The Garden of Sinners 4: The Hollow

Rarely do I contemplate dropping a series entirely, particularly when I've given it decent reviews. Only a handful of anime over the years have I deemed unwatchable. Granted, there are tons of programs I've watched for a handful of episodes without returning to them. They aren't bad, necessarily, but they hold no interest for me. But with the third film in the Garden Of Sinners set, Remaining Sense of Pain, I came close to the line. Its gruesome storyline combined with a continuing disinterest in informing the audience of who the leads really are as characters bothered me. On the other hand, I've never dropped as good-looking or as well-crafted a series as Garden of Sinners. While I wouldn't say I enjoyed all the content, I did find myself intrigued.

Thankfully, the fourth entry begins to fill in enough details that I don't feel quite so lost. The Hollow is perhaps the most personal of the pictures so far -- at least comparing favorably to A Study In Murder Part 1 -- and at the same time, it begins to define some of the supernaturalistic elements we saw as early as the opening salvo, Overlooking View. I finally had the sense that, as a series, we were finally getting someplace. That's particularly noteworthy when you consider that this film is essentially a flashback whose events happen before those in the first picture. (Technically, that's true of the second and third films as well, but they didn't exactly fill in the missing blanks.)

An ambulance, a hospital...a rush to surgery, no you can't come in, we'll keep you posted. Dead or alive? If you have multiple personalities, what does an out-of-body experience do for you? If you lose one of those personalities, do you have a hollow soul? Our violently enigmatic lead Shiki is the one hospitalized, and she's in bad shape as these questions become a part of her existence. Her loyal friend Mikiya is always checking in after her, but it seems that her accident has left her all but a shell. Touko begins to visit, invites her to find out who she really is so that she might fulfill her destiny and learn to use her special abilities. But despite Touko's wizardry, Shiki is the only one who can decide whether she is going to live or be consumed by the dark forces that would love nothing more to possess her.

I would be lying to say that The Hollow makes a terrible amount of logical sense. It certainly has a more nightmarish quality than the other three movies that proceed it, and yet somehow I found it perhaps the most interesting of the lot. Shiki is no longer just a psychopathic freak of nature who happens to get her jollies by killing bad people (though that's still true). She's somewhat...dare I say it...sympathetic. Experiencing a bit more of what she sees and feels makes us more attuned to why Shiki is the way she is. Take that and combine it with a deeper explanation of Touko's place in this whole mess, and the patient viewer starts to be rewarded. In its own world, The Hollow actually makes a great deal of sense.

While some viewers will find the action in this segment too subdued, I'm of the opinion that it's a far better episode because of it. There was a sense in both Overlooking View and Remaining Sense of Pain that the real story was behind the scenes, not the central plot. Frankly, all the fight sequences in the world can't make up for a script that doesn't help you know the main characters and empathize with them. For some with short attention spans, The Hollow may seem just that...hollow. But for those of us who have been waiting not only to make sense of Garden Of Sinners but to actually feel it worthy of our time, The Hollow gives us impetus to continue.

If there's a fault to The Hollow, it's that it still plays around with the audience too much, though far less than has happened so far. It's possible that I'm giving it more credit than I should for revealing the few mysteries it does. But after this much obfuscation, any piecemeal revelation is mighty welcome. Still, Garden of Sinners does feel a bit too much like work at times.

This far in, I think it's simple enough to say that the graphics, which are often sumptuous, are no worse here than in the rest of the set. But this time, I also found myself more compelled by the soundtrack. The music may not be programmed much differently from other chapters, but here it seemed to give a bigger sweep to the whole. Maybe the music was trying to make up for the dearth of action; I don't know. But there's certainly no drop in animation quality.

If you've read this far along in the series, you probably know that it's film five, Paradox Spiral, that has really earned Garden of Sinners its reputation. I'm eager to get there, and The Hollow is what has put that eagerness back in my step. In fact, I will say that it was during The Hollow that I had my first urge to watch the other three again to lay out all the puzzle pieces in place. A skeptic will not be converted by this entry. But speaking for myself as a fence-rider up to this point, I can say that The Hollow worked for me and convinced me that this isn't a wild-goose chase.

Garden Of Sinners: The Hollow -- violence, disturbing elements -- A-