The Garden of Sinners

Shiki Ryōgi used to be a serial killer. Heir to an ancient and wealthy household, Shiki would stalk the night-time streets of 1990s Tokyo, looking for suitable victims to slake a bloodlust associated with an alternate personality she only knew as SHIKI. But when she meets Mikiya Kokutō, everything changes: ignoring the air of menace that makes Shiki’s peers give her a wide berth, Mikiya initiates a strange relationship full of dire forebodings, in which Shiki nonetheless glimpses the possibilities of a life beyond her dysfunctional alter-ego. But when Mikiya gets too close, Shiki’s despair drives her to try and kill the one person she feels truly understands her – only for her to end up in a coma as a result of a freak accident. For the two years that Shiki lies comatose in an ICU ward, Mikiya visits her daily; and during the same period, he takes a job as a researcher with a strange private investigation agency run by the mysterious Tōko Aozaki. On the day that Shiki regains consciousness, she makes a dual discovery: SHIKI has gone; and she has also acquired the ability to see the “lines of death” that connect all living beings. That’s when Tōko enters Shiki’s life, seeking to use her unique skills as a murderer – and her newly gained supernatural talent – to rid the world of malevolent paranormal forces; forces that hold the clues to the truth about Shiki’s past, and the question of whether or not she and Mikiya could ever have a future together…

Based on a series of illustrated novels by Kinoko Nasu and Takashi Takeuchi, and produced by anime studio ufotable, “The Garden of Sinners” was released as a sequence of feature-length episodes between 2007 and 2009. Unfortunately for those not familiar with the novels, the series follows the original books’ anachronical order, meaning viewers who want to follow the story chronologically will have to work out in what order they need to watch each episode (fortunately, the Wikipedia entry for “Garden of Sinners” is of great assistance). Marked by a suitably brooding visual aesthetic, “Garden of Sinners” explores such confronting themes as suicide, rape, incest, and murder through the lens of various philosophical, psychological, and folkloric concepts. In doing so, it also paints a picture of a post-economic collapse Japan that defies the stereotypes of advertising and tourism; as with other series like “Speed Grapher”, this is a Japan whose dark underbelly is well and truly on display. But it is also a meditation on human vulnerability, and the surprising resilience that can come from the simple act of trust and hope. Violent, creepily atmospheric, but ultimately moving, “The Garden of Sinners” has also been highly influential, providing the thematic concepts for other series such as “Tsukihime” and the “Fate” cycle.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.