Vampire in the Garden (Vanpaia in za Gāden)

You know the very-real genre known as “not-quite-tearjerker”? Yep, that one – absolutely something real that you’d find in a video store, or in the list of categories via a streaming service.

Well, Vampire in the Garden (2022) feels like it meets the criteria for the above ‘genre’ to me, since it’s quite sombre and sort of contains little in the way of hope.

(Quick warning, there are fair few spoilers below, so if you’ve been planning to watch this one day and want to avoid spoilers, please take note).

However, to some extent, the action scenes and also the defiance and determination shown by the leads (Fine and Momo) sort of cloaks what is a tragedy, but I think it’s the kind that of tragedy that telegraphs its inevitable, sad ending very clearly. You’ll most likely be able to prepare yourself, if you know this kind of story will upset you.

(For example, the berserker/suicide drug that the vampires can use never seems far from Fine’s mind, and the series is careful to remind us with close-ups etc, that it’s always an option for her).

But it’s not just the ending that is melancholy and more; there is plenty of despair and hate and war throughout, and examples to demonstrate just how hideous humanity can be. It’s a clear a parallel with real-world war and prejudice, which makes the handful of upbeat scenes almost glitter in comparison.

Part of the mood is obviously achieved via lighting – and of course, it’s about vampires and so there’s going to be a lot of shadow.

But the scenes within grand manors or military encampments are often shadowed, or chilled by all the snow, leeched of vibrancy or sick with that nuclear green. It all feels like a clear sign that points to humanity being in decline from within, something clear when we see how little music, art and joy they have – and most of all, how hard they try to stamp those things out when they are found within the vampire’s culture.

On the other hand, the human race is caught within a war of survival.

Again, the themes are clear and heartfelt – something I certainly don’t begrudge the anime for in any way. War strips away the things worth living for, and Momo and Fine turn their backs on that during their search for a promised land of harmony. Well, both of them prior to the first episode – and Fine a long time prior.

I will note that the age-gap is undeniably suspect, even before the indeterminate age of vampire Fine. It’s a pretty common vampire trope, I guess – so perhaps no surprise there.

Both leads remained engaging for me, in part because they were each given time to open up, and I definitely wanted them to find what they were seeking. Despite the story giving me many reasons believe that they actually had no chance of success, I was still a bit surprised by how close the narrative permitted them to come to happiness.

A member of the supporting cast caught my eye too – Kubo and his samurai sword. Had he played a bigger role, I’d have been interested to see more of his back-story, but as things stand I felt like I was provided enough to support his motivation. (There was also enough time to see a bit more on other side characters too, which was nice).

In terms of time, I thought I should note that Vampire in the Garden felt longer than its 2-and-a-bit-hours to me, probably due to being chopped up into five episodes.

Visually, it seems clear that Wit Studio have unleashed a torrent of stunning settings and backdrops, and elsewhere I have no complaints*, but Kazushi Fujii and Satoshi Takabatake (I believe it was) really captivated me with so much striking scenery. I kept watching at least in part to see yet another awesome background.

So, at long last – is this anime for you?

Maybe if you like bat-style vampires – or far more importantly, love stories that are bittersweet at best. And if so, then this should be pretty pleasing overall. If you prefer more conventional noble-vampire/thrall plots, or vampire-hunting stories, then I don’t think Vampire in the Garden will quite do the trick.

4 Stars

*Well, maybe the jeep’s landing and some general “invincible heroes” stuff, but it wasn’t enough to ruin anything for me.

Guessing Game (15)


Okay, here’s another Guessing Game, as I’m a bit short on time once more this week. (As I often do with these posts, there’s no particular theme here, just some random images)

Two of these (I guess) could be said to be somewhat obscure, but I tried to include at least a couple of classics and something new, also 😀

Summit of the Gods (Le Sommet des Dieux)

This was a bit of a harrowing film, and I was transfixed the whole way through.

Having said that, I watched it in 3 separate sittings – partly due to the limited time I had free all the way back in March, and partly due I think, to good old tension.

Because mountain-climbing definitely = tension for me.

Summit of the Gods (Le Sommet des Dieux) 2021

And Summit of the Gods has a few scenes where the stress is right up there at 11 out of 10, even sitting at home on a couch. And it’s not a cheerful film either, mostly dealing with the costs of obsession. Or determination, if you’re being more generous.

That’s part of what makes both lead characters Makoto and Habu so engaging; they act in ways consistent with their overwhelming determination (again, or obsession). And so, of course, I certainly didn’t have to agree with their choices to understand them.

Summit of the Gods is a French film based on a manga by Jiro Taniguchi (and in turn based on an earlier novel), and follows Makoto and Habu as they pursue their separate but deeply connected quests.

The first hook for me was the historical, George Mallory angle – as I’ve long been interested in the grit, ability and oft-times tragedy of those who seek to climb Mount Everest.

