The idea behind Rozen Maiden sounded great: living dolls who are destined to fight each other in the “Alice Game”, and who ally themselves to humans to draw strength. Unfortunately the execution of the idea wasn’t quite what I had hoped for.
For a start, I assumed this would be a dark, gothic series, but that extends no further than the cover art and the (admittedly excellent) opening and closing title sequences. Instead, for the most part it tries to be a comedy and fails. The main characters are a boy called Jun Sakurada and the doll who allies herself to him, Shinku. I immediately disliked Jun, finding him an annoying, whiny, shouty little boy. That’s a shame, because his story should be an interesting one: he was bullied at school and has withdrawn into his own little world, afraid to go out of his house. The episodes that focus on his struggles are actually really good, but they are few and far between, and by the second series he’s just there to be a generic hero, and he’s not very good at that. His heroism tends to extend no further than standing around while dolls fight, occasionally intervening with some words of protest or inspiration. Most of the time he’s just irritating, although I did find that it helped to switch from the dub to the sub version mid season, which was a lot less annoying to watch. Somehow all the over-reacting, shouting and misfiring comedy comes across better in the original Japanese.
Shinku is a much better character, although she is so reserved that she seems boringly unemotional at times. As the series progresses, and throughout the course of the second series as well, we are gradually introduced to some other dolls, most of whom become friends and end up living with Jun as well. Their backstories and issues are all explored, and most of them are quite enjoyable and/or thought-provoking. I found Hinaichigo annoyingly childish in both dub and sub, and twins Suiseiseki and Souseiseki a little dull, whilst Kanaria turns up too late in the game to have much of an impact. Suigintou and Kirakisho both make for entertaining and well-explored antagonists.
The series wastes too much time on silly jokes, exploring the troubles these dolls cause for Jun, but when we get to the battle sequences the series really comes to life. Most of them take place in another dimension, which strongly leans on Alice in Wonderland for inspiration, complete with an enigmatic white rabbit. The second season, subtitled Traumend is far superior to the first, because the balance is much better, with less of the silliness and more of the main plot, leading up to a big battle where the dolls have no choice but to play the “Alice Game” to determine who will become the ultimate doll. The last couple of episodes are absolutely brutal, and felt like watching a different series. I nearly gave up on this during the rather silly first season, but persevered and was very glad that I continued. It all wrapped up very neatly in the end, with a couple of dangling threads left to be explored in the next two seasons, which I am yet to purchase.
So this was never quite the gothic masterpiece I wanted it to be, and I suppose I shouldn’t complain at watching 24 episodes of mainly solid entertainment, but the story had so much potential to be amazing that I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. I haven’t felt inspired yet to purchase the third and fourth seasons, but with the dramatic upturn in quality between the first and second, maybe I should.
This review covered the series Rozen Maiden and Rozen Maiden: Traumend, which were released as a DVD box set in the UK by MVM. I have yet to watch the prequel series, Rozen Maiden: Ouverture, or the final series Rozen Maiden: Zuruckspulen. If I take the plunge and get those, I will write about them in due course. In the meantime, please keep an eye on the anime page for a list of upcoming articles. RP