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“Vampire in the Garden” is pretty and intense but lacks substance

Sometimes, when no show is appealing, you just have to pick randomly rather than not watching anything. So my boyfriend and I picked the shortest anime series we could find on Netflix. That ended up being the 2022 web series, Vampire in the Garden.

The 5- episode OVA is an intense ride. It was produced by Wit Studio, which among other acclaimed series, produced Attack on Titan. I say this – because the shows share a couple of odd similarities (luckily antisemitism and fascism are not among those.) And while I have a fair amount of criticism regarding the show – if you’re looking for the anime equivalent of a torrid one-night stand.

Quick, passionate, intense but leaves something you wanting something more, something deeper.

PLOT

In the future, the last vestiges of humanity live up north, surrounded by a wall of light. Most of their day is spent fighting vampires. There’s not much to be excited about: both music and dancing are banned in the human city as they are considered “vampire culture.”

After a soldier in training named Momo refuses to kill a vampire child holding a music box, she finds herself on a journey alongside Fine, queen of the vampires to find a place where the two species can live together in harmony.

The Good

I absolutely adore the art style of Vampire in the Garden. It’s rich and luscious. It feels real and lived in. It’s nice to look at, and each of the locations our protagonists visit has its own identity.

And honestly, the visuals are probably the best part of this OVA. There’s a lot of influence from Russian and Eastern European culture hidden in the details, as the story is set in the vestiges of Russia.

Music plays an important role in the series as well, as humans have banned it and other art entirely. It’s the music box and Momo’s singing that attracts Fine to her – though Momo’s similar looks to Fine’s late lover also play a role.

And their shared love of music and the loss of close friends brings the two together. And it’s nice that it is ultimately a love story, even if it is relatively chaste. Momo and Fine don’t kiss or even really say, “I love you,” but from the beginning, it is clear that this is still a romance between two women.

(Even if my boyfriend had to be convinced for a few episodes that the two were definitely more than friends.)

I wish showrunners had pushed harder and were able to make the show more explicitly queer – but it is what it is I suppose. If you’re looking for queer representation and romance, you could probably do better – but there are so many ways you can do so much worse.

The Bad 

This is an interesting concept – but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. What else is new? This could have been an amazing WLW love story but the story seems more interested in showing, just how shitty the world is – and how horrible humans and vampires can be.

It got to the point where I was wondering, why should I continue watching? I know it is just going to end in tragedy. So many people die in this – and so many of the deaths feel like they don’t have any real meaning.

And Vampire in the Garden goes through its plot at such a breakneck speed that there’s no time to process what has happened before we’re on to the next set piece. 

The Pacing

This story is all over the place in terms of pacing. The first episode is fairly good, introducing the world and conflict but everything from there goes downhill. So many events happen in each episode, that they all kind of blend into one another.

This isn’t always necessarily a bad thing, but – it makes it feel like this was supposed to be a movie and they just divided up at random intervals to make episodes. But even if it were a movie – the pacing would still be terrible.

They just don’t give the characters time to develop or grow. It’s all about getting them from Point A to Point B and that’s just basically it. 

There’s also a fight scene in pretty much every episode and they just never really go anywhere. These fights are supposed to be the “last chance” that both humans and vampires have. But they don’t amount to much.

There are lights and guns, and vampires turning into bats and lots of blood. But very little else. And the stakes don’t feel tangible.

And they just…keep happening. It’s kind of boring. The fight scenes are well animated and feel intense on their own, but with context – they just all feel like the same fight, just in different locations.

Lack of world-building

Why does everyone live in the middle of nowhere Russia? It makes sense for the vampires to live there in the wintertime – since they can’t stand the Sun. But what about the spring and summer, which are undoubtedly difficult because the days are so long?

And why are the humans living there? Surely there’s a place that’s further away from vampires and better for growing crops. There’s no explanation given as to why they live where they do.

Just a line about nuclear war, or other places being uninhabitable would have worked. We don’t learn much about how music and art came to be banned by humans. Seemingly, it’s been many generations since the war started…But it would still be nice to know how the cultural differences came to be.

And we never learn much about Vampire culture either. They like classical music and art. They seemingly have a monarchy, as evidenced by Fine’s status. But it’s not clear what sorts of political power she wields, or if she’s more powerful than other vampires.

There seems to be an issue that Fine “plays around” and hasn’t found a suitor. But this particular plot point doesn’t really come up after the first episode.

And all this isn’t even getting into the weird cult of vampires and humans that appears in like the fourth episode. I still don’t totally get what they were doing there. It seemed to be bad, for no good reason.

Like it could have been a peaceful, nice place but no, humanity is horrible and only the pure of heart Momo can be allowed to create a place of peace, happiness and unity.

The Scoop

Either this should have been a movie – and better edited or it should have been a full 10-20 episode series, with some actual character growth and development. It’s not bad per se, there is some good to Vampire in the Gaden – but it’s mostly schlock and chaste romance.

I won’t watch it again.

And that’s the scoop.

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Grade: C+

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Release Year: 2022

Length: 5 episodes; 24-30 minutes

Director: Ryōtarō Makihara and Hiroyuki Tanaka

Producer: Hitoshi Itou

Writer: Ryōtarō Makihara

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