Red Garden Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B-

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: TV 14
  • 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

Red Garden Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     September 04, 2007
Release Date: September 18, 2007


Red Garden Vol. #1
© ADV Films


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!
A night of missing memories leads four young women to realize the worst ‚€“ they're dead.

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 first volume is an overly dark piece that is appealing with its character designs but has a murkiness to it that causes it to not stand out all that much. Filled with character artwork of the leads and other key characters from this volume, they're set against either straight black or a moonlit background. The artwork of the four leads likely would have been more striking if it had filled the entire cover rather than just a section of it. The back cover fairs a bit better this time 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 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)
A twenty four episode release, Red Garden is an original property from Gonzo that is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. One is that it takes place in a fictional version of New York City that's slightly different in how its portrayed, which isn't a surprise as it's done from a Japanese point of view. The other is that unlike most other anime series, the show was animated after the voices were done which gives it a very different feel in the lip flap movements. This is something critical in how the show deals with a song and the characters that sing snippets from it. Having it animated in such a way really does tighten up the overall presentation, at least for the Japanese track.

From the first four episodes, Red Garden doesn't exactly reveal too much about itself. The storyline that will unfold is given only a little bit of time to really work through as it's far more focused initially on showing us the trauma that these kids are facing. The situation into which they're thrust, unwillingly, is one that would try most any person to be sure. With it taking the first four episodes to start drawing out what's really going on however, it has a bit more of a problem because the pacing doesn't match the intended atmosphere. And therein is what the show is really trying to exude, a certain look, a certain atmosphere, more so than the actual plot itself. At least so far.

One of the early central focuses of the series is that of a private academy on Roosevelt Island. Giving it a sense of isolation, the school is one that really has an intense structure to it as there is a group of students called Grace which mete out punishments for transgressions against the rules. Red Garden quickly introduces the various cliques from which the lead characters come from. Kate is a recent member to Grace so she has some of the cool elegance to her. Rose is a young woman struggling with taking care of her siblings while her mother is in the hospital, so she's a bit twitchy and easily frightened. Rachel is the one from the cool clique with trendy clothes and a jet setting lifestyle. And then there's Claire, the loner of the group who has a certain roughness to her.

All four of them have one real tie to each other beyond the school however, and that's in their mutual friend Lise. That connection proves problematic when Lise turns up dead and the four girls find themselves missing their memory for a night. There are things that they all remember which makes the situation even weirder. What really turns it all for a loop though is when an attractive woman with ice in her veins named Lula turns up. A director for a funeral parlor, she informs all four of them that they're dead, and if they retain a will to live they will do so. So long as they obey her commands, which at first is little more than fending off a man who seems to have bloodlust in his eyes.

It's in this area that the pacing of the show works and yet it doesn't. Over the course of the four episodes, a good chunk of it is given over to this initial fight, which is rather awkward as expected as none of the girls really want to participate in it. There are flashes of where this will lead, as one of them exhibits some kind of supernatural power, but early on it's mostly just them running in terror and trying to survive. Having them grapple with this situation, and the slow trickle of revelations about their "deaths" is intriguing enough but it seems to be missing a real hook that just grabs you hard. It's a very laid back presentation in terms of the story itself and there is certainly an appeal there, but it's one that isn't cemented firmly by the end of the first volume. I can only imagine how it must have done on a weekly basis.

The visual design of the series is one that's quite good, but as mentioned earlier, the processing done on the presentation really mars it most of the time. There are signature Gonzo trademarks here in the characters but also some nice variations, particularly with Rachel. She stands out a bit more with her fashionable clique in terms of clothing but also in hairstyles. Rose and Kate tend to follow more traditional routes with almost dowdy clothes while Claire has the quasi-masculine feeling about her. The sense of style used with the designs gives them a whisper-thin look for the most part, but being part of trendy world and an elite one with this private school doesn't make it feel too far removed.

The setting also provides for some good visuals as they incorporate a number of familiar New York landmarks while tweaking others. Roosevelt Island has a creepy atmosphere to it, noted by one of the detectives, in how it's so bright in some ways yet has a very dark note to it. The first four episodes bring us to a number of locations that have some great detail to them as well. A simple walk in the park by Kate provides for plenty of great colors and the darkened streets where the girls battle have a real depth to them. There is also some good material shown for the various bedrooms that the girls have as well as the world that they walk within with family and friends. Though not terribly fleshed out, it feels far more lived in than the somewhat bland locales used in many other series.

In Summary:
Red Garden has some interesting potential to it but it failed to provide a really serious hook with the first four episodes, never mind the first one. It's awash in style, from the opening to the ending, as well as using some interesting effects for the visuals throughout. As an urban supernatural thriller set in America, it has plenty of the usual clichés found in Japanese based ones but also does a decent enough job of feeling like it's actually set there. Red Garden is trying to push through a really distinct kind of atmosphere to it with its pacing and how it teases out the story. It's going to find some really solid fans because of that but it's missing what it needs so far to really shift into something more accessible to a larger audience. There is plenty to like here and plenty to draw you back for more, but it's one that will require more effort to get through.

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 480p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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