished works.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
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