The Garden Of Sinners 2: A Study In Murder Part 1

It's easier to confront controversy from a distance.  A couple months ago, at the beginning of 2011, there was a lot of shock and awe surrounding the Blu-Ray only release of The Garden Of Sinners.  A 7-film cycle, the box set had a suggested price of $600 and an actual storefront price of roughly $400.  For all the disgust expressed at the price, the set sold out quickly.  Whether or not you were willing to plop down the money is moot as far as the ticket counters go.  But after watching the first film, I expressed my own reservations.  It was interesting, certainly, but it didn't make much sense in the classic sense, nor was it all that entertaining.  I would have thought I'd been had if I'd spent approximately $60 bucks on that film by itself, I can say that much.

However, The Garden Of Sinners was never meant to be a series of stand-alone films, not really.  They intentionally interweave, and so to judge the whole on the basis of the first 50 minutes is somewhat premature.  The second entry in the canon, A Study In Murder Part 1, is far more intriguing than the first.  While it is not beyond criticism by any means, it not only works on its own but also gives a bit more heft to the opening film.    

A Study In Murder Part 1 is a prequel to the first film, and rather than a series of suicides, this time a string of murders has the police baffled.  As things begin, Mikiya meets Shiki for the first time in high school.  While he seems like your typical mild-mannered teenager, Shiki is plain weird -- she wears a traditional kimono to classes and keeps to herself almost obsessively.  Nevertheless, Mikiya wants to strike up a friendship and talks to her during lunch hours.  Meanwhile, Mikiya finds himself linked to the murder investigations through his cousin, a police detective.  Mikiya grows closer to Shiki and learns more about her while he continues to get insider details on the killings...but put the two together, and Mikiya soon finds himself in lethal danger.

If there was a question before about the artistic nature of the Garden of Sinners series, there's not after A Study In Murder Part 1.  Aesthetically, you can't ask for much more.  There's little action to animate, mind you, but it really is beautiful to look at.  It's not the study in architecture the first was; it has more interest in natural settings, and it's more pleasing overall.  The tone is still very dark -- much creepier than its predecessor, as a matter of fact -- and there's some graphic violence, but I would revisit A Study In Murder Part 1 just to look at it all again.   

And unlike the first film, here we have a strong, coherent plot that drives the action forward.  Yes, the matter of Shiki's personhood (or multiples thereof) is a little tricky.  However, we don't spend the film's running time trying to figure out who the people are and what's going on.  It is intensely focused on its two lead characters, which draws us right in.  I also was genuinely surprised with how the film ended; without spoiling the ending, let's just say that for whatever reason, I didn't see it coming.  I am eager to see where the series heads from here.  

That isn't to say that someone can't make valid complaints about A Study In Murder Part 1.  Its biggest faux pas is leaving the mysteries of the first film almost totally unresolved.  While we do grow closer to the characters, issues as far ranging as the supernaturalism of the first film to the Vulcan-like lack of emotion on Shiki's part are untouched.  Impatient viewers are going to be frustrated.  There's also the matter of whether or not the protagonists are relatable or likable.  I'm drawn into the series far more by the mysteries and the visuals than I am any concern for the participants, and that concerns me.  Nevertheless, these issues don't stop the movie from moving into A- territory.

In my recent readings, I've seen where some fans of the series contend that newbies should just skip right to this film.  Because Overlooking View is such a twisted and frustrating tangle, I'm sympathetic to that view.  However, I did find myself surprised that whatever I did wind up feeling for the leads, I felt more because of my knowledge of them from Overlooking View.  This story gives us the backdrop that make the puzzle fit together a bit more securely, and I believe it helps Overlooking View seem more meaningful on the whole.  What I would honestly suggest is that the neophyte viewer just plan to watch the first two parts back to back as one roughly two-hour movie.

I am still not convinced that The Garden of Sinners is a great anime series.  The rest of the films have a lot of work to do to make me believe that all the hype is warranted.  That said, A Study In Murder Part 1 is a significant step in the right direction, and it may prove to be the groundwork on which excellence may yet be built.

The Garden Of Sinners 2: A Study In Murder Part 1 -- graphic violence -- A-