Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 8th 2008
DVD 5 - Love Lies Bleeding
Just as Kate and her friends are getting accustomed to the idea of being dead (and smacking monsters with baseball bats), Hervé, the rascal, drops another bomb in their laps. Members of Animus, he informs Kate, are fated to lose their memories when the battle for the cursed books concludes. Kate agonizes over whether to tell the other three about their ultimate fate, but proves so inept at keeping secrets that it doesn't much matter in the long run. The news hits Rose hard—her family is her life—and puts an additional strain on Rachel's disintegrating relationship with Luke. But there's only so much time to wallow in misery. With the police closing in, Hervé, fed up with the organization ignoring his sister, finally makes his move, kidnapping Lise and setting into motion a bloody chain of events that alters the course of the girls' secret war.
Red Garden may be improving, but it's still far from flawless. This volume moves in fits and starts, crawling through romantic and familial drama, and then riding brutal action fast through an over-complicated labyrinth of in-show mythology—punctuating attenuated angst with bouts of bloodletting and sudden narrative leaps.
Ponderous pontification on life, identity, and other scary stuff drags the pace of the volume's first two episodes to an excruciating halt, one made all the more painful by the blunt-force melodrama that the writers for some reason see fit to occasionally reintroduce. Trying to wring pathos from Lula's wailing and gnashing of teeth at the death of her brother—both of whom are more plot contrivance than character—is an embarrassing mistake that renders the scene nearly unwatchable, and even the dramatic developments involving more established characters are clunky and ill-formed. Too often the writers conflate emotional realism with people being dicks, and they habitually force characters to act in ways that run counter to their established personalities, with Rachel's wild swings from bitch-queen to weeping victim straying into MPD territory.
Unlike the opening volumes, however, this volume isn't always trying to make emotional roadkill of its audience or tripping over its own emotional manipulations. There's a tender moment between Kate and her Grace mentor Paula that takes an odd shoujo-ai turn; Rose's reconciliation with her father is sweet; and Rachel somehow manages to pull off her sad, self-sacrificing parting from Luke. Even Claire's confrontation with her distant father—with its utterly unconvincing transformation from unpleasant to maudlin—has a certain clumsy charm to it. And when Hervé interferes again, the pace picks up, intercutting interpersonal developments, brutal action, and plot twists to create a tension that is revelatory when compared to the series' humdrum opening half. Once the wind-up to the climax gets underway the series can be downright exciting—killing major players without blinking and supplementing its ever-present atmosphere of supernatural unease with creepy plot revelations.
The action scenes suffer from budget shortfalls that render some of the movements—especially the animal gait of the monster-ized men—comically unrealistic, and when removed from the context of chin and nose, Paula's lips look like flapping insects in a sea of flesh-tones, but otherwise the series' budget is holding up remarkably well under the ravaging that the colorful, superbly detailed backgrounds must be subjecting it to. The Americanized, often uneven character designs remain an acquired taste—as does their hideous fashion sense—but serve the convulsing, often extreme facial expressions of their characters well.
If the Japanese production staff is keeping a steady hand on the quality of the visuals and the atmospheric soundtrack, then ADV's staff is doing something similar with their English production. Hardly anything—from the extreme fidelity of the script to the occasionally stiff, occasionally overripe performances—has changed since stage one. The punched-up lover's spats continue to be a highlight, and the cast again manages to insert enough conviction into the heady dramatic bits to make them work, and even make the interminable conversations about how scared and sad and upset they are tolerable.
The revelations leave plot holes gaping (if Animus is comprised of super-powered women, why rely on wimpy, mentally unstable teenagers for the dirty work?), Lula's big over-acting scene is simply awful, and the series still leans heavily on its unconventional visuals to supply the appeal its uneven narrative lacks. And yet this penultimate volume still delivers enough tension, shifting relationships, and little emotional zings to ensure that viewers will tune in for the final volume. Of course the shoujo-ai and ultraviolence don't hurt.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Develops important relationships; waters its growing climax with liberal doses of blood; still looks darned good.
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