And when I first read about Mallory (or folks earlier) doing what they did with less advantages than we have today, I remain stunned. Of course, it’s a hell of a big deal to attempt Everest today or any day, surely.

But as the film moves along, the focus expands nicely to a point where I was most interested to see not only if Mallory’s camera actually existed, but how and whether both lead characters would achieve their respective goals.

I also loved the way the narrative wove together past and present, in some scenes sort of overlaying them, so that the two times and characters could be brought together before the final stretch of the journey.

I haven’t spoken too much about the film visually yet, but there are plenty of great shots where the composition drives home the daunting scale of the mountain, showing exactly what the characters are up against.

And no need to expect variations of white snow only; there’s a range of blues and pinks too, and of course, scenes that aren’t on the mountain at all.

This film wasn’t one I was aware of before stumbling across it on Netflix, but I am glad I’ve seen Summit of the Gods even if I know I do not need to watch it again.

And to finish here, I know I say phrases like this sometimes, and it’s a obviously a judgement call, but probably not the kind of film that will end up being suitable for (nor satisfy) most kids out there.

4 Stars

Abandoned #14 (The Black Cauldron)

This is perhaps a tweak on my usual ‘abandoned’ post, as it’s a DNF for a rewatch.

A fair few years ago I saw this film and I went in with high expectations, but they were not met. Despite the title, the movie is not actually an adaptation of the second book of Prydian by Lloyd Alexander, but a watered-down combination of Book 1 and 2.

And while undergoing the Disneyfication process, the story also loses the sense of dread and struggle clear in the book.

The Black Cauldron (1985)

(It is however, quite interesting to see how Gurgi reminds me of Gollum, and also very specifically Gollum in the 2003 Jackson trilogy).

Anyway, a large part of what I didn’t enjoy back then and now, was not its failures as an adaptation, but that the story seemed to lack some of its own tension, perhaps adding to a feeling that the characters were somehow ‘flat’.

Not a film from any of Disney’s various peaks – but things still do look great, animation-wise.

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here (Anata ga koko ni Itehoshii)

This is a short sci-fi ONA from 2001 – not so long into the slow rise of CGI in anime, and while it has a few problems for me, I didn’t end up abandoning Zaion.

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here (Anata ga koko ni Itehoshii) 2001

Most aspects were good enough without being outstanding.

Which sounds like not much of a compliment, I know but not every single second has to be outstanding, right? The storyline was the classic ‘save the city’ this time from out of control space-virus mutations, with a small team of human-nano-machine-hybrid soldiers having to bear the brunt of the attacks.

That is, except for Ai, whose psychic powers are the only guarantee of victory.

Sadly, she’s a prisoner of her military & their scientists – and while she develops a relationship with male lead Yuuji, it was just as interesting to see the mother-daughter relationship between her and conflicted scientist Misao, who is her first ally.

I won’t go deep into the story but it plays out as expected, though with a more sombre ending than say a typical action sci-fi.

Despite things that kept me watching, I will say that the CGI is not integrated too well – the age of it is clear, and obviously Gonzo and the industry would improve over the years.

When it comes to the plot, there’s some real problems with the obliviousness of the general population too… but to go back to things I liked, the themes around the futility of war worked for me, and Kenji Kawai’s OST really stood out too.

Not sure I’d recommend Zaion, however, unless you are a fan of the era?

3 Stars

I do like the DVD cover a lot

Strait Jacket (Sutoreito Jaketto)

This was a great taste of action-science fiction from an era of anime that’s sort of long gone now. Well, if you consider 15 years a long time ago, and probably it is – in terms of trends and audience tastes, perhaps.

But that’s not what’s important here.

Instead, here’s little on the premise/plot, before I focus on other things:

Strait Jacket is set an alternate history where magic was proven to exist and spread throughout all facets of society and changed the social and technological development of the world. Rayotte Steinberg, a lone wolf ‘tactical sorcerist’, fights against monsters while wearing a ‘mold’, the straight jacket that keeps him human. (Adapted from Wiki/MAL)

All classic stuff that will usually catch my attention, since I’m pretty easy to please.

Strait Jacket (Sutoreito Jaketto) 2007

However, I will say that events in the Strait Jacket OVAs/film are clearly part of a wider story (it’s adapted from a light novel series), giving me the sense that there is much more to learn about the characters, if only viewers had been given a chance to do so – say, via a full series.

So maybe Strait Jacket was too short but that might be exactly what you’re looking for, and in addition, there are resolutions to a few of the problems the characters face, one of which is major enough to provide an actual ending.

If I was going to continue grumbling here, I guess I felt that the ending itself was a little less impactful than maybe it could have been… perhaps.

I’m more confident noting that a fair amount of the magic/technology as it was used in the film could have used extra grounding.

