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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Red Garden: The Complete Series Box Set & OVA
Red Garden: The Complete Series Box Set & OVA
FUNimation // Unrated // September 8, 2009
List Price: $69.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Rohit Rao | posted October 30, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Warring clans battling to lift a curse.
Reanimated girls brawling with ferocious wolf-men.
Do I have your attention? If so I apologize, because this show promised the above but instead delivered squabbling families, bickering lovers, back-biting friends and the occasional melancholy song. I guess some sadistic part of me wanted to raise your hopes much the same way mine had been raised going into this show. Fortunately for you, I managed to dash your hopes with one sentence rather than the 22 episodes I had to endure in order to receive my deathblow. Red Garden is a Gonzo Studio production that was first released by ADV in the United States before being transferred to Funimation. This review is of the Funimation release featuring all 22 episodes of the series as well as the OVA sequel titled Dead Girls.

As the show opens, we are presented with four girls from a private school in New York, Kate, Rose, Claire and Rachel, who seem to be having some trouble remembering what happened to them the night before. When they find out that their mutual friend, Lise, was found dead in the woods, things quickly take a turn for the worse. When all four are drawn to a common location by some colorful butterflies, they are approached by two mysterious strangers, Lula and J.C., who explain that the four girls have in fact died and currently inhabit reanimated 'new' bodies while their original bodies are being held captive elsewhere. The only way for them to return to their original bodies is to do Lula's bidding. Unfortunately this involves dispatching strange animalistic creatures that have the appearance of normal men but behave like rabid dogs using nothing but their bare hands and the occasional blunt object. As the plot thickens, the girls learn about the role they are playing in a larger war between two opposing clans, the Animus and the Dolore.

With that plot synopsis, I have focused on the high-concept aspects of the series and consequently failed you yet again since it still makes the show sound much more interesting than it really was. The devil is definitely in the details, which in this case turned out to be maudlin minutiae. Despite having a crackerjack premise to build on, it was never fully explored as a large portion of the show was dedicated to following the girls during the hours of the day they spent not clubbing creatures of the night. This wouldn't normally have been a problem because I usually appreciate my action with a nice dose of character building. However, the personal lives of the protagonists amounted to nothing more than melodramatic filler with little in the way of character growth.

At least the show creators had the good sense to give the four principal characters substantially different personalities and backgrounds. Kate comes from an affluent family and starts the show as one of the more emotionally withdrawn characters due to her closeness to the recently departed Lise. Rachel is the prototypical popular girl with a whiny boyfriend and a gang of friends that come off as Mean Girls rejects. Claire also comes from a wealthy background, but lives alone to assert her independence. Rose is the only character whose family isn't rolling in dough but she does have a loving mother and younger siblings to keep her company. Of the four, I probably enjoyed Claire's character the most. Her no-nonsense attitude and aggressive stance during the action scenes endeared her to me. By the same token, I found Rose to be the most frustrating character. This had a lot to do with the fact that whenever the slightest hint of trouble raised its ugly head, she ran away screaming. Her whimpering quickly turned grating and she never quite redeemed herself in my eyes.

Despite having four leading characters, the supporting characters got a surprising amount of screen time. I've already mentioned Lula and J.C. who represented the Animus clan the girls were fighting for. Opposing them was Herve, a mysterious member of the Dolore clan. Since all four girls attended the same school, we also got to see a lot of the inner workings of the academic staff as well as Grace, a group of elite students who monitored the halls while pretending not to be androids. Seriously, the girls in Grace were creepy in their Stepford Wife-ishness. Paula, the president of Grace also seemed to have a strange relationship with Kate that was both Sapphic and incestuous in nature but never really elaborated upon.

As I mentioned earlier, my problems with Red Garden stemmed from thwarted expectations. Every single time I thought the plot was picking up pace and going interesting places with the mythology of the warring clans, there would be a break in the action so that we could be subjected to petty squabbles. I call the squabbles petty because practically all the conflicts seemed manufactured just to squeeze a few more episodes out of the show. Rachel's countless arguments with her boyfriend, Rose's quest for her absent father, Claire's clashes with her insensitive dad, were all pushed past their natural breaking point. The slavish disruption of tone and pacing even cropped up during what should have been an action packed finale. And then there was the singing. In a truly odd grab for the 'sensitive musical' fans, at least three of the early episodes featured principal characters singing plaintive songs with voices that were never meant to carry a tune. At least one of these songs severely undercut an emotional reveal regarding the fate of Herve's mother.

Despite my dislike of how the pacing of the show was handled, I at least give the creators kudos for bringing it to a reasonable close. No major plot threads were left hanging as the lead characters met a fate that was both bittersweet and weirdly hopeful. The OVA sequel, Dead Girls, was really a sequel in the loosest of terms. Although it featured the four lead characters living as bounty hunters hundreds of years in the future, their personalities seemed to have been interchanged with Rachel becoming a tomboy and Claire turning into a sexpot. The other aspect that prevented me from seeing the OVA as a true sequel was the fact that a number of other characters from the original show, appeared in different forms although some of them clearly met their demise hundreds of years earlier during the events of the show. It's probably best to view the OVA as a 43 minute long 'What If?' story featuring characters similar in appearance to characters from the show.

The episodes and the OVA were spread across 4 single-sided discs which were packaged in two thinpaks in a slipcase.

The show was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The video presentation was mildly disappointing for a number of reasons. I noticed a few instances of moiré but what I found most distracting was the very visible grain present throughout the show. This may have been an intentional move by the animators but I repeatedly found myself focusing on the grain of the backgrounds rather than the action in the foreground. A muted color palette also meant that the colors didn't have any pop to them contributing to a rather flat look.

The audio was presented in Stereo 2.0 for the Japanese track and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound for the English track. Given the New York setting for the show and the Western background of all the characters, I elected to watch the show with the English audio track. The audio mix was well balanced with some dynamic range during the infrequent action scenes. The dialogue heavy scenes were handled nicely with the entire English vocal cast faring quite well. I did spot check the Japanese stereo track and found it to be adequate but by its very definition, less immersive than the English track. The subtitles were also clearly presented and seemed to follow the English track quite closely without ever becoming dubtitles. Besides the action scenes, the audio track was most lively during the songs used for the opening and closing credits. The opening credits played over a track that sounded like a psychedelic mix of Girl from Ipanema. Two different songs were used for the closing credits of the show, both falling under the Japanese pop-rock umbrella.

There were very few extras on this DVD release. Discs 1 and 3 featured Clean Opening and Closing Animation. Discs 2 and 4 featured DVD Credits and 12 trailers for other shows that are Also Available from Funimation. I would have definitely appreciated some discussion of the mythology behind the Animus and Dolore clans since the climax of the show really didn't do them justice. Some discussion of the ideas at play behind the OVA would have also been welcome but was sadly missing.

Red Garden held so much promise with its high-concept premise regarding four undead girls battling animalistic creatures for their salvation. Unfortunately it got derailed by poor pacing and wild tonal shifts. I still believe there is a tight 12 or 13 episode long story hidden in here somewhere but it seems to be buried under approximately 10 episodes worth of filler. Despite my reservations, the show does build to a satisfactory climax. If you can adjust your expectations and accept it as a melodrama featuring flashes of action rather than the other way around, then I suggest you Rent It.

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