Claire, Rose, Rachel and Kate may attend the same school on New York’s Roosevelt Island, but apart from sharing a friendship with a recently deceased girl named Lise, they are all very different people. Nonetheless, this unlikely quartet is thrown together when a mysterious woman named Lula enters their life with some shocking news- all four of them are already dead. Now, they are living on borrowed time, and it is time that will run out unless they follow Lula’s orders and dedicate their nights to fighting a succession of zombie-like men. Confused and afraid, but nonetheless desperate to uncover the truth behind their demise and resurrection, the four girls must now work together if they wish to balance their everyday lives with this strange new world that they have been thrust into…
There are times when you have to admire the power of words. For example, in the above paragraph, Red Garden may sound like quite an interesting series, which is why I must inform you at this point that it is, in fact, quite the opposite. A tedious mess of dull character angst and a plot so convoluted that it makes earlier Gonzo efforts look well-written, Red Garden’s only prowess lay in spanning the realm of mediocrity that lies between the laughably stupid and the tiresomely monotonous.
The Plot: I’m sick of giving spoiler warnings but I hate the comment flames even more
As we eventually come to discover, Red Garden is about (I must use words like ‘plot’ and ‘about’ somewhat loosely in this context) a battle between two opposing forces- the Animus and the Doral. Once, the Animus were in possession of two Cursed Tomes of magical plot powers, but the Doral thought it was a good idea to steal one of them, an act which seemed to achieve little more than damaging both sides. The Doral fell under a curse which fated their family members to eventually turn into grey slavering monsters, whilst the leaders of the Animus became immortal yet immobile characters who were so well developed and essentially important to the story that we were only introduced to them in the penultimate episode.
Flash forward to the present day, and events have reached breaking point. Despite having a near infinite number of generic men and no restriction on marrying outsiders (one character, Emilio, is even engaged to Kate’s sister), the Doral are down to their last two females, and so, if possible, they would like to resolve things within the next twenty-two episodes. To that end, they capture Lise’s re-animated body in the hopes that she can become the Holy Mother-esque figure who will breed life back into their clan, presumably by having an ultra-resistant body that will not fall prey to the curse.
On the other side of the fence, the Animus seem to have committed themselves to fighting the Doral, by sending out teams of dead high school girls in replacement bodies to tackle the slavering monsters (who conveniently have arranged to only appear at night). At this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that if you’re going to rely on dead girls instead of trained professionals, you could as least give them some weaponry and possibly even a crash course in how to shoot straight, but alas, this is not the case. The re-animated bodies (the original corpses are kept in storage) even have enhanced physical capabilities, but why bother to tell the girls about that when they can figure it out by trial and error? In short, it’s like ‘Gantz for Girls’, only a lot less gratuitous and somewhat more pointless.
As the latest four woman team to join the roster, Claire, Rose, Rachel and Kate now have to keep their evenings free in case their handler Lula “large lips” and her dull brother JC need them to fight (to give you an idea of just how interesting a character JC is, I must admit that I didn’t realise he was Lula’s brother or even had a name until he was killed off later in the series). The punishment for not showing up to fight is to lose their second lease of life- or is it? That may have been the case earlier in the series, but later on the writers completely forget about this, and let the girls have a night off whilst Lula stepped in for them- begging the question as to why they are needed at all if it so easy for Lula to take over (or alternately, why didn’t Lula call in another team?).
Anyway, whatever the case, through various bursts of angst, our four heroines fight a succession of slavering grey men, whilst the side of evil gets a non-generic face in the shape of blonde bishie Hervé. Hervé’s cousin and sister are the last two remaining Doral females, and thanks to his intense feelings of siscon, he resists the general consensus to give up on them and focus all efforts on Lise. In fact, he does have a point- twenty episodes later, Lise proves a failure and when even the brief capture of Kate yields nothing, the Doral have to admit that everything they have done during the series has essentially been pointless, and what they should have been aiming for was to take the second Cursed Tome away.
The finale may be fast approaching, but having discovered that they are stuck in immortal bodies and will eventually lose their memories (what happened to being returned to their original bodies?), the leads cannot act straightaway, instead devoting an episode to saying goodbye to supporting characters whilst practically the entire female contingent of their school reveals themselves to be affiliated with the Animus in one way or another (only women can be revived after death, perhaps due to the fact that they only possess the one book now). If the plot made little sense before, then this must be the point where it becomes totally ridiculous, as Roosevelt Island (population 9000+ in real life) somehow not only becomes solely inhabited by the leads and generic Doral and Animus members, but also magically becomes separated from the mainland when the bridges leading to it are blown up.
If this were any other series, the conclusion would involve a final boss battle, but even here Red Garden manages to produce something rather more disappointing. Whilst generics from both sides fight and turn to dust, a by-now deranged Hervé carries his beloved sister around whilst searching for the second Cursed Tome. Since we discovered a few episodes ago that Hervé and the other non-slavering Doral somehow also have enhanced physical capabilities, he proves up to having a brief punch-up with Kate before Lula steps in and sacrifices herself to get in a hit. At this point, I was fully expecting Hervé to run away transform into a hideous beast invested with the ‘ultimate’ power from two books, but alas, even this hope for a mediocre ending was replaced by the reality of an awful one. Hervé does indeed run away, but once he reaches the final boss room he instead concentrates on having sex with his sister killing his sister when she awakens as a monster, before apparently dying from all the wounds that have been inflicted on him (I’m not 100% convinced that he is in fact dead, and wouldn’t be surprised if he returns to be a final boss in the OVA).
