Red Garden: Gantz Dresses Down


Powerful women, or women in power, have long been a taboo fetish in mildly repressive societies—particularly societies where women are traditionally viewed as meek or timid. Considering the Yamato Nadesico (the ideal Japanese woman) fits this description to a T, it shouldn’t be a surprise that anime starring or revolving around girls who, implicitly or explicitly, challenge gender norms are so popular.

Such anime, however, generally falls into one of two categories: the service-driven, and the story-driven. Although both challenge gendered constructions of power, the service-driven show gives the impression that the main reason for female preeminence is to provide plenty of opportunity for fanservice. The story-driven shows tend not to challenge the gender power structure as much, but also create more believable circumstances for an inversion of gender norms (without turning their female cast into purely sexual objects).

Red Garden, one of studio Gonzo’s current projects, definitely falls into the latter category. Set mostly on New York City’s social and economic experiment, Roosevelt Island, Red Garden follows the lives of four girls who come from dramatically different backgrounds. The party girl, the hall monitor, the tomboy, and the surrogate mother all have only one thing in common: they all died the night before the show starts. … Oh, and they have to drop whatever they’re doing whenever they’re summoned by two mysterious people in black suits, who order them to kill men. (Men who have changed into something akin to a dog in mentality and strength, while maintaining human form.)

It sounds a lot like Gantz, and, to be fair, it is somewhat similar. However, the character development (with a few notable exceptions *coughcoughRosecough*) is more refined, and the show does a good job of unraveling the plot slowly enough to create tension, without getting dull.

The art in Red Garden, taking a style I associate more with Korean roots than Japanese, is very good. I’m not a huge fan of the faces when seen in close-up, but it’s nice to have girls wearing clothing—and having bodies—that don’t defy gravity. The backgrounds, for their part, are gorgeous; the nifty intro art, layering colorful flowers and butterflies through silhouettes, really draws the eye.

The music, unexpectedly, also sets the tone of the series well. The background tunes mirror the action nicely, and although the introduction song is jazzy and upbeat when compared to the mood of the show, it somehow fits.

That, I suppose, is a good metaphor for the show itself. Red Garden seems like it should drag on, and it is far too focused on the everyday lives of high school students for an anime that isn’t “slice of life.” Yet as each episode comes out, I find that I’m almost more interested in how the characters will deal with their personal problems than how they will handle the murderous, insane dog-people.

And really, short of some of the truly amazing shows out there, that’s about as good as you can get.