Anime Worth Watching: Garden of Sinners

Garden of Sinners (空の境界) is a 7.5-movie series produced by UFOtable based on a novel by Kinoko Nasu (Fate/Stay Night, Tsukihime)  and music by Yuki Kaijura.

Synopsis

Mikiya Kokuto finds himself intrigued by two things. The first is by Shiki Ryougi a beautiful, yet rather unsociable, girl and the other is the strange series of violent deaths that start occuring in his town. As he attempts to get closer to Shiki, he soon learns that the two are connected and that there are many supernatural forces at work which could very likely get him killed as well. (Taken from ANN)

Appeal

Don’t let that synopsis throw you, Garden of Sinners is a dark modern fantasy with each movie being a rather stand-alone story only loosely connected by characters and an overarching theme of contemplating meaning in existence. This is a rather mature show addressing some mature concepts on life, death, and purpose of being with characters who are all adults and which deals with things in a more adult manner than usually seen in anime, providing a welcome relief to all the “high schoolers saving the world” series out there. Good thing too, as the existential questions it raises are not something most high schoolers would be contemplating anyway. If you’ve seen Fate/Zero you’ll be familiar with Kino Nasu’s philosophizing, of which this series is his deepest effort actually touching on some intriguing topics, plus all of Kino Nasu’s works are interconnected so at least one character from Garden of Sinners should be showing up in the Fate/Heavens Feel movies. If you’re a fan of Fate, you really should be watching this already.

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For such a philosophy heavy series, there’s a lot of action too. The series can be rather brutal in some of its violence, but it never goes toward over-the-top or gratuitous with its violence.

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Really the meat of the story though is the relationship between Mikaiya and Shiki, who are one of the best couples in any series. There’s a genuine sense of why they are both drawn to each other, and while Shiki won’t always admit it you can see how she needs him around to keep herself in check.

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But maybe you don’t want to contemplate lifes big secrets, maybe you just want to look at some pretty pictures. Garden of Sinners is hands down, the most gorgeous looking series I’ve ever seen. Up until this started getting released UFOtable was a really minor studio not known for anything special, and certainly not for their animation. This series changed all that and utterly reinvented their house style. Fate/Zero draws on the style started here, but without the movie budget it can’t even touch on how great these things look.

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This series can animate snow and wind like its no ones business

But maybe you don’t want to contemplate life’s big secrets OR look at pretty pictures, maybe you just want to listen to some good music. As noted above Yuki Kaijura is in charge of the score and has the backing of the London Philharmonic Orchastra so it has one of the best sounding sountracks there is. Each movie is done in a slightly different style from waltz, ballet, opera and so forth, and it really makes the series pop.

Downside

Garden of Sinners was originally written as a series of intermittent stories published on Kino Nasu’s website, thus it can be rather rough in its plotting and exposition at times. The worst aspect of this is the first 4 movies aren’t quite in order, jumping around from when characters are already working together back to when they meet for the first time. Unlike when Suzumiya Haruhi did this, there is no legitimate story reason for it, and I highly recommend watching the second movie first, then the fourth and then the third.

If you’re paying attention you’ll notice I don’t suggest watching the first movie. Its not the first movie is bad, but it is rather rough and suffers the worst from the book-to-movie transition as there is a lot of exposition lost so if you’re unfamiliar with Tsukihime you’ll have no idea what Shiki’s eye power is doing.

Finally, as much as Kino Nasu likes the theme, his writing has never been as deep as he quite wants it to be. Considering this was his first work it shows a lot here, with some clumsy attempts at some of the philosophy and a general theme that’s arguably a bit over-the-top with being “dark”.

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Even he knows it.

Conclusion

Weeb level: 1/10. With none of the characters as kids you don’t have any of the usual cliches at play, and the main themes are pretty universal.

Fanservice: 2/10. There is a brief shot of Shiki’s breast in the first movie, and the third movie has a rape scene in it thats about as sexualized as the one in Perfect Blue. (i.e. its more uncomfortable to watch than anything). Outside of that, there’s really no male gaze or anything unless you really like looking at girls wearing kimonos and bomber jackets.

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Look at that oh so sexy outfit

Quality: 9/10. It suffers a bit because of the first movie, but when its on point, especially in the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th movies, its really on point.

Where to Watch: Actually first released in the US on Blu-Ray in 2011 it has been legendarily difficult to find as it sold out in 1 day and never has been re-released. However, last year Aniplex finally put it up on Amazon Strike (now Prime) and shortly after on Crunchyroll so its possible to actually pretty easily see the whole series. Video quality is a bit down from the Blu-Ray but its actually watchable so thats a plus.