Red Garden: Volume 1 – Live to Kill

Something happened last night. Something awful which took the lives of four private high school girls. However, the next morning each of them wake up with no memories of what happened the previous day. As night falls, a flock of red butterflies appear overhead and each of the girls find themselves strangely beckoned to follow. Arriving at the same location separately, the girls are shocked to see each other. However, someone is waiting for them and has all the answers. GONZO (Gate Keepers, Last Exile, Hellsing) brings supernatural horror to New York City in Red Garden: Volume 1 – Live to Kill from ADV Films

Stats
DVD: Red Garden: Volume 1 – Live to Kill
Release Date: 9/18/2007
Release Studio: ADV Films
ADR Production: Amusement Park Media

MSRP: $29.98
Audio: English 5.1 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English, Signs-Only
Episodes: 4
Runtime: 100mins
Extras: Clean Opening and Closing, ADV Previews

Notes: Review is based on a copy of the final product provided by ADV.

Episodes one and two introduce our four soon-to-be lead characters very carefully with only hints about what has happened to them. Naturally, each of the four girls brings a different type of personality to the group dynamic. While the police begin to investigate the appearance of another possible female homicide/suicide victim, each of the remaining girls begin their new day with no memories of the night before. Kate Ashley (not to be confused with Katie Ashley) lives with her older sister and comes from a wealthy family with busy parents. At Roosevelt Island’s private institute, Kate is the newest member of the elitist group known as “Grace”; they walk the hallways serving as hall monitors who answer to the school’s headmaster. While Kate and the members of Grace wear strict, unfashionable grey and black dress uniforms, Rachel Benning sports a short plaid skirt and colorful button-up shirt to reveal her wild-child nature. Rachel is all about the social night life, enjoying it when guys fawn over her. Rose Sheedy is the quiet member who takes care of her younger brother and sister. She is Grace’s favorite toy; the members love to pick on her of late. Then there’s the rebel, Claire Forrest, who would ditch class for the day just as easily as she may show up for once. But school today isn’t going to last very long as the latest body is identified to be Lise Harriette Meyer: a student of Roosevelt Island’s private school. Kate takes the news badly when she finds out about her friend death; they talked just the other day. As Kate sings about her feelings (I’ll get into the musical stuff later), a flock of mysterious butterflies appear overhead and lead her to the park.

At the park, Kate finds that she is not the only one who can see the red butterflies. She is also not the only person who lacks memories from the previous day. As Kate begins to compare details with Rachel, Claire, and Rose, a strange woman and man in business suits, Lula and J.C., appear and claim to have the answer. The four girls died last night and the group Animus decided to bring them back to life… for a price. Now each of the girls is bound by contract to answer Lula’s red butterfly calls so that they may serve Animus. Of course, it’s the “against what?” that is the real concern. As Lula reveals their new leases on life, a supernatural man taking the personality of a vicious dog appears. The girls are to hunt and destroy the supernatural monsters on the streets of New York City. However, the four former corpses aren’t without some new supernatural abilities of their own in the fight against the things that go bump in the night.

Lise Harriette Meyer’s funeral sets up the third episode. As friends, family, and students mourn the loss of Lise, the detectives continue to search for clues about her mysterious death. Kate, Rachel, Rose, and Claire find themselves huddled together watching the funeral away from the rest of the mourners. However, Lula arrives followed by J.C. and the group of girls move quickly to confront the woman who has made their life difficult. Lula brushes the girls off, claiming to be the funeral director. As the ceremony ends and everyone heads home, Lula offers the four girls a chance to find out what happened the night they can’t remember. By burying a red stone in the dirt, everything will be revealed. The girls argue over what to do with the stone. That evening, Lula calls the four girls together to demonstrate just what happens to those who don’t try their best against the demons roaming the streets. From up high, the girls can see down the street, including another group of four girls gathered under a street lamp. As Rachel begins to recognize one of its members, a dog-like man attacks the girls. The group falls one by one as the supernatural monster overtakes them. Lula explains that those who don’t have the will to fight will find themselves dead, just like these four did. The experience frightens Kate, Rachel, Rose, and Claire into planting the seed and staying together in case any monsters come hunting for them next.

