Until yesterday, the lives of Kate, Rose, Claire and Rachel, four girls from the same high school, have been perfectly normal. But now, they can’t remember what happened last night. One of their classmates is dead, apparently the latest in a series of suicides, and they have strange flashbacks regarding her death. Suddenly, they start seeing butterflies no one else can see, and before they know it, they are in the middle of a conflict where their own lives are at stake…
summary by Taleweaver
Highs: Surprisingly deep character play; engrossing backstory; fantastic voice acting
Lows: Drags a bit in the middle; unsatisfying side-stories
At first glance, Red Garden looks just like the kind of production you’d expect from Gonzo: a flashy but essentially empty action series with a hugely hyped mystery at the bottom of it all that absolutely fails to connect with you once it’s revealed. And then you keep watching beyond the first few episodes – and to your surprise, you find out that this time, you were wrong.
Red Garden is a surprisingly deep and engrossing drama at heart, with the action as a mere means to an end. Literally all the main characters are developed well beyond the usual stereotypes; they are given their own hopes, dreams and ambitions, and their constant struggle between what they want to do and what they need to do is the revolving point of the drama. The backstory to all this is also something special; there are no real heroes and real villains, just conflicting interests, and it’s easy to relate to both sides because both have valid reasons for fighting.
Technically, Red Garden is what you’d expect of a 2006 production, nice and clean and with passable action choreography. What really stands out is the voice acting, though. The show wasn’t produced as usual with the animation going first and the voice acting following the animation but the other way around. Essentially, the seiyuu worked as though they were doing an audio play, and by being able to concentrate on one another rather than on what happens on the screen, the depth of emotion and the chemistry between them is brought to a new level – absolutely stellar.
If everything about the series had been as good as the voice acting,Red Garden would have been close to perfect. Unfortunately, the pacing drags a little in the episodes between 12 and 18, where nothing new happens and old problems are addressed again and again and again. The series picks up pace again after that and manages to bring everything to a very satisfying conclusion, but most of the side-stories revolving around romantic relationships and family matters fall flat on their face or, worst of it, are simply discarded once everything moves toward the end.
If any further proof was necessary that Gonzo can produce more than all-style-no-substance anime, Red Garden is the perfect piece of evidence for that. It’s an exciting drama/action piece with wonderful voice acting and satisfactory technical qualities. The overall writing is fine and only lacks in quality when it comes to the details. All in all, one of the nicer surprises of this anime season.