Red Garden: Collection 1
FUNimation // Unrated // $49.98 // December 16, 2008
Review by John Sinnott | posted January 1, 2009
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The Series:
Screaming, angst-filled discussions, and more screaming; that seems to be the focus of Red Garden, one of the series that ADV dropped and FUNimation was kind enough to pick up and complete.  While this show from Gonzo has some unique aspects, it is set in New York City rather than Japan and has very stylized character designs; it comes across as a poor-man's Gantz, filled with a quartet of emo teens that are more irritating than the villains.

Kate, Rachel, Rose, and Claire all go to the same private school in New York, but aside from that they are totally different.  Coming from varied social and economic backgrounds the girls barely knew each other.  One morning all four wake up feeling very tired and run down, and they can't remember what happened the night before.  To make things worse, the one girl that they were all friends with, Lisa, is found dead in a forest.  Each of the four girls feels mysteriously drawn to a certain location where they meet the mysterious Lula.  She informs them that the reason they felt so bad that day is that the previous evening they all died.  They're now living on borrowed time and the only way they can continue living is to fight.
A man/monster soon attacks the four young ladies, causing them to scream.  A lot.  They manage to survive, but they are left with many questions.  What happened to Lisa?  Are they really dead?  Who is Lula and what does she want with them?  They may find out the answers if they can live long enough.

This show was obviously inspired by Gantz, the name of that series is even printed on the cover of the slipcase, but whereas that show deftly mixed violence with character development and wrapped it all in an intriguing mystery, this show doesn't get the balance right.  There's too much time spent with the main characters discussing what happened or arguing over trivial things like whether or not to plant a rock in the ground.  While this does develop the characters quite well, it slows the pace of the show down to a crawl.  It's hard to care about the characters when your mind keeps wandering away from the show.
The battle scenes are also not nearly as exciting as they could be, though they get better as the series progresses.  For far too much of the show the girls basically scream and scream during any action scenes and it gets old really fast.  I can see that they'd be shocked and it may be a realistic reaction, but this show overdoes it and the constant shrieks become irritating.

While the animation is fine, as one would expect from Gonzo, the character designs are some of the poorest I've scene from the studio.  Since the series takes place in America, they decided to make the characters look significantly different from the typical anime hero.  I don't know if this is what they think Americans look like or they were just trying to go for a radically different look, but all of the people look strange.  With wide lips, elongated necks and huge noses, they look more like the output of someone failing a life-studies drawing class than real people.  It was really distracting and made the whole show look a bit ugly.
The DVD:

The first half of the series, twelve episodes, comes on two DVDs housed in a pair of thin pak cases that fit into a nice slipcase.
As usual, anime fans have to choose between the original audio track in stereo or an English dub in DD 5.1.  The dub does come alive during the battles and the incessant screaming fills the room a little too well.  The voice actors do a good job and manage to avoid stupid accents for the most part.  The Japanese track has some nice separation and also sounds good, though I wish it was in DD 5.1 also.
The video is fine but not outstanding.  The show has a fair amount of grain in a lot of scenes which looks like it was added by the creators, but it was a little too obvious for my tastes.  The anamorphic 1.78:1 image was a bit on the soft side, again I think that's what the creators were going for, and the colors were a bit muted.  Like the character designs this intentional fiddling with the image detracted from the series rather than enhancing it.
Not much in the way of bonus material.  Just a clean opening and closing and some trailers.
Final Thoughts:
This show moved too slow and was filled with too many angst-filled conversations.  While the mystery was intriguing it wasn't enough to keep me excited about the show, especially with the odd character designs.  If young girls arguing and screaming sound like your cup of tea, give this one a rental.

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