The final episode sets the group in motion to find out more about their deaths which they experienced the previous night. Claire has been systematically searching the neighborhoods in Manhattan for the mansion while Kate and Rose go to their classes as usual. As Kate runs to class, late yet again, the members of Grace find her. However, Kate is given a free pass due to the tragic loss of her dear friend, Lise, and is told that two detectives are waiting for her in the headmaster’s office. Detectives Claude and Neil have been investigating Lise Meyer’s mysterious death and everyone at the school has pointed to Kate as being knowledgable about Lise’s acvities. Unfortunately, the lost memories include the reason Lise died, but she can’t reveal that information to the police. As Neil questions Kate about Lisa’s possible new boyfriend, Kate finds herself flinching briefly before answering that she is unaware of one. Neil is ready to write off the Lise Meyer death as another in a series of unexplained suicides, but Claude noticed Kate’s brief flinch and isn’t convinced yet.

Rose meets Kate on the rooftop for lunch and to talk about the memories the girls have recovered. Yet, the burden of everything happening the last few days pushes Kate into suggesting they take the rest of the day off and go visit Rachel since she called in sick that day. Rose is nervous and also surprised to see a member of Grace suggest they play hookie. The school’s popular guy, Luke, has been trying to get Rachel back into the social scene, but Rachel can’t give him the real reason she hasn’t been hanging out of late. Kate and Rose appear only to anger her more as a reminder of what she is now. Claire finally manages to locate the mansion, but the red butterflies call her away. Just like the event they witnessed the previous day, these four girls are now going to have to prove themselves by defeating one of the dog-like monsters.

Spider-man on the rooftops, Ninja Turtles in the sewers, and supernatural creatures roaming the city streets at night. From John Carpenter to Marvel, you would think the city of New York would get a break finally. However, GONZO has seen fit to stake their own fictional claim on the Big Apple with a smattering of familiar locations and a supernatural storyline. It’s times like these I really wonder why there hasn’t been a Joss Whedon anime series yet. Red Garden doesn’t break any new ground as far as horror or storytelling, but the possible deeper story arc hinted at in these four episodes has me curious to find out more. The character designs and style of the series are similar to Sunrise’s Witch Hunter Robin, but at times the animation can suffer from the minimalist approach GONZO has taken with the character designs. The series also likes to pay homage to its city of choice with subtle references to things like the Soup Nazi and musical numbers. In fact, you better get ready for a couple of musical numbers as each of the girls takes a chance to sing their feelings.

The Japanese cast, musicals aside, is a decent gathering of seiyuu, but some of the supporting cast can be a little rough at first. Akira Tomisaka has a few rough moments trying to keep up with Kate’s emotional rollercoaster, but she has the character down pretty well by the beginning of episode four. Akira is also a fairly good singer with Kate Meyer having the largest part in the musical numbers. Ryoko Shintani’s Rachel is an amusing brat, but still needs some tweaking when losing herself to the stress. Miyuki Sawashiro’s Claire gets the least amount of screen time and is the easiest role—a loner. A little more time and she’ll have the anti-hero down pat. Ayumi Tsuji rounds out the quartet as Rose; from the first moment, she’s a perfect match as the shy girl whom everyone pushes around. The interactions of Rose with the members of Grace and her best friend Sara are very well done. The English production from ADV’s Houston studio Amusement Park Media delivers a mediocre product from start to finish. Steven Foster’s direction and script changes disrupt the subtle story flow and personalities of the characters. The musical numbers are no exception to these alterations; some characters speak when they should be singing and many lines are either altered or removed entirely for no reason. I can understand trying to fit lip flaps, but this level of editing goes far beyond the need to make the lyrics fit the mouth movements. Maggie Flecknoe has Rachel’s rage down pat, but the rest of her mood swings can range from decent to disastrous. The same can be said of Melissa Davis (Kate), Brittney Karbowski (Rose), and Kara Greenberg (Claire); in some scenes they fit the characters, but usually the characters’ emotions are portrayed incorrectly. Avoid the English dub for this title.

Red Garden: Volume 1 – Live to Kill has the potential to be a really good supernatural horror title. If the events of the lost night are any hint of where this show is going, then we’re in for a good rollercoaster ride of bloody violence and monsters. The DVD’s video is clean and the subtitle tracks contain no errors. The DVD extras are clean opening and closing animations. The menus can be a tad annoying, with oversized text taking up more screen space than normal. Supernatural horror has been done by far too many for far too many years; it takes strong writing and a good plot to catch my interest anymore. Red Garden: Volume 1 – Live to Kill has peaked my interest to give volume two a try.