Vampire in the Garden is now streaming on Netflix.
Vampire in the Garden continues Netflix’s trend of reviving the original video animation format for a new generation, making original series with fantastic animation and more than its fair share of gore, all in small packages. The series is the latest collaboration between the streamer and Wit Studio, arguably one of the most exciting studios working in anime today. But even if the visuals deliver, the story falls short of Wit’s stellar recent output like Ranking of Kings and Spy x Family.
The show takes place in a world where a plague caused the rise of vampires all around the world. The subsequent war eventually overran humans to the point where the last remnants of humanity now reside in a city surrounded by huge walls that keep them safe from the monsters outside — sound familiar? And because vampires have sensitive hearing, all music and culture have been essentially forbidden and forgotten, with only the vampires outside the walls being able to live in comfort and luxury.
The story centers on Momo, a young child soldier who is hesitant to kill unprovoked vampire children. She one day decides to run away from the human city and has a fateful encounter with Fine, Queen of the Vampires, who is sick of the vampire world and also literally sick from refusing to drink human blood. With armies on both sides of the conflict after them, Momo and Fine strike a forbidden bond, and set out to find a legendary paradise where humans and vampires supposedly live together in harmony.
The story has a melancholic tone throughout its five episodes, with themes of prejudice and longing that bring to mind Wolf’s Rain, but also the original Fullmetal Alchemist — you could easily drop the song Bratja in any episode and it would fit like a suit of armor around the disembodied soul of a child alchemist. Though not a huge focus, Vampire in the Garden does feature a poignant anti-war message about how walking away from conflict is the only way to truly break free from cycles of violence. Indeed, this anime is in many ways the closest fans will get to seeing how Wit would have animated the final few seasons of Attack on Titan and its pivot towards a more nuanced and political fight.
As per usual, Studio Wit brings meticulous, striking craft to bringing its world to life, making every detail add something to the story. The lush production design, particularly the Czarist-era influences for the vampire worlds, with their lavish castles brimming with lights, gorgeous dresses, and beautiful music is reminiscent of the criminally underseen early ’00s masterpiece Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. Meanwhile, the humans live in bland, gray, Soviet-era-inspired buildings with zero personality or sense of fashion, a reflection of their dull lives. Art, particularly music, is hugely important to the series, which is crucial both to the story’s central themes and to show how art can distract us from our problems and ills, and how its absence can lead to misery. While humans are clearly living worse lives since banning culture, the vampires fill their empty hearts with artistic distractions that cannot truly fill them, especially now that human blood is in short supply.
But all of that is just in the background. Unsurprisingly, the action is still top-notch, with gunfights mixing 3D and 2D in ways that bring out the best of both mediums, dynamic choreography, and handheld-like camera movements that bring out the tension of every fight. Like the Underworld movies, Vampire in the Garden shows increasingly cooler ways to fight vampires, with technology advancing specifically to meet this foe, from heavy-duty searchlights serving as artillery, to actual mechas being deployed.
And yet, the show’s five episodes feel undercooked overall. Any time it tries to do something to shine a light on its world and show a new take on the vampire story, it quickly steps back and abandons it, hinting at many stories left unresolved. There is a fascinating side story about a town split in half, with humans living comfortably on one side, trading blood with the vampires on the other side in exchange for money, yet it is treated as little more than window dressing.
In the end, Vampire in the Garden feels like a story we’ve seen a million times, done worse, but with cool visuals. It is definitely a step down for Wit Studio, but nevertheless an interesting concept that is not a big time commitment.