Content Warning: shooting of unarmed civilians and children, gore
What’s it about? The sudden appearance and spread of vampires has driven humanity into a singular stronghold protected by an enormous lighthouse. Momo is the daughter of the commander and passed her military training with flying colors, but is a gentle soul at heart; the vampire queen, Lady Fine, pretends to dance her nights away but secretly yearns for a quiet place to die. After a chance meeting, the two set out to escape from the endless war [cue music].
I’m so glad I saved this title for (almost) last on my docket. In a season that’s occasionally risen to “promising, with some significant grains of salt” and more generally heaved its disappointing carcass across the line of “breathtakingly competent,” Vampire in the Garden was a hit of dopamine directly to my brain. Yes, I can pick at some problem areas that don’t bode well for the other four episodes that I’ll be watching as soon as I finish this review, but I would like you all to be aware that I strenuously do not want to. I want to make this thing the answer to the Summer season doldrums through sheer dint of enthusiasm.
If you have seen a post-Gundam story about the horrors of war, this premiere will not hold any surprises for you (or maybe I should say Attack on Titan, since a good chunk of the staff worked on that series for at least a few episodes and it sure does show). War is hell. Momo’s girlfriend signs her death warrant the second she asks our lead to grow old with her. The series opens with some upsetting imagery vaguely gesturing toward vampires as a stand-in for the marginalized, something I am personally on a mission to newspaper-thwack the world’s writers out of doing. Fine evinces an anime cough no less than three times in this first episode, telegraphing as loudly as possible that this is a story destined to end in tears.
I’d also be a proper hypocrite if I didn’t not that note only does this have a veteran key animator (Makihara Ryotaro) stepping into the role of director with little experience, he’s also the series composer, sole listed scriptwriter, and storyboarder. I’m endeared by a passion project, but it’s a double-edged sword that often fails to make best use of a collaborative medium. Which, given that the visuals of this premiere shine while the script is more functional than anything else, is holding true. Why doesn’t it bother me as much here? The short length, maybe; and the clarity with which it decides to pursue form over function.
But oh, that form. Sweeping night flights across snowy wastelands; quiet bedrooms lit with the sickly green glow of the lighthouse; overhead shots of an opulent ballroom where the dancers’ skirts flare out like flowers. It looks gorgeous in a way that’s hard to capture in screenshots, with a sense of urgency that grabs your guts even when your brain knows every step ahead.
I’m not sure I’ll end up recommending this when it’s over. The fact that it seems overtly queer is dampened by the ten foot high letters reading “DEAD LESBIAN AHEAD,” but at least it’s in no way trying to smugly spring it on me. No doubt its metaphors will continue being confused. But something about this touched me in a season that’s overwhelmingly left me cold, and bless it for that.
Also? This series credits its translator! Up your game, Crunchyroll. If you can’t measure up to Netflix, that’s beyond sad.