Midnight in the Red Garden

Continuing my trend of reviewing anime for myself, and also overly clever blog titles. Red Garden I like for a number of reasons, foremost being that it just doesn't look like any other anime I've ever seen, or at least can remember. It is also set entirely in New York, at a fictional private high school on Roosevelt Island. This makes it an interesting study in how Japanese people percieve us, and what misconceptions they have about what high school life is like over here.

Plot Time: Two families are fighting an ancient blood feud in which they have each placed some sort of curse on the other. One family has a bad habit of developing "complications," which basically turn them into the fast agressive type of zombie after a certain age. In the females, it almost always happens well before they're able to have children, which means that the family is slowly dying. To fight them, the other family recruits young women by first killing them, then reanimating them in a "borrowed" body that develops super-hero style strength and speed.

Okay, that makes it sound a lot weirder than it is. Actually, wait, it is really weird. What keeps the story from being an exercise in absurdity are the characters and the development of the plot. All we're told for the first half of the show is that the four girls chosen to be the main characters, Rose, Rachel, Claire, and Kate, must fight these zombies whenever they are summoned if they want to continue to live, or have a chance of getting their old bodies - their old lives - back. The characters, and the way in which they each change as they develop relationships with each other, are what make this anime special. The writers took the simple yet bold step of introducing us to people that we already know from our own lives, slamming them into an impossibly strange situation, and letting them grow up in a way that is touchingly honest.

It's hard to know what more to say about it. The costumes bear mentioning, if only because they are another aspect of the series that is entirely unique. Everyone dresses with a sort of extravagance or attention to detail that you'd only see from a professional clothing designer, even the "plain" girls and guys. The only thing about the series that got on my nerves was their attempt to add musical-style numbers to the first dozen or so episodes. They are angsty and contemplative and are abandoned when the story starts to demand all of the show's time, which makes them rather superfluous in my opinion. Best to avoid them, unless you really like karoke.

The end of the series is intense, with much action and drama played out. It is incredibly satisfying to see the girls faced with a difficult choice at the end - live immortaly in the bodies they have, or go back to their old ones with no memory of the trials they faced - and actually make the hard decision. Red Garden is like nothing else out there. It is unique and lovingly crafted, and employs some novel ideas about using anime as a storytelling medium. For these reasons, I do recommend it.