This Vampire in the Garden review contains no spoilers.
Fair warning: there’s a lot more gore than gardening in Netflix’s newest anime, Vampire in the Garden. It’s a fantastic story about Momo and Fine, a human/vampire duo escaping the brutal war between their species. Set in the remnants of an unnamed but unmistakably post-Soviet country, their journey is as much about the horrors of war as it is about the beauty of music. And with the creative minds of Studio Wit (Attack on Titan, Bubble) at the helm, the animation is appropriately top-notch and the story delivers a heartfelt anti-war message in its brief five-episode season.
Momo is a low-ranking soldier in humanity’s last army, but she is unwilling and unable to kill her enemies in combat. Meanwhile, Fine is the queen of the vampires, but refuses to drink blood. The vampires live opulently in aristocratic splendor, while the humans are just barely hanging on under military rule that strictly forbids engaging in vampiric activities, like singing and watching movies. Yikes! Both Momo and Fine feel out of place in their respective worlds and yearn for peaceful coexistence. When the two meet on the battlefield, they form an unlikely bond and strike out in search of paradise.
The action-packed battles are spectacularly animated, breathlessly depicting the gruesome reality of armed (and winged) combat, but the real draw is watching Momo and Fine’s relationship develop and rapidly evolve in highly charged emotional scenes. There’s an inherent distrust between the two, best shown when Fine attempts to disarm Momo with a bop on the piano. Few words are required for this wonderfully tense conflict between Fine’s joyful playing and Momo’s intense fear, so when Momo does explode in anger, it’s both surprising and completely understandable.
And with just over 2 hours to work with, Studio Wit moves the story along at a breakneck pace, breathlessly shifting from a gritty war movie to an us-against-the-world road trip, back to a tragedy, and so on. By jamming complex character choices and exciting visual sequences into pretty much every scene, the series rarely suffers from whiplash. It’s plotted as tightly as any 2 hour movie and consequently never strays away from the two species’ inherent conflict in finding coexistence.
It’s unfortunate that when the two finally do reach their paradise, the storytelling takes a sudden nosedive with predictable plot twists and barely believable antagonists driving the narrative forward. Their paradise isn’t just a sham that they stumbled into, it’s a garden-variety anime. Missing are all the beautiful contradictions and nuances present up to that point. But ultimately, it does put the worst of both humans and vampires on display and breaks Momo and Fine up after an emotional final battle. Thankfully, it’s still a beaut to watch, and no more than a brief stumble in an overwhelmingly strong anime. The ending is hard-earned and feels just right, though it is hard to imagine what could happen in a second season, if there is one.
Ultimately, by following two idealists running away from an unending conflict, Vampire in the Garden delivers a challenging, but clear anti-war statement. For Momo and Fine, the only solution to war is to disengage. Neither side is right, neither side is wrong, and the only foes worth fighting are those trying to stop her from finding her paradise. Momo’s freedom is hard-earned, but unsustainable. It’s a simple answer to an urgent real-world question, but a nice one at that. But for her, it’s enough.
Vampire in the Garden is available to stream on Netflix now.