Despite positive initial impressions, the dark ambience and uniquely dark tone can only take you so far with an ending that drops out of nowhere like a lead balloon. Disappointment? Yes. Raging fangirls? I count myself in their numbers. Grab your torch and pitchfork, because if you have stuck with this manhwa since the beginning, you probably have a bone to pick with Lee Hyeon-Sook considering the subpar ending that was delivered. But watch your step, there are plot holes everywhere.
With a plot that does not deliver, Savage Garden strangely starts off with some promise. Initially we are introduced, just as the synposis describes, to a school that, despite housing the well-to-do, has incredibly harsh hierarchy. Gabriel enters, impersonating her deceased childhood friend, and taking on the persona of “Jeremy.” Led by the promise of riches, “Jeremy” tries to lay low without invoking the wrath of some the more prominent – and cruel – noblemen that she dorms with.
As you can well predict, she inevitably lands herself in trouble and becomes tangled up with two brothers. The premise is a little misleading, however, because it eventually becomes a derailed train that crashes and burns.
In regards to the aforementioned plot holes, the author blatantly omits a lot of information in the latter half of the story, as we are suddenly thrust into the ending without any preparation. There is no leading up to it, no real resolutions in terms of the climax of the story. It just lands in our lap, incomplete and ill-conceived. My suspicions are that the author came to an impasse, with no motivation left for continuing, and decided to end prematurely. As a result, many questions were left unanswered and the ending left you wondering if you were still reading the same series.
The characters, who are both interesting and intriguing, are vaguely explored through the story. Once again, this is where the potential really shined through but inevitably fell short. Gabriel suddenly became the traditional damsel-in-distress whereas she had been a heroine with some measure of self-sufficiently in the beginning. Her desire to reclaim her pride from her status of fallen nobility, as a driving force, is far more realistic than the shallow reasons seen in other gender benders.
But, just as with Gabriel, the other characters either dropped out of the picture or were poorly utilized approaching the ending. Rather than feeling like real people, they felt like a means to an end – as though, rather than seeing through the story with the characters she had built and developed, the author used them as a tool to bring things to a close without considering the quality she was losing in doing so.
As for the art, it seems a bit more detailed and a step up from her previous works, which is definitely a positive. Among manhwa, her art stands out as well-proportioned and, in simple terms, very “pretty.” Even compared to many manga, Lee Hyeon-Sook has a very unique style that captivates. There is plenty of good eye candy.
So what is Savage Garden ultimately? A manhwa that initially stands out amongst its fellow creations but inevitably falls short as an underwhelming read with a disappointing ending. As much as it dispels age-old shoujo cliches, it wallows in its own depressing undertones and flickers out like an unnoticed flame.