Actually, now that I’ve said that there is one more thing – the (lesser) antagonists were not as compelling as the heroes for me. That’s at least in part due to the running time of the anime, again I’d say it’s because there wasn’t enough space to expand things, and obviously the light novel series has the luxury of an extended narrative to fix that issue.

And so, now that it turns out that I’ve spent most of the review quibbling over minor flaws, I should finally go over what I really enjoyed – and below, you’ll see ‘4 Stars’, so I clearly liked Strait Jacket a fair bit.

For one, I did enjoy the characters (especially Inspector Simmons). Some of the conflicts faced by the supporting cast also worked as a nice contract to the more stable or at least hidden past that existed between lead Reiott and his mysterious sidekick, Kapel.

Throughout, the use of colour and lighting stood out for me – though I’ll spare you any rhapsodising and just note that some of the images throughout show some of those aspects I enjoyed.

Straight Jacket features some pretty big action sequences and ace mechanical and creature design also – as an example, the plucked/roast chicken shape, rather than being too comical, remained unnerving here:

It was interesting to see the death of a supporting character actually occur ‘off-screen’, since it really worked to drive home the ‘hero-wasn’t-there’ guilt-motivator for events in the final stages of the story.

At other times, there’s a bit more blood and gore than perhaps you’d see on a TV broadcoast anime, so take note if that’s not your thing.

I finished the OVAs pretty interested in the series, keen for more info on the heroes… but that probably won’t happen in a hurry, knowing my disinclination to follow-up on light novels/manga etc, so I’ll probably just have to be happy with what I’ve got on DVD 😀

4 Stars

And before I finish, I want to thank Anime Hanabi for the recommendation – I might not have watched this without your post 🙂

Ray: The Animation

From creator Akihito Yoshitomi comes something of a Black Jack spin-off, with another supremely talented surgeon – Ray, whose x-ray eyes help her save the day wherever possible.

Ray: The Animation (2006)

Combined with the cases she solves and illnesses she cures on an episode-to-episode basis, there is a larger story of the past pushing through in this anime, which definitely worked as a nice hook for me.

Since Ray: The Animation is near future science-fiction as much as it is a medical drama or mystery, there’s a lot of solves via technology that may never exist, but I usually found most of it interesting, even if Ray’s eyes were often used in a similar way.

Ray herself is a somewhat cold (but not heartless) character, in a clear contrast with the nurses at her hopsital, who are quite cheerful and one of which is quite happy to regularly rib Ray – especially when it comes to the romantic subplot that rises and falls in importance across the 13 episodes.

I really liked the way the various elements were interwoven here, how the foreshadowing starts nice and early for certain reveals.

And in regard to the main villain, it was a fun surprise to see what his true motivations actually were… and the lengths he went to in order to reach his goal are typically impressive and troubling, as per most great villains.

Visually, it was also nice to see some pastel/watercolour-looking backgrounds and settings, along with the occasional ‘postcard memory’ too.

Now, if you’re not in the mood to deal with a certain amount of non-graphic but obvious cruelty toward children, then maybe save Ray for another time.

The first episode has a few surprises up its sleeve, that’s for sure – and I have to spoil just one, since it really threw me in a good way, which was the ease with which the nurses switched from the healing to martial arts.

Black Jack himself cameos a couple of times in the anime, but it’s very much the story of Ray’s search for truth about the dark organisation that kept her captive as a child, interwoven with the medical drama.

I enjoyed the characters as much as the scenarios, and some of the cases were pretty compelling – but another warning, a few of the medical procedures are shown in enough detail that some folks might not enjoy it, and a few cases probabaly verge on body-horror, so be warned if that’s not your thing either.

4 Stars

Due to copyright, Black Jack was only alluded to as BJ and never seen fully in the original manga, but because the anime was produced by Osamu Tezuka’s own studio, he appears fully in the anime (though still somewhat obscured) and is referred to by his original name.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei)

The Dawn of the Deep Soul film continues with the ‘let’s do unspeakably cruel things to cute kids’ approach that featured in the first season of the anime.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul (Fukaki Tamashii no Reimei) 2020

Now, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the movie – that would be a lie, but some scenes will probably be hard work for most viewers, so take note if you know you’re not up for that sort of thing right now (or ever).

To contrast all that was harrowing about the movie, I’ll say that the amazing perseverance of the kids who keep fighting, no matter what, ends up being uplifting.

Although, perhaps what I enjoyed most about the film was the expansion of the world featured in Made in Abyss, learning more specifics around its often twisted workings.

Another highlight for me was the first fight scene between Bondrewd and the kids – put me on the roller-coaster a bit, because I was well-aware that it was far too early in the film for a resolution.

I don’t really have much in the way of criticism, save for something that’s relatively unfair – which is that the sense of travel and encountering new wonders and horrors is somewhat reduced here. And of course – it’s one film, not one season, and one film focused on a very specific location, Bondrewd’s fortress of horrors.

