- Genre : Supernatural thriller, suspense, action, drama
- Movie: 50 minutes
- Studio: Ufotable
This is a story of a lonely girl and a determined doll. It is not a very happy story but sometimes stories just go that way. It is a story about how pain and yearning can make monsters out if us before we can notice it at all. How simple wishes can curse those around you. It’s also a story about finding a way to fill the emptiness within us all. Sometimes you succeed for a little while a soar, sometimes you fail and do your best not to drown. At times this is a sad story but there’s also hope hiding in the shadows. What you get out of this story, will depend on you.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to describe a 50 minute movie without giving too much away. The problem here is slightly different. The Garden of Sinners: Thanatos plays out mostly in subtext so a plain description of events won’t give you much of an idea. I tried my best though.
First let’s get the logistics out of the way. You can watch Garden of Sinners on Crunchyroll, where it is presented as a 10 episode series. They are in fact 10 movies of varying lengths which is why I included the runtime in this review. So far I have only watched Thanatos (the first movie made) so I can’t tell you how closely related they are and if they are better watched all in a row. Binge watching 10 movies (some over 2h) is a bit much for me. I’ll get into it more later but the atmosphere and narrative style of this first movie also doesn’t seem suited for rapid successive consumption. I’m working on my vocabulary. Please let me know if I’m using words wrong as I’m going about it pretty randomly.
Visually Thanatos is interesting although a bit unpolished. It uses this technique that makes the edges look like very wet ink wash. I’m not sure how to explain it and unfortunately it doesn’t show much in the stills. It’s a bit as id the lines waver.
The action comes in bursts, and everything is quite still the rest of the time. Shiki’s (the main character) small movements, like walking or sitting down, look jittery but I’m sure it’s a choice. On the other hand, action scenes are fluid and we’ll choreographed. Voice acting is wide ranging and varies from character to character with some pretty intense delivery choices but it fits with the writing…
Are you bored yet by this plain list of technical features? It’s quite dull isn’t it? There’s a reason for that. I’m trying to bury the lead here. I’ve always been quite bad at not immediately blurting out everything that’s on my mind.
I usually discuss the non narrative aspects of anime separately as a way of structuring my reviews. But here, it’s completely impractical. By far the most impressive element of The Garden of Sinners is the masterfully integrated visual storytelling. Maybe I’m reading too much into is, but from what I could overanalyze, every design, visual, animation and even sound choice made in the movie, contributed to the narrative.
The story itself is a rather straightforward thriller with some supernatural elements. A string of sudden suicides rocks a small community and we catch up with a woman named Shiki that seems to want to stop the deaths. She believes there is something unearthly going on and she herself is more than meets the eye.
It’s presented in a very purposefully mysterious way. For instance, characters aren’t introduced. We don’t even know their names until we’ve seen them a few times. Their backgrounds and relationships to one another are never really established and you’re left to infer everything from conversations. It can be a touch destabilizing, but it was done well enough for me to follow along the course of events even though it left a lot open to interpretation.
Because of this, the characters could be considered underdeveloped. However, they are written in a way where the lack of information seems deliberate rather than bad writing. The same can be said for most of the events. There’s an ambiguity and a lack of context. At times I was reminded of Serial Experiments Lain, although The Garden of Sinners obviously doesn’t have the time to delve in too deep in its own mythology. Future movies may solve that.
It won’t be for everyone. The wrap up can feel unsatisfying since it really didn’t teach us all that much. If you’re not a fan of vague narratives, you may find this movie annoying. On top of that, the actual plot is not that special, for the little we know about it. I would describe it as Suicide Circle condensed in a single hour and devoid of both it’s extravagance and wry humour.
But visual integration in the storytelling made it all worth while for me. Let me give you an example. The story tackles deep themes of existential questioning, emptiness and suicide. The idea that a person just sort of floats along life until they find themselves confronted to circumstances where they must choose to either fly or fall. Those moments that make you confront your very sense of being. The plot is simply an allegory of the idea. Both the protagonist and antagonist spend the movie facing this question in their own way.
Beyond that though, everything else reinforces the structure of long dead stillness punctuated by explosion of violent existence. Like I touched on above, movement is extremely subdued for the most part, except in those pivotal scenes where it becomes frantic. Characters are often silent and a lot of scenes have no dialogue but the few conversations that happen are tense and deeply meaningful.
Visually, there are repeated cluster motifs. And empty sky with a flock of birds. A bare wall with half a dozen clocks arranged together. A cluttered room where the feature is a wall filled with tv sets for no obvious reason. Shiki’s apartment is almost completely bare, her fridge empty, but she visits Touko in a cluttered, almost hoarder like office. Streets are either almost completely empty or heavily crowded. It’s a repeated all or nothing notion that goes hand in hand with the larger themes.
Another, more immediate element is the outlines. For the most part, they’re those thick and wavy watered-down lines. It makes everything seem slightly unsubstantial and ill-defined. Once again, there’s this element of unbearable lightness. Like nothing is really quite there, like it could just flitter away at any moment. But whenever the action or tension ramps up, those lines sharpen into fine well-defined clear edges. Everything comes into sudden focus. It subconsciously grabs your attentions and tells you this is an important moment. It also has the practical side effect of making action a lot clearer and easier to follow.
The color palette is subtly but completely redefined just about every other scene and more direct color cues are thrown in. Shiki wears the same blue kimono every day, but she puts on a red jacket over it once she decides to settle the score.
No one has pupils. This isn’t mentioned at all and could be dismissed as a quirky design choice to make things more *dark*. But I believe it’s an illustration of the general idea that people are empty shells and it takes personal strength and courage to find something to fill them with. That one is responsible for creating their own soul, lest they find their sense of self float away.
For me, this movie shined through its insistence of using every possible tool of the anime medium to add to its narrative, even though the narrative itself was not that stellar. And for this alone, I am more than happy to see what the other movies have to offer. It won’t be for everyone, but if it’s for you, it has a unique appeal.
Favorite character: Touko
What this anime taught me: Thanatos is a minor figure in Greek mythology and a personification of death. I guess Shinigami… However, I think the title refers to Freud’s theory that humans have a “death drive”. Basically, an odd instinct towards risk and self-destruction that fights with our survival instincts. He called this drive Thanatos.
If you walk a mile in my shoes, you’ll end up in a bar
Suggested drink: Floating Goddess
- Every time we get a close up of anyone’s eyes – take a sip
- Every time the color palette switches – take a sip
- Every time we see a body – shiver
- Every time we see a ghost – liquid courage
- Every time Tuko smokes – take a deep breath
- Every time we see a doll or doll parts – take a sip
- Every time anyone says “flying” – take a sip
- Every time we see the news – pay attention
- Every time anyone says “suicide” – take a sip
- Every time we see Shiki’s apartment – get some ice cream
I’m disappointed by how much is lost in the screen caps. The actual anime is more impressive.