Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
DVD 2 - Breaking the Girls
The unhappy quartet of Kate, Claire, Rose, and Rachel is doing its best to deal with life. That isn't a simple task when you've just been told that you're actually dead and that you must slay monsters in order to maintain the semblance of life that remains. What choice remains except hysterics? In the meantime mysterious blonde Lula mercilessly sends missions their way and the truth is uncovered piecemeal. Elsewhere, lurking mystery man Hervé remembers his childhood and tries to help his sister who is apparently victim to a terrifying genetic ailment, one that has everything to do with the undead girls and their mission of death.
At the end of each volume of Red Garden, what linger are the visuals. It has a faultless, bravely unorthodox look that evokes its American setting with character designs that combine American animation art-styles—long noses, wide mouths and restrained eyes—with a more traditional "anime" aesthetic. It doesn't flinch from detailed portrayals of urban decay, and even gets some easily-overlooked details dead-on (school busses!). It also features a series of seriously mod wardrobe changes, strangely menacing butterflies, and some stylish visual touches involving psychological states. It skimps on the animation of monsters and fights, focusing the budget tellingly on the animation of characters and their emotional outbursts. It's these things that we remember when the end credits roll and the two-month wait for the next volume begins.
And that's a problem. A serious problem. When Claire's battered povertymobile or Lula's nose (what a glorious schnozz it is) make more of a lasting impression than nearly two entire episodes of histrionics, something's wrong. Akin to group leads in horror tales past, Red Garden's four leads all fulfill convenient roles and little else (yet). Kate is the level-headed one, Rachel the unstable loose cannon, Claire the tough pragmatist, and Rose the quivering monster-bait. This isn't unexpected, it's only been four episodes; there hasn't been time to build characters and situations up properly. And yet the writers see fit to break out the melodramatic excess, without yet having done the groundwork to earn it. Without earning the emotions meant to be evoked, all of the tirades, the yelling, running, bawling and breaking down, are simply crude. Someone seems to have mistaken volume for intensity. Intense it is not, merely loud...and obnoxious. Luckily the hysterical running and screaming (the bane of any horror aficionado's life) has been dropped now that the girls have accepted their fate—though not before it spoiled nearly the entire first volume.
To the relief of all, much like the running and screaming in the previous volume, this volume drops the crude tearing of hair and beating of breast about two episodes in. Of the remaining episodes, one is spent showing the other side of the conflict that the girls have been forcefully inducted into, revealing enough to prove that their situation is far more complex—both in terms of circumstance and moral justification—than the average monster-slaying tale. The other takes time out for some (relatively) quiet character-building, hinting at several intriguing possibilities for high-school drama and winding down the volume on a surprisingly peaceful note. Something that is sure to end next volume.
The jazzy opener and fun, hard-rocking closer bookend episodes where the score is dominated by silence and overlapping dialogue; the use of the quiet, often downbeat, music is sparing and strictly for purposes of support. The one intrusion of the soundtrack into the show is a doozy though: occasionally the characters spontaneously break into song. That's right, song. Full-on musical mode, often for three or so minutes at a time. It really doesn't sit well given the content; it's like inserting a messy dismemberment into a Gene Kelly film—it just doesn't feel right, and that the insertions have an arty, forced quality simply inflames the issue.
Solid and professional, the English dub for Red Garden will satisfy dubgoers even if it isn't so inspired as to attract the dub wary. The large female cast manages to keep all of the roles distinct, effectively capturing the personality of each. The leads don't dig into the grand emoting the way they could, dulling the overall tone of certain scenes (which is sometimes a relief, even if it makes the episode overall less interesting). The ADR script is sometimes taken almost directly from the subtitles, and is usually quite close when it isn't. There's a tendency towards elevated profanity levels, particularly in bad-girl Claire's lines, and the (understandable) decision is made at one point to excise the majority of one of the musical interludes.
Given the similarity in general premise, it's tempting to liken Red Garden to an all-girl Gantz. Minus the kitschy aliens, glitzy sci-fi weapons, self-conscious psychological unpleasantness, exploding heads and gratuitous sex. And it still isn't very good. However, if it continues to leave its embarrassingly overwrought emotional outbursts in the past (or at least do something to earn them) and build on the growing intrigue surrounding what the girls have become, then there is promise for something worthwhile to come. Only time, and a couple more volumes, will tell; until then, it's something to keep a guarded eye on.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Unorthodox visual style; leaves behind the overripe theatrics long enough for some plot and character elaboration.
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