The Garden of Sinners box art


  • 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.

Garden of Sinners - Thanatos (14)
well I tried…

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.

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just take my word for it…

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.

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don’t get me started on the light and shadows!

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.  

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what’s with the eyes? I dunno…

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.

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it must be such a pain finding the right remote

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.

Garden of Sinners - Thanatos (14)
something’s about to happen

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.

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if you do, could you tell us?

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
Garden of Sinners - Thanatos (1)
the little sketch at the beginning was funny!

I’m disappointed by how much is lost in the screen caps. The actual anime is more impressive.



26 thoughts

  1. The main reason I finished this series was because of how seamlessly the audio-visuals blended with the story, its world & its moods.

    I have no plans to re-watch the movies, but I listen to its melancholic soundtrack every once in a while. It’s as lonely as Shiki is, dabbling in dissonance as she tries to make sense of an absurd world. It swings from an absent-minded, almost ethereal mood to frantic, rhythmically ordered tension; mirroring the underlying themes you describe & also how Shiki relishes those “sink or swim” moments because they give meaning & structure to her life.

    And finally, there is the light at the end of the tunnel, the appreciation for the smaller moments in life Shiki comes to possess as she comes to terms with just how much the boy with glasses means to her.

  2. That bit about the visual storytelling is interesting, especially the cluster motif and the changing thickness of the outlines. I never noticed these.

    I’m not sure if Nasu is a good writer? But I find his work interesting in the ideas he presents. He’s really good at building a story to explore a theme. It’s cool to see the animation doing the same thing.

    1. I like it so far. It’s not fleshed out but there *seems* to be something intriguing there

  3. One problem is that the show is out of sequence.

    They were not released in chronological order. You can watch them in order of release if you want but I found it confusing. This is a list of how I recommend you watch them.

    Kara no Kyoukai Movie 2, Satsujin Kousatsu Part 1 (A Study in Murder – Part 1)
    Kara no Kyoukai Movie 4, Garan no Dou (The Hollow Shrine)
    Kara no Kyoukai Movie 3, Tsuukaku Zanryuu (Remaining Sense of pain)
    Kara no Kyoukai Movie 1, Fukan Fuukei (Overlooking view)
    Kara no Kyoukai Movie 5, Mujun Rasen (Paradox Spiral)
    Kara no Kyoukai Movie 6, Boukyaku Rokuon (Oblivion Recording)
    Kara no Kyoukai Movie 7, Satsujin Kousatsu Part 2 (A Study in Murder – Part 2)
    Kara no Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin (Future Gospel)

    Each builds on the previous, sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously. If you watch them in release order, at least the first two will leave you confused.

    I pulled my old blog post on the series out of my archives if you want to see it.

  4. No spoilers from me… because I barely remember what happened. I was a little stopped short when you said there were 10 films, until I remembered that they made some shorter intermissions and an epilogue – apart from the core four films.

    1. Is that so. I think this one is the shortest so it may not be in that core set… That may explain why you dont remember it either

      1. I’m not sure why I said “core four films”. It’s seven. This one’s the shortest? The epilogue, as far as I remember, consisted of a single conversation. I definitely haven’t seen two of them, but I’ve definitely seen this one.

        I think my lack of memory is simply because I’ve seen it long ago, and it’s the type of show where you’ll remember the overall mood more than details. I do remember snippets, but not how they fit together, or what was in which film.

        1. Yeah, it’s seven – I’ve actually never seen the Epilogue or Recalled out Summer installments myself, just the original seven. And the shortest of the original seven is the fourth film, which is about 45 minutes; slightly shorter than this one.

  5. I need to watch this series, but I just can’t find it! I heard it was on Crunchyroll, but i can’t get it from England…lame.

  6. Oh wow, you’re in for a ride. I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Garden of Sinners myself – the visual storytelling (as you noted) is amazing, and I love Shiki as a character, but I’m not a big fan of the writing; Kinoko Nasu’s always had a tendency to write battles that end up being wars of words and philosophies more than wars of weapons, and Garden of Sinners is arguably even worse than Fate/Stay Night in that regard. Anyway, looking forward to reading your thoughts on the rest of them!

    1. So far the monologuing at each other hasn’t been too bad but we’ll see where it goes

      1. I don’t want to prejudice your viewing by naming names in advance, but there was a part in one of the later movies I was looking forward to because I heard so many Nasu fans singing its praises, and when we finally got there it was so full of magibabble and motive ranting that I almost fell asleep on it.

  7. i think that’s a fair evaluation. this movie series is one that ive always enjoyed. it was really my first exposure to achronological storytelling, and i think it does a good job with it. shiki’s also an interesting character overall to me.

    1. As we speak I’ve seen 4 of the movies and I think I’ve found my footing with this franchise

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