After two years in a coma, Shiki Ryougi sets out to unravel the deeper mysteries behind a series of gruesome, supernatural incidents. She bears the gift and the curse of the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, enabling her to glimpse the invisible creep of decay and the souls of the dead. After her many brushes with the afterlife, she’s begun to feel she has no reason of her own to go on living. And so together with Mikiya Kokutou, her fellow detective and only friend, she searches for answers in both the personal and professional parts of her life.
The collected Garden of Sinners movies presents itself like a puzzle box, cryptically non-linear and challenging the viewer’s perception of events along with Ryougi. While a chronological order can be easily found online, first timers would be advised to watch as intended, the better to immerse themselves in this often overwrought but persistently brilliant franchise. And when they’re done, re-watches are greatly rewarded.
The shadow of the Fate franchise is impossible to ignore given both properties started life as light novels penned by Kinoko Nasu, were both adapted into visual novels by Type-Moon (a company Nasu co-founded) and were adapted into anime by ufotable. There are many similarities, not least visually, as the sumptuous and disturbing religious symbolism and psychological theory rise to the surface. Garden of Sinners is set in an alternate universe to Nasu’s other works Tsukihime and Fate/stay night, and there are several connecting threads of concept and character to be discovered.
In its darkest moments, however, this story shows that it is very much its own entity. In his pre-Fate anonymity, Nasu delves into the subjects of rape, incest and suicide with all the fervour of a younger writer. But with that enthusiasm often comes immaturity. While gore and shock sometimes lead the viewer in a thrilling and almost poetic way, sometimes the blood flows over into ridiculous territory. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and you have to admire this series for how often it strikes it right through its tableau of directors running with ufotable’s rich, oftentimes gothic and glow-eyed animation.
As one of Nasu’s earliest works, it solidifies many of the themes and ideas that would come to define him. Philosophy and theology interweave with the nature of the soul, death and reincarnation, magic and magecraft. It’s definitely not one for younger viewers, despite occasionally becoming the kind of splatterfest peeked at from under the covers after bedtime. But it proves itself adult in its exploration of love, devotion, self and the scars all three can leave behind.
Extras: Art box; 36-page booklet; special disc with ‘Final Chapter’