As with most of the series I watch, I decided to follow Red Garden during its original air date, spanning from 2006 to 2007. As such, I felt that in order to review Red Garden properly, I should re-watch the series in full. In keeping with the first viewing, the series succeeded in relaying all of the qualities I felt it had, until it came to me, that feeling of discontent and annoyance I had during my first viewing… – the last few episodes. Red Garden had the potential to be something truly great, that promise was proving to be all the more viable with each passing episode until those last three to four episodes. The series was produced by the animation studio Gonzo. If you’ve read my previous reviews in this thread, you’ll know that I’ve often regarded the studio to be temperamental at best; they either hit the nail on the head and pull off something great or they falter in the process. Red Garden, on other hand, is an unusual one, it’s somewhere in between…
To its credit, the series was certainly enjoyable to watch, on the whole. It possessed an intricate, well-developed plot, which was continually shrouded in mystery at every turn. Furthermore, the development each of the characters received, as a consequence, was believable and touching. I was genuinely engrossed from episode to episode, uncertain of what lied ahead. To provide a backdrop, the series focuses on four, seemingly different, high school girls, all of whom shared a common agenda that, with each episode, ultimately brought them together. Each character had their own archetype: Kate was the perfect ‘elite’ student, Claire was the rebel, Rachel was the privileged brat, and Rose was the crybaby. They each followed a high-school stereotype, something that seemed superficial upon first glance, but served, quite oppositely, to break those preconceptions. The first episode slowly introduced the characters and the lives they led and their perception of this life. At the same time, there is a clear implication that something strange has happened to these four girls, unbeknown to even themselves, which is only revealed during the end of the first episode. Without disclosing too much, the four were confronted by an ambiguous organisation who, due to unknown reasons, required the group to kill monsters. This concept, in a similar vein to the series Gantz and Bokurano, attempted to accurately address how ‘normal people’ would react in such a situation. And this is where, in my opinion, Red Garden really excelled. The stereotyping worked really well because it enabled the plot to identify and distinguish the differences between each character (even the clothing they wore was taken into account) and how, from this mutual predicament, an unlikely friendship of trust, reliance and respect grew among the four.
The production is also an area that I really liked and commended. The animation was clean and fluid; the character design original yet attractive. In particular, I liked how the clothing for each girl changed with each episode. It was also nice to see that the studio took the time to address each character’s wardrobe. They all had their own individual fashion. Unfortunately, the animation struggled during the action sequences, although this strangely improved in the latter half of the series (possibly due to budgeting for the final).
The soundtrack is also another part of the series that worked well. It was very in keeping with the urban setting; contemporary, dark and gritty. I normally overlook the soundtrack or consider it to be nothing more than audio filler, but in this case, it really stood on its own ground, complimenting and enhancing the viewing experience. The seiyuu, as per usual, all played their roles exceptionally well, especially Akira Tomisaka as Kate and Miyuki Sawashiro as Claire, really solid performances. My only reservation was that they decided to incorporate a musical theatre element to the series where the characters would occasionally sing, almost spontaneously and often out of turn. It didn’t help that the seiyuu were not trained vocalists, meaning it just sounded bad.
And then I move onto the ending. The last few episodes were severely rushed, ruining the coherency of the series, and fell victim to poor pacing. This, in turn, meant that many questions remained unanswered. Moreover, all of the girls miracuously started to respond far more professionally in the last few episodes, like a unified unit, whereas comparatively, a few episodes prior, they were struggling to even stay alive, with Rose crying in the corner somewhere. This seemed deliberately forced in order to conclude the series.
I would recommend Red Garden to anyone that is interested in watching a character-focused series that also has a multifaceted plot line, which was delivered in an original and refreshing way. I’ve given this series 4/5, in account of the strong start and midsection, but the poor closure that followed has resulted in this series falling short of receiving higher.