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Once long ago, humans and vampires were able to co-exist. Conflict was inevitable between the two, however, and now a small population of human survivors built a settlement protected by a wall of light, to shield themselves from the vampires. One young girl still wishes for peace, and a vampire queen who once fell in love with the human race still wants to see the world without having to fight a bloody war. And after a fateful encounter, they each discover that they want what is considered to be forbidden to their own races.
Vampire in the Garden is a Netflix original show that began airing on May. 16. 2022. Produced by Wit Studio (Attack on Titan, Vinland Saga), and written & directed by Ryoutarou Makihara (The Empire of Corpses, Guilty Crown), Vampire in the Garden was something that was announced all the way back in 2019, and very little was revealed about it. While Wit Studio have been promoting the heck out of their other better-known shows, Vampire in the Garden has been shrouded almost entirely in obscurity. In fact, it’s only been in the weeks before its release on Netflix that viewers have had any real idea of the plot. Some would see this as rather annoying or frustrating, but to me, it just adds to the mystery. This is a show that has been created for a Netflix release though, so I sort of understand all the whys of all this mystery.
So many vampire stories have come out now that there are too many to count. All their themes vary greatly, from gothic horror to camp action-comedy. And of course, many vampire anime shows and movies have come out, all of which tell some kind of similar story. While a show like Seraph of the End gives us a story about humans wanting to take arms against invading vampires, something far more terrifying and horrific like Shiki gives us a quaint Japanese village slowly getting infected by the undead…and take my word for it, it really is an uncomfortable watch.
This show on the other hand takes place in two separate and contrasting places in a frozen apocalyptic world, both linked together by war. The humans (or warmies as some vampires call them) live in a barricaded walled city. Just as the giant walls held off titans in Attack on Titan, walls of light fend off vampire attacks. But their own life is far from perfect; the opposite in fact. The humans live hand-to-mouth, are assigned jobs they don’t want and struggle to survive almost knowing that they are fighting a losing battle. The vampires on the other hand in the mountains and forests live lives they are content with, even if it means they heavily rely on blood to survive and even creating a drug to turn them into unstoppable monsters to be used as a ‘suicide attack’. But one major thing that separates these two people is culture and the fact that it even exists.
Humans have prohibited music, singing and dancing, as it is something that reminds them of their worst enemies and being a part of it risks exposing themselves. This war has consumed them entirely, and it appears that they are prepared to do anything it takes for the world to be rid of vampires, even if it means making their own people suffer. Our human protagonist, Momo, feels this especially. As the daughter of a highly-respected military commander, a high bar has been placed on her to be a part of the war, but as her colleagues tell her, she is weak-minded and compassionate, two things a vampire killer cannot be. When she discovers a music box on a routine patrol, she becomes enamoured by it and eventually decides to run away, having become so tired and hopeless of the world she lives in. And it is by chance she runs into our vampire protagonist, Fine.
Fine is a well-loved vampire queen, but she is slowly growing tired of the wild and decadent lifestyle her fellow compatriots live. She has even stopped drinking blood, as the taste of it reminds her of the kind of person she is expected to be: a cold-hearted and ruthless vampire leader. In their fateful encounter, Fine decides to take Momo away from the crumbling human world to her own idealized paradise, much to the shock and surprise of her fellow vampires who want her to live up to her name as royalty.
The world they both live in is not sold well to us at all; it is almost as if humanity and compassion on both sides have crumbled into dust, and have turned both humans and vampires into savages desperate to cling on to any kind of existence. And the fact that the show does not shy away from any typical fantasy tropes is very commendable. Hope is what brings Fine and Momo together, and with both the humans and vampires around them caring only about just existing than actually living the lives they want, their journey is long, arduous and full of peril. Death follows them wherever they go, and the show doesn’t compromise when it comes to that.
Both Fine and Momo shine in this show; each of their stories is told in detail and makes them very relatable. However, the secondary cast is another matter. I’ll highlight two examples here. Firstly, there is Momo’s mother Nobara. She is overbearing and teaches her daughter harsh lessons, and her devotion to the military and her vampire-killing duties often take precedent. But she knows that she doesn’t want her daughter to grow up in the life they all live. Secondly, there is Fine’s brother Allegro. He holds a great hatred toward the ‘warmies’, often saying that he wants to finish the war that the vampires never wanted in the first place. At the same time though, he is well aware of what his sister is going through, and is even prepared to go against the vampire code if it means keeping her safe from harm. Both Nobara and Allegro were characters I wanted to know a lot more about but unfortunately, because the show is only 5 episodes long, we are given very little time to.
And that is something that holds the show back from its real potential. Vampire in the Garden gave us room for some awesome plot points, like Fine’s own bloodline, or how life in the human city (Central) is like, or some other things that are pretty big spoilers. So I suppose one question is whether it would have been better to combine them all into one long film. My own personal opinion is no. I believe that it actually works better to split it into five than have one edited piece. Sounds crazy given how much I’ve gone on about its shortness, I know. This did not become a TV show (it was made with Netflix distribution specifically in mind, in fact), but it would not quite have worked as well as a full-length movie either.
I have a few things to say when it comes to the English dub. In short, it is a mixed bag. Its script is very good, with lines that definitely suit both the bleak and desperate side of the humans and the decadent and romantic side of the vampires. While both Xanthe Huynh (Momo) and Larissa Gallagher (Fine) are great comparisons to Megumi Han and Yuu Kobayashi respectively, secondary cast picks fell a little flat and sounded a little stiff to me. The moments where the dub works, it really works; it’s only when lines begin to get awkward that I want to switch off.
There is one other thing that I do want to say when it comes to dubs of this show. I recall way back when I reviewed the movie Flavors of Youth which was set in China, I tried watching it in the Mandarin dub, and I was able to enjoy it in a different kind of way. Promo videos for Vampire in the Garden came out about a week before release with different audio channels for the first time on the Netflix anime Youtube channel. Well curiosity got to me and I tried listening to the French dub for this show, and I have to say that it is on a whole other level. Voices sound really authentic and less forced to me, compared to the English one. Sadly I am unfamiliar with the names Charlotte Correa (Fine), Valérie Bachère (Momo) and Isabelle Laprince (Nobara), but I commend all three of them for being part of a dub I really enjoyed. Maybe it sounds weird for English-speaking viewers to watch anime shows on Netflix in a language other than English or Japanese, but it’s something I recommend you check out when you get the opportunity.
Here’s the Netflix trailer for Vampire in the Garden:
I’ll mention this again: plot points we see only fleetingly could have been fleshed out and made Vampire in the Garden something a lot more viewers would engage in. Instead, our focus is solely on Fine and Momo’s journey of hope, and the humans and vampires who want to bring them back to their own worlds full of despair and horror. With more story points added, the show could even have been seen as something as grand and ambitious as any other dystopian fantasy show (pointing at shows like Attack on Titan in particular). But even with that in mind, there is a lot to like here. As we watch, we see a mixture of gothic horror fantasy and societal collapse (on both sides). A supernatural fairy tale combined with something far more brutal and unforgiving. And a journey of hope that each society in the show knows cannot happen.
Vampire in the Garden had the potential to be something really amazing. Both its take on a sad and gothic vampire story and the hellscape both societies live in stand out, and we grow to love the two main protagonists very quickly and actually want them to make it to their paradise. The English dub is something I feel could have been better, but I enjoyed both Xanthe Huynh and Larissa Gallagher for delivering good performances. On top of that, I applaud the French dub as well. A very engaging and thought-provoking watch, even if it is a little too short for some.