Saturday, August 11, 2012

Anime Review: Red Garden episodes 13-22 (plus the OVA)


Red Garden's first twelve episodes are, as I said when I reviewed its first half, build up. We have established an interesting set of characters, a conflict that paints both sides in shades of gray, and a bundle of questions to be answered.

Hervé, our primary antagonist, and his best friend Emilio ping pong between helping and hindering Kate, Rachel, Rose and Claire. Hervé is only willing to help so far as his ability to save his sister Anna isn't threatened (woe be to anyone who interferes), while Emilio's love for Kate's sister Emma gives him a soft spot for Kate. And Paula, who knows much more than Kate realizes, continues to be there for Kate, helping her out of love without expecting anything in return.

But mostly, these episodes focus on our leads learning what the people on their side and the people on Hervé's side really want, and what they face if either side wins.

The original stakes (the girls either dying a violent death or making it long enough to get their old bodies back) were high enough, but these episodes top that. Skip the next few paragraphs if you don't want to read my spoilery reaction to the fate faced by our leads.

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The most anxiety-inducing book I have ever read is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. As difficult as it was to read the physical torture Winston underwent, what happened to him psychologically- everything he knew and loved being ground into nothing, his very personality being wiped out- his not even being allowed to die while still himself- ultimately unnerved me the most. To quote Winston's torturer O'Brien:
In the old days, the heretic walked to the stake still a heretic, proclaiming his heresy, exulting in it. Even the victim of the Russian purges could carry rebellion locked up in his skull as he walked down the passage waiting for the bullet. But we make the brain perfect before we blow it out. The command of the old despotisms was 'Thou shalt not.' The command of the totalitarians was 'Thou shalt.' Our command is 'Thou art.' (263)
What Kate and the others face in Red Garden obviously isn't the exact same thing- they aren't being tortured into forgetting themselves, and they're free to think what they want after their memories are expunged- but still, the implications of their fates are similar enough to draw parallels. Being forced into a situation in which you will wind up...well, not being yourself as you and your loved ones know any more, forever and ever...pretty unnerving. And that's how Red Garden's protagonists feel. But as their personal lives improve, in a sad irony, shortly before their final battle, they find comfort in something crucial.
You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you, Winston. Posterity will never hear of you. You will be lifted clean out of the stream of history. We shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere. Nothing will remain of you: not a name in the register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as the future. You will never have existed. (262)
Claire, Rose, Rachel and Kate are able to face their fate knowing that the people they love will remember them as they are...and that's good enough.

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SPOILER

Having found peace with their fates while visiting Lise's grave, Rachel, Rose, Claire and Kate confront Hervé and his side one last time. What ultimately happens is simply tragic for one side, bittersweet for another.

And then...when the final credits starting rolling, I thought, "Wait, it's ending?" At first I wanted to see a little more wrap-up, but the "Dead Girls" OVA that follows this series kind of beat that desire out of me. lol If there were ever a perfect example of "less is more," this would be it.

The OVA, which is the length of two TV episodes, takes place centuries after the end of the TV series. Having wandered around the world, Kate and the others are back in New York, fighting crime by night as an anonymous team known as Dead Girls. They even have their own theme song. I laughed at the OVA's self-awareness when one of its characters commented that the Dead Girls don't at sing well, given the tone deaf musical numbers sung by the leads at the beginning of the RG TV series. But otherwise, I wasn't very enamored with the mood whiplash of the OVA. It was kind of fun at first in a crackfic way, but I didn't like its vision of how the characters would turn out. Rose's personality change was kind of fun (although in the scene when "Paula" went weak-kneed over her, I was very maturely like, "Bitch, stay away from my OTP"), but I wept a little on the inside at what happened to Claire. Given how long they'd been alive after the end of the series, I could understand the characters being radically different. My biggest problem with the OVA was that the leads no longer had the heart they had in the TV series. Even though they had their moments together, I missed the palpable camaraderie that Kate, Rachel, Claire and Rose developed in the TV series even though they were just as different from each other in it. The OVA's highlights were seeing the occasional glimmers of the leads' old personalities and the too few and far between moments when they clicked as friends. I'm just going to imagine that this OVA is a crackfic, and Red Garden's canon ended with the TV series.

The TV series' resolution does, as I said earlier, have its problems. Desire for a little more closure aside, I was left with some questions about the origins of the conflict that Kate and the others were roped into, as well as the nature of the island after the final battle. But even though this series didn't answer all of its questions adequately, it was solidly entertaining and had a great cast of characters. Their development was this series' greatest strength.

As for the yuri, Paula does confess her love to Kate. It's quite a lovely confession. Kate, Claire, Rachel and Rose know that Christmas is the last day before their final battle, and spend time with the people most important to them. Who does Kate choose to spend her remaining time with? Paula. We don't see Kate explicitly tell Paula that she loves her back, but based on her behavior...it isn't a stretch at all to interpret her as loving Paula back but being afraid of saying too much...not wanting to give them both more to face losing.

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In my vision of the characters' post-series fates, Paula finds Kate, willing to start over from scratch and help remind her of her old life. Since Paula knows all about Kate's situation, she can...I don't know, try to find those books and find out if there's any way to give Kate and the others back their memories, or help them figure out how to become mortal again. Boom. There you go.
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So, yes, even though it has its warts, Red Garden is a fun blend of creepiness and character drama, with a pleasing dash of yuri. I wouldn't re-watch the OVA, but I would re-watch the series.

Art: B+
Story (not counting the OVA): B+
Overall (ditto): B+

2 comments:

RingoStarr1991 said...

I really like your blog; in a way it made me decide to go and make my own so I can get my ideas out there.

Katherine Hanson said...

@RingoStarr1991- Aww, thank you!! =) I'm happy to know that, and I'm glad you decided to go for it [creating a blog]. I hope you enjoy blogging as much as I have.

Bonus note for anyone reading this comment who's considering blogging: GAR GAR Stegosaurus has a great post on why one shouldn't hesitate, and other solid blogging tips. http://gargarstegosaurus.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/the-blog-carnival-has-come-to-town/