Red Garden is an anime series created by Studio Gonzo, which runs for a total of twenty-two episodes plus one OVA. Set in The Big Apple, the show follows a quartet of female students who attend a prestigious school situated on Roosevelt Island. The four heroines named Kate, Claire, Rachael and Rose are thrust into a nightmarish battle for survival after a clandestine organisation saves them from death by transferring their souls into new superhuman bodies. In order to extend their second lease at life the group are forced into battling monsters that appear on nights when crimson coloured butterflies manifest.
Previously distributed by the now defunct ADV Films, viewers based in the UK can presently purchase the entire series courtesy of MVM Entertainment. At the time of writing Amazon have one copy left in stock for £29. My suggestion would be to visit United Publications instead, who are selling the same set for a more modest £17. The series should appeal to fans of horror and mysteries, as it features some visceral kills in addition to exploring a conspiracy surrounding the cult that reanimated the girls. Despite its premise, Red Garden shouldn’t however be dismissed as a mindless action show. Scenes featuring brutal battles are used sparingly, with the script instead preferring to focus on how the lives of the leads are affected by their new monster slaying duties.
Kate for example finds that her after dark activities are compromising her education. Exhausted from regular creature confrontations she begins arriving tardy to class, which blemishes her previously perfect attendance record. This could result in her expulsion from Grace (an elite group of prefects composed of the school’s brightest pupils.) Claire on the other hand has no qualms about schooling, as she is a serial truant. She is however struggling to make ends meet after feuding with her dad and running away from home. Getting summoned to scrap with monsters means that she regularly disappears from her diner job mid-shift. The absences are affecting her earnings, which she can ill afford as she is well overdue on her rent.
Out of the four leads Rose is the weakest both in terms of mental fortitude and physicality. During life threatening situations she can often be found cowering in the corner, but it’s tough not to have sympathy for her plight. Her self-preservation does not emanate from cowardice, but from the need to stay safe as others are depending on her. With her mother bedridden, due to illness, the responsibility of raising Rose’s younger siblings falls on her. Given that her family’s fate is squarely on her shoulders she cannot afford to perish at the hands of inhuman beasts.
Last but not least is Rachael Benning who is introduced as a spoilt rich brat whose only concerns are keeping up with the world of fashion and attending lavish parties. Her story arc mostly deals with the strained relationship she and her boyfriend share. As expected her supernatural commitments have taken a toll on her social life, but perhaps it will prove to be a blessing in disguise. The predicament she finds herself in is a real eye opener on how unfulfilling her existence has been up till now. Unsatisfied with her previous lifestyle a hunger for knowledge and drive to improve oneself awakens within her.
My rating for Red Garden is a five out of five. I suspect the show’s pacing will be too slow for some, but I personally lapped up the captivating plot and solid character development. The show reminds me of Shiki in the manner that it leaves its otherworldly elements on the periphery in favour of examining how the cast grow to meet the challenges they face. The plot sees the heroines caught in the middle of two warring factions, but there aren’t strictly any clear-cut bad guys. Both the group manipulating the girls and the pharmaceutical company, linked with the creatures they face, have justifiable motivations for their actions, which delivers a deeper narrative than your typical anime release.
The OVA, although tonally very different to the main series, is a welcome addition to the collection given that is serves as an epilogue to episode twenty-two’s abrupt finale. Visually I was impressed with the show’s art style even if the colour palette is more muted than what you normally find in a typical Japanese cartoon. Great care has been put into making every character look distinct, from the animation of their mannerisms to the cast’s wardrobe choices. My only gripe with the artwork would have to be with the iffy look of noses during some profile shots. I also didn’t care for how in some scenes characters would randomly burst into song. It feels like the producers briefly considered turning the show into a horror musical only to abandon the idea a few episodes in. Just as well as the English language voice cast didn’t seem up to the task. Japan please stick to mature cartoons. You can leave the song and dance routine to Disney.