Garden of Sinners 6: Oblivion Recorder
Star Wars: The Clone Wars has found its stride. The movie was terrible and the first season a bit weak. But now with five seasons under its belt, it's become better than the prequel films it followed. It has become masterful at telling the compelling side story. For the last season and a half, the trilogy's main characters have taken a back seat to clone troopers, droids, younglings, and guerrilla rebels....and it's worked. We know what's going to happen to Obi-Wan and Anakin, so the writers have introduced other players into the mix to care about. It was a gamble, and I have no idea how the ratings have reflected the change, but it's made for a better show.
Garden of Sinners: Oblivion Recorder, the penultimate film in the septet, attempts to do the same thing with good if not great results. By changing the focus to an essentially new role, Garden of Sinners gets a bit more mileage in before the finale. While it doesn't reveal anything much about our enigmatic leads or untangle threads from previous installments, it is straightforwardly enjoyable. Sadly, though it's the most fun of the lot so far, an unnecessary and disturbing subplot brings it down -- along with the fact that it doesn't add much to the ongoing storyline (such as it is).
Strange things are afoot at the school of magic. A student and now a professor have disappeared, people are losing their short-term memories...it's quite a pickle. Over the course of the school holidays, Azaka is determined to figure out the mystery. Who's Azaka? She's technically the little sister of Mikiya, though she didn't grow up with him. She is, however, in love with him, and she sees the less-batguano-insane form of Shiki as a threat to her someday gaining the affections of her (gack) brother. However, freaky Shiki has possession of those wacky Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, which should be able to confirm the dark dealings that Azaka is only able to suspect. Shiki and Azaka become roommates as they investigate fairies, uncover a cover-up, and flashback to earlier days when things weren't quite so dangerous (or squicky).
Oblivion Recorder is a charming if odd bird in the Garden of Sinners series. The soundtrack is great, and there are plenty of beautifully artistic shots as one has come to expect. What is unexpected is the level of comedy. No, we haven't suddenly gone from one of the darkest, dreariest series on the planet to One Piece. However, I noticed a significant tonal shift. Until the gruesome post-credits setup for the final film, there's virtually no blood and little of the mental insanity that has characterized the series up until this point. I daresay this is about as light as Garden of Sinners ever gets.
Without all the heaviness, Oblivion Recorder is almost playful. It's still too slow (a fault in every episode), but I could actually say I enjoyed watching this one. The mystery is not particularly tangled; I've seen episodes of Monk that were more complex. Yet I liked the teaming of Azaka and Shiki, whose personalities (though wildly different) compliment each other. There was little I found extraneous. It still fits into the whole; there are dark corridors and magic fights with colorful sparks. Yet it is mercifully light on brooding monologues and pseudo-magicbabble. While it appears to be a side chapter at most, it is a pleasant diversion. Mostly.
Unfortunately, Oblivion Recorder is brought down by its inclusion of incest. The series has broached mental illness, gang rape, and horrific violence in the past. What would Oblivion Recorder be without some taboo to break? It could be worse; Azaka's feelings are unrequited, and the show doesn't broach the issue of sex. We aren't 100% certain that Azaka isn't simply crushing. Yet it's still distasteful no matter how you look at it. It's presented as just another option; when it's learned of, there's virtually no conversation about it, let alone any sort of condemnation. The 21st century has seen many taboos fall, but this is one I don't think is going anywhere. The reality is, this is also not cutting-edge for anime either; strangely enough, incest has becoming a rather nasty trope in the last couple of years. The sensitivity to the topic kept it from being a deal breaker, but it made the experience less than what it could have been.
It's my guess that fans of GoS will find this to be the least of all the entries. I wouldn't blame them. It doesn't move us forward; it isn't as dark; the regulars aside from Shiki barely make a cameo. I can see all that. For my money, I would have done something to place this a little earlier in the canon, as it would have brought some much needed levity to the whole. But still, I liked it.
So far, the even movies have been solid and the odd ones have been not quite as good. I'm hoping that pattern changes as I finally reach the end of this saga. As it stands right now, I'm still baffled at its popularity. I'm not sure that the whole even adds up to the sum of its parts. In a way, it strikes me as Bubblegum Crisis for the emo generation -- a show whose style is more important than the tale it's telling. We'll see if the final film breaks the mold and makes the journey worthwhile.
P.S. I haven't really dealt with the grotesque post-credits material because it is so completely divergent from the rest of the film. Note that when I mention graphic violence in my potentially offensive elements, that's just for the stinger. The main program has issues, but graphic violence isn't one of them. It does not make me hopeful that the last film will be sweetness and light, I'll tell you that much.
Garden of Sinners 6: Oblivion Recorder -- violence, incest themes (graphic violence in the post-credits) -- B+