And I’m not sure this is a criticism precisely, but there are times when it’s clear how the narrative is going to traumatise Riko and co, and even the seemingly more stalwart Nanachi, and so some scenes may or may not land as hard as intended.

Again, whether you experience something similar or are even bothered by it is probably not going to be a big issue, if at all. Sometimes anticipation heightens the suffering too, lol.

Other than that, the film was often harrowing, occasionally uplifting, and pretty much every minute of it compelling.

(And also – before season 2 happens during the ‘summer’ of 2022, I reckon this film is a must if you’re planning to keep watching the Made in Abyss series).

4 Stars

Agrento Soma (Arujento Sōma)

After a slow start that wasn’t actually slow – I was transfixed.

Agrento Soma (Arujento Sōma) 2000

Argento Soma feels like a bit of a rare story for me, where the pay-off definitely matched the mystery and tension that had built across the previous episodes. And in an industry littered by the cast-off bodies of so many unfinished shows only given a single season, it’s nice to come across a story with a conclusion.

In regard to the pacing, what was ‘slow’ for me was warming to most of the cast.

Without Commander Ines and Sue or Michael (and to a lesser extent Hattie), I wasn’t invested in anyone’s outcome precisely. At first. Actually, unless you were to count how much I came to want Ryu to fail, to receive his just desserts.

Instead, it was the central mystery of why the aliens attacked earth, why they continued to seek the mysterious Pilgrimage Point, that kept me going until I warmed to the cast.

Right off the bat I knew Ryu was a jealous loser, and even when he became tolerable later on – usually at the cost of the emotional well-being of others – I don’t think I actually wanted him to succeed. He was a fantastic character in that respect. Not quite anti-hero, not quite antagonist, and amusingly absolutely utterly unaware that he was not the hero of the story*.

*Trying to paraphrase something iniksbane brought to my attention with that last sentence – and also, thanks heaps for the recommendation 😀

So, now that I’ve got all that out of the way – what’s the anime actually about? Well, it’s about people trying to defend the earth from aliens. And:

[From MAL] In the year 2059, the earth has been plagued by aliens for several years. In an effort to learn more about these aliens, Dr. Noguchi and his assistants Maki Agata and Takuto Kaneshiro try to revive the professor’s experiment, a large Bio-Mechanical alien named Frank. During this process the alien comes to ‘life’ and the lab is subsequently destroyed, leaving Takuto the only survivor and the alien disappearing into the wilderness.

And further, there’s mecha, mystery, science-fiction and drama aspects all neatly woven together as events expand from the premise above – even a bit of mind-games, especially when it comes to Ryu and Mr X, whose scenes together often have interesting staging and lighting, really selling the duplicity.  

If you like to compare things (as I do), there are clear classic science-fiction themes, something of a War of the Worlds feel here, and for some fans no doubt you’ll find that Neon Genesis comes to mind also, especially with the escalation of alien attacks used for some of the anime’s structure, but Argento Soma still stands quite apart from the two texts I mentioned.

Some of what differentiates the show for me is because Argento Soma feels a lot like a character study before anything else, a vehicle for Ryu to become a better person – and it’s a long redemption arc too (if you’d want to go that far). And while most events and other characters often serve that purpose, Argento Soma shows a wider cast that is notable in its own right. (A shame that Sue’s past only sneaks into the OVA, however).

Another thing that I think separates Argento Soma from any cries of ‘Eva-clone’ might be the classic, big science-fiction ideas most commonly seen in 20 Century science-fiction cinema… but I won’t spoil them here.

I will say that the somewhat nose-less designs (courtesy of one of my fav directors, Shukou Murase) took me a little while to acclimatise to, but it’s definitely memorable. And also in regard to design, I definitely felt that Frank’s look was top notch. It had a less organic but more human feel compared to the other aliens, to my eye.

Bob Newhart cameo!

In addition to the above quibble, I will note that Ryu spends most of the show as a terrible person – not just ‘flawed’ but really, a bad dude. This means he abuses everyone around him, especially women, both before and after the tragedy that inspires his childish (but not surprising) drive for revenge.

But as I said before, he does (for the most part), have a redemption arc, and in the context of the whole series, his shitty behaviour is not front-and-centre. For instance, you’re not going to be confronted with an endless parade of graphic psychical or verbal abuse, but just be aware that he’s no hero.

(Also, Hattie can be a bit shrilly repetitive).

But finally, is this anime for you?

In short, if you want a twentysomething-year-old mecha show focused on adults, on revenge, with a great cast and a lead character that is far from ‘clean-cut’, then this could be for you.

It also has a deeply satisfying conclusion to its central mystery – another reason to give it a shot if you can find it.

4 Stars

Finally! My first review in over a month 🙂