Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 1st 2008
DVD 3 - The Body Snatchers
Though it grows easier with every day to cope with the cruel fate handed them the day they died, the strain of their murderous new roles still haunts the girls' private lives. After losing her job due to her irregular behavior, the financial strain causes Claire to lash out at her boyfriend Yuan, who proceeds to put some distance between them. Rachel's fears about her new body time and again nearly crush her relationship with Luke. Kate's frequent tardiness has turned the elite members of Grace against her, all but Paula, whose affection for Kate grows more intense and less platonic with each passing day. Rose is just trying to hold her already complicated home life together. When her little brother and sister ask when their father is coming home, she sets out to find her delinquent parent in hopes of persuading him to return. But still they cope, even when Lulu reveals the disturbing truth behind Lise's abduction and the monsters that the girls must kill. But nothing stays the same forever, and when Hervé begins constructing a sweet yet potentially deadly romantic trap for Kate, the coming changes begin to seem sinister indeed.
That the four episodes leading up to the series' halfway point go down easier than the eight before them is less a matter of steady improvement—though the series has been slowly improving—and more a matter of them simply avoiding those situations during which the first two volumes grew irritating. This volume's fights are brief and blessedly devoid of running, screaming and crude over-emoting. And so long as it focuses on reconstructing shattered lives rather than shattering them, the overblown, ill-supported melodrama of the previous two volumes is supplanted by the comparatively subtle interplay between the leads and the various people in their lives.
Of course, the running, screaming, over-emoting, and overblown melodrama could return at any time, but for now the series is focusing on its strengths. The piecemeal revelation of the conflict that the girls are caught up in doesn't lessen the vague sense of supernatural unease that haunts the series, and indeed the more that is revealed of the conflict, the more interesting the series' mysteries grow. Hervé is growing from a lurking badman into a complex, ambiguous villain, his uncertain motivations for courting Kate providing the series' strongest hook going into the next volume. And even if the tearing of hair and beating of breasts resumes, this volume does a fair enough job of detailing everyday life, elaborating on the ties that bind, and generally making the girls live, breathe and garner sympathy, that having them wigging out again doesn't seem such a bad idea anymore. Rachel and Luke suffer through some surprisingly effective romantic drama, Claire's troubles job-hunting are only too easy to sympathize with, and Kate and Paula's relationship has become rather intriguing (and no, it's not just the hints of shoujo-ai).
Now that the four leads have grown out of their frightened little girl stage, the fights are merely swift and vicious rather than prolonged exercises in horror cliché exploitation, allowing director Kou Matsuo to indulge in some slick quick-cutting action. The rest of the volume is pretty sedentary, which means no flash and dazzle, but plenty of opportunity to showcase the subtler qualities of the series' animation. Facial expressions get special attention, and are more effective now that they're toned down, while the slower pace allows for a fuller appreciation of the different girls' distinctive body language. The American milieu continues to provide color, and the character designs are strangely compelling. Akira Senju's score is heavy on pregnant silences and quiet atmospherics, which serves the tone of this volume well. The LM.C provides a new, fun closing theme for episode 12.
The English cast is still too stiff, their speech too mannered and unnatural, but once acclimated to it, it isn't a terrible or even a sub-par dub. The lovers' spats—and there are many—are handled with enthusiasm and conviction enough to be moving. Luke's voice is distracting in a way that's really hard to pinpoint, but eventually grows on you, and the girls' personalities come through strong, both in their performances and in the rewrites, which tend to emphasize the verbal quirks of each character. Too often the script treats the subtitles' literal translation as scripture, but it does diverge at times, and when it does it is usually to its benefit (as when it toughens the language during Luke and Rachel's big spat), though occasionally it does make characters sound like refugees from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
One shouldn't expect Red Garden to revolutionize supernatural horror, but list the qualifications that the series had to pass in order to improve on its rocky opening—lose the embarrassing theatrics, focus on the mysteries, and beef up the characterization—and this volume, to an extent, does them all. Not brilliant, but getting stronger with each passing volume.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Fleshes out the relationships and private lives of the leads; no one flips out.
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