Red Garden is one of those shows that I watched a long time ago and, since I had discovered it myself rather than from anyone talking about it, assumed that nobody liked or something. Even today, I still never hear anyone talk about it. No, I’m lying. I’ve actually heard people mention it very recently, because director Kou Matsuo is directing the currently-airing Natsuyuki Rendezvous. That’s the only reason. No word on its quality. But it sure is a good thing I didn’t let my assumptions stop me from trying the anime out back then.
For those who lament the increasing lack of noses in anime, never fear! Red Garden’s noses are nothing to sneeze at. Original designs by Fujijun, these noses are sometimes small, sometimes wide, sometimes very narrow and somewhat long. Characters have noses, and how their facial features look is different from characater to character. They are unique. You’ll see the same level of detail in other facial features, such as the eyes, hair, overall shape, and there’s even variation in the amount and color of makeup applied by the female characters (if they’re using makeup at all).
These character designs are just filled with detail left and right. Even the clothing design gets a great amount of attention, and every last design choice meshes extremely well with the personalities of the characters. The style is, however, undeniably a style that not everyone will like. When I first watched this, I hated the style, because I’m a shameless nose hater. Coming to terms with the fact that I liked Cyborg 009 (despite its crazy noses) helped me get over that irrational hatred, however, and I’ve grown to love this style in its entirety with its detail and colours.
If we’re going to talk about the actual animation, though… I don’t want to say it’s bad, though it definitely is at times. But most of the time there really just isn’t anything to say about the animation. This isn’t KyoAni or PA Works or anything, so they are not putting in all their budget to make the smallest motions look extremely fluid. And mostly, what Red Garden has to animate is small motions.
There are some action scenes (though it’s a very small amount), and thankfully these are all decently animated (and I recall episodes 11 and 16 having some actually pretty good animation for their fighting scenes). It animates what it needs to, and it knows what scenes require better animation. Good knowledge, right there, so you don’t end up blowing all your budget on something dumb right before the big fight scene. I’m sure you’ll agree. Still, nothing will stand out in the animation department, save for the parts in those two episodes I’ve mentioned.
Onward, to the sound department! This has a pretty awesome soundtrack, composed by Akira Senju. It really is a great soundtrack, but I can’t stop thinking that it was very underused. What I’m talking about right now won’t affect you as a viewer, most likely. I thought the music was great enough from my first viewing that I got the soundtrack, and when I listened to it, I was amazed at how many great songs were on it that I didn’t even recognize. I don’t remember hearing most of those songs during the rewatch I did for this review. I noticed the absence of some of the best songs on the soundtrack, but I did not notice any absence of quality music used.
One more thing that may be of importance to mention is that there are approximately four episodes where the main characters break out into song. That’s right. They sing. It’s quite awkward because who just randomly breaks out into song, right? I’m the only one who would do that. But that’s not so bad; after all, that means you get to hear Takehito Koyasu and Miyuki Sawashiro sing. Right? It’s even more awkward, though, when you realize that the main characters are replacing the original singer of those songs — KOKIA, as heard on the soundtrack. But you wouldn’t have realized that had you not read this review, so now I’ve cursed you.
By the way, the story’s about two curses. You’ll learn about that later, when you watch the show. I will talk only briefly on the story, as this is more a character-driven story than anything else. It has a story, but not everything is really revealed to you even after everything is supposed to have been revealed to you. It makes sense in the end, but you will be left with questions like “Why did they even get cursed?” and a small handful of others I can’t say here without actually spoiling things.
The events make sense, but there are huge holes in its backstory. I do feel like some things were handled rather sloppily in the story department, but again, it’s more of a character-driven story, so that’s of lesser importance.
Now, let’s talk characters. Red Garden has like, the best characters ever. These all feel like people you could meet if you walked outside. There’s a bitchy trendy socialite, a stubborn loner girl who is… somehow actually very responsible, a shy and sometimes cowardly quiet girl, and girl who is both responsible and quiet and is a bit isolated herself. Those four are the main characters. They don’t start as friends. Because of their circumstances they are forced to meet and communicate with each other.
The interplay between these characters is glorious. Since they are totally different types of people, they will argue, and yes, they will argue over the voice of one of the calmer, more reasonable characters trying to calm them down. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. We have an anime where characters speak over each other (a true interruption, just like this parenthetical statement is) when the situation calls for it. They don’t stop for their turn to speak. This situation demands that their voice be heard, and darn it, they’re gonna make sure it happens!
It’s really a treat to watch these characters react to all the bad stuff that happens to them, and also how they’re changed by these situations. One character says at one point “Everyone reacts differently.” And it’s great because it’s true and not only do they say that in the show, but they do that in the show. They react differently. This is just the best part of the show. Everything they do, every way they react makes so much sense with their personalities and backgrounds that it makes me want to just explode, which is what I’m metaphorically doing by writing this.
Admittedly, though, there are some pacing issues. You’ll have episodes full of building tension to explosions of either action or revelations, but right after that you’ll have countless episodes where the story itself doesn’t get advanced any further. But is that really a bad thing? We’re talking about a show whose crowning glory is its characters and character development. With the plot out of the way for a while, there’s only one thing they’re going to do during these eventless episodes. Deal with the characters more, of course! That is such a good thing when the characters are this good.
If I had to say what this show’s biggest flaw is, it’d have to be the last episode. It felt anticlimactic and rushed, and that’s just depressing when just about everything else was handled with such skill.
Overall, though, it’s totally worth watching. I know of no other anime that treats its characters like this. There are plenty of anime that go on and on about how terrible of a situation the heroes might be in, but they focus on the situation itself. Red Garden goes deeper than that. Red Garden shows us how their situations actually affect and change the lives of the main characters and those around them. For that reason alone, it’s one of a kind and completely worth watching.