Vampire in the Garden – Short and Bittersweet

When I first noticed Vampire in the Garden on Netflix, I felt a mixture of excitment and wariness. While I’m almost always a fan of dark supernatural settings, it feels like there are quite a lot of vampire stories out there to choose from, even in anime alone. Some of my favorites include Shiki, Blood Lad, Hellsing, and Castlevania, though there are tons more out there crossing several other genres. VitG drops us into a future where humans are the minority and struggle to survive in a world run by vampires. Our main characters, vampire royalty Fine and commander’s daughter Momo, meet against all expectations as representatives of their races, both of them hopeful for a dream where their people can coexist peacefully. A little bit of action, an outfit of horror, a spoonful of forbidden love–what isn’t there to like?

“One winter, long ago, vampires suddenly appeared, bringing with them a plague. With the abundance of blood, they were able to multiply at an alarming speed. Humankind was no match for their near immortal strength. Before long, we’d lost most of our land. And so, we gathered in a small town and built a wall of light.”

“Episode 1.” Vampire in the Garden.

This five-episode series may seem short, but watched all together it’s more of a long film that covers just enough ground to tell its story. I’ve read some reactions wishing for a more lengthy episode count, but I felt like what we had was just enough to impart the intended emotions and lessons. Then again, I tend to like short HBO series of a similar approach. I’d rather the writer focus on what’s important rather than drag out all the little details in an attempt to follow and finish every single possible path.

The first thing I noticed when starting up VitG was the cold and the heartbeat struggling to survive in it. The fragmented memories that follow are Fine’s, though we don’t know her yet. Immediately after, we follow along with Momo and her fellow soldiers as they investigate a suspected vampire nest. They’re presented as the good guys, of course, and when one of them is bitten he’s immediately executed before infection can spread. Expectations of black and white are thrown out the window, however, when Momo discovers a vampire child, seemingly helpless and in possession of a music box. Her failure to immediately shoot the girl almost results in her and her friend’s deaths. These experiences coupled with the sights and sounds of the human city we visit afterward raise doubts about the righteousness of these soldiers’ actions.

Another troubling and fascinating aspect about this world is the attitude towards culture, particularly music. Because of the vampires’ increased senses, humans have basically erased everything colorful and loud, anything pleasurable really, from existence. Momo’s first job entails her sorting through goods waiting to be destroyed. The music box offered by the vampire child is her first step towards confronting her future and what she truly wants from it—certainly not a life devoid of joy no matter how seemingly safe it is.

Once Momo meets Fine in the wilderness and the two of them start their journey, we get to better appreciate the sweeping visuals of this world. We started with a desaturated green, industrial city, move through the crisp white forests, then take haven in a mansion whose original owner obviously loved art, music, and theater. Studio Wit and Production I.G. at the helm means the likelihood of pleasing graphics is high, and that is mostly true in this case for the background visuals. I enjoyed the fight scenes well enough to mostly recall the characters and their emotions instead of any kind of janky animation that might distract. If there’s an area I’d knock in this series, it would be the servile character designs; they’re there to differentiate one person from another but are otherwise unremarkable. I wish I could convincingly say that nondescript features allowed the viewer to better appreciate the world and how our characters fit into it, but even I’m not wholly convinced of that.

Despite the wanting appearances of our leads, there’s still an undeniable charm to how Fine and Momo interact with one another. At the beginning you might consider the attraction shallow and short-lived, but that matches their own misconceptions. Fine sees her first love in Momo’s looks and voice, while Momo imagines a life of immediate freedom from all the trappings of her previous life. They don’t see the other for their true selves yet, and that’s fine. We get swept along with their naivety–what is only maybe a handful of days feels like a long journey due to all the new experiences and meetings along the way.

That ending, though (spoilers, obviously)

By the time the ending comes, brutal and unfair as it may be, I’m thankful for the time spent together. We brush by death so many times in this series that it feels like our characters will succeed by the end, that they’ll find the paradise pictured in the music box. While this narrative loosely follows a Romeo and Juliet, forbidden love format, it veers off course by allowing one of them to survive at the end. The romance remains strictly PG throughout the entirety of the series, but there’s an undeniable attraction between Fine and Momo that outside forces repeatedly try to discount or destroy. It was interesting having Momo’s uncle as a comparison, a man who by the end revealed his own history with forbidden love, one that ended disastrously and shaped his anti-vampire actions moving forward. His firm belief in a vampire’s true nature is shaken to its core when Fine and Momo prove themselves mentally stronger than a fully transformed vampire.

I honestly would have been satisfied with the pre-credits ending where Momo mourns Fine. Her survival past the point would have been doubtful–she is in the mdidle of nowhere after all, and has completely turned her back on her home and mother. A slim shred of hope thought that maybe, just maybe, she’d find a genuine paradise, not that fake one dangled by the music box and its artwork. But then, against all expectations, we received a post-credits scene of the future, one where human and vampire child played side by side and a smiling Momo rocked a baby vampire in her arms. Is this a paradise not found, but created by her own leadership? Skeptics might dislike this kind of happy ending, but I liked it. I’ve never been one to believe in inherent darkness.

Rating: 1 dango

Watch Vampire in the Garden on Netflix.

*Rating system:

  • 0 dango – average and forgettable.
  • 1 dango – very good in its category.
  • 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
  • 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.

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