With Hervé now out of the picture, our heroines coincidentally meet up with Lise (who has a tendency to randomly wander around) and retrieve the book that Hervé conveniently brought with him. Upon showing it to the masters of the Animus, its magical plot powers awaken, enabling the Animus masters to die, and leaving the four leads alone and apparently immortal on the island as Lise crumbles to dust and the whole place gets covered in pinkish-red flowers (the red garden of the title). Exactly what they will do now and how the inhabitants of New York will adapt to the sudden appearance of such a garden in the middle of the city remains unknown- quite possibly to the writers as well as the viewers.
The Characters: Coming soon to a soap opera near you
With such a confusing, convoluted and ultimately poorly written plot, the writers often needed to take time off for a type of intense and endless angst they liked to call ‘character development’. In the early episodes, this was accompanied by the leads singing awful insert songs, but luckily this practice was soon forgotten.
There is something to be said for realism in anime, and that is that said realism should not be overdone. Were I to find out that I had died and now had to fight slavering men, I probably wouldn’t take it in the best of moods, but when watching such things on screen, I don’t want to see the leads running away and crying during the fight, and later angsting about what they have done. Unfortunately, this is just what we see in Red Garden, as our heroines steadfastly attempt to cling onto their general uselessness for as long as they possibly can.
- Kate: A member of the school’s sorority/student council Grace, Kate was expected to give out tickets to rule breakers and latecomers, but when her main character duties started affecting her duties, fellow Grace members became annoyed with her. Fortunately, the leader of Grace (an Animus affiliate who just happened to have HARD YURI feelings for Kate) always backed her up, but tensions still remained.
Worse yet, not content to stick with HARD YURI, Kate decides to start dating her girlfriend’s fiancé’s friend, who just happens to be Hervé (somehow even Lula and JC fail to notice this, despite keeping tabs on her). In time, she discovers that Hervé is in fact evil, and has the great idea of phoning him from just outside Doral headquarters. Needless to say, she gets captured, although she is rescued within the space of an episode.
- Claire: Having become estranged from her career orientated father, Claire lives on her own and constantly struggles to pay her bills. Despite this, she lets pride get in the way of common sense when her pay is docked for neglecting work (again for main character duties) and storms out, only to face a life of destitution and an inability to land any other form of employment. After being forced to borrow money from her brother Randy (and thus indirectly from her father, since Randy borrowed it from Dad in order to set up a business) she swallows her pride and takes back her old job. Meanwhile, Randy’s business fails and he gets into a car accident, but luckily for all concerned, he eventually makes a recovery, whilst Claire even has a reconciliation of sorts with her father.
- Rose: Given that she has to look after her two bratty siblings whilst her mother is in hospital and her father is away trying to earn money by working at a construction site (just come and look after your damn kids), I might actually feel sorry for Rose- if only she wasn’t so annoying. The most whiny and ineffectual of the girls, Rose is the doormat’s doormat, a woman with so little spine that her strongest attack skill is ‘Cry’. It takes her about two third of the series to actually become useful in any way, although perhaps this is better than nothing.
- Rachel: The trendy girl of the group, Rachel initially likes hanging around with her shallow friends and boyfriend Luke (or is that Rook?), picking out the latest fashions in clothing and make-up. After her resurrection, she begins to tire of this, leading to friction with her friends, and tension in her love life, especially after her new fondness for having coffee with a teacher leads everyone to believe she is having an affair with him.
- Hervé: The blonde bishie of evil, Hervé was dating Lise until he ended up overseeing the murder of her and the leads. Having been haunted by the time when his mother turned into a monster and had to be killed, Hervé doesn’t want that fate for his sister and cousin, and fights against their apparent abandonment in favour of Lise. In the end, however, despite his various siscon-inspired machinations, he cannot even make a good final boss.
When Red Garden first started, I really disliked the character designs- they were technically well done, but for me, not particularly aesthetically pleasing. Over time, I came to appreciate the less generic ones more, and with the exception of such blunders as Lula’s immense lips, I’m now quite appreciative of the distinct and different art style with its gradient colour shading- it’s not something I’d want to see overused, but it ultimately made for an interesting change from the norm.
That being said, the series may have done well with the basic design, but its fashion sense was not always in the right place. Attempts to look ‘arty’ often resulted in hideous clothing for certain characters- just look at poor Rose and that green dress of hers. Such poor taste was not only limited to the visuals, however, as the two ear-bleedingly poor ED themes proved.
Although it manages to capture the interest early on by promising a slowly unfolding mystery, Red Garden’s tedious mix of dull character angst and needlessly convoluted plot was a recipe for only failure. When sitting through it even once is such a chore, any long-term value is entirely nonexistent.