Rozen Maiden

Welcome to the first (at least titled as such) Fresh-Twist Review here on Hot Pink Joysticks.  Today we’ll be doing a review of Rozen Maiden as well as Rozen Maiden: Träumend.

Plot Synopsis: Rozen Maiden is the tale of seven exquisite dolls forced into a game to become the ultimate girl and the humans who find themselves caught up in the game with the dolls.  It all begins when a boy named Jun Sakurada finds himself in possession of one of the Rozen Maidens, a beautiful blond doll who calls herself Shinku – the fifth of the Rozen Maidens.  Before poor Jun can wrap his head around what he’s gotten himself into, the pair are attacked by a knife-wielding clown-doll.  Shinkou promises that she can protect Jun from the murderous being, but only if he will swear himself to her.  Faced with a choice of life or death, Jun agrees to the pact and is soon swept away in this strange happening.

Genres and Themes: Fantasy, Drama, Magic, Dolls

Opening and Ending Themes: The opening theme for the first season of Rozen Maiden is “Kinjirareta Asobi (禁じられた遊び)” by ALI PROJECT, and the ending theme is called “Tomei Shelter (透明シェルター)” by Refio and Haruka Shimotsuki.  For the sequel, Träumend, the opening theme is “Seishoujo Ryouiki (聖少女領域) ” by ALI PROJECT and the ending theme is “Hikari no Rasenritsu (光の螺旋律)” by Kukui.  The first season’s opening/ending were very good in my opinion — the music was strong and interesting, and the cinematic bits chosen were very good.  The second season was slightly weaker on both accounts, both the music and the animations were not as good.  What the two seasons shared, however, was something very interesting and not often done in anime — the animation was not simply clips from the series taken and put to the opening and ending music.  They were both done in a very stylized way, almost like looking at a panoramic of a stained glass window at some points.  Rozen Maiden gets high marks for it’s opening and endings.

Music: The music for Rozen Maiden was usually quite good, though not so amazing as to stand out.  It was honestly fairly middle-of-the-road.  Often classical with a strong emphasis on the strings section.  The musical compositions for the anime are credited to Shinkichi Mitsumune.  Mitsumune worked a very strong background soundtrack into the anime.  I was honestly sort of glad it didn’t stand out too much against the rest of what was happening — if it would have, I probably would have been distracted.  The only bad thing about the music was the sounds of one of the dolls playing her violin (it was her method of attack).  Those bits grated on my ears.  Thankfully, you only hear her do them twice in the entire series.

Animation and Direction: Both the animation and the direction in Rozen Maiden were above average.  Character designs by Kumi Ishii were wonderful.  The small details in all the dolls were very appreciated, and the girls didn’t look overly sexualized or moe-ized.  In fact, the dolls were all very Victorian-esque in their costume choices, and the humans were usually in school uniforms or typical T-shirt/sweats leisurewear.  And I really appreciated the fact that the dolls were drawn like dolls.  When their joints could be seen, they were made like a doll’s joints would be made, and they lacked things like belly buttons or other “human” features.  The animation itself has very high production values in most episodes, showing smooth movements, detailed facial expressions, and strong backgrounds.  Directed by Kou Matsuo (who did not do much else by way of notable directing), the anime has a good pace and very little filler (I think two episodes in the entire 26 episode arch are complete filler).

Characters: The characters in Rozen Maiden appear at first to be very one-dimensional.  Jun is a whiny brat of a kid who refuses to go back to school, Shinku is a prissy, uptight girl who takes far too much pleasure in smacking Jun with one of her long pigtails, Hinaichigo is an immature crybaby, etc etc.  However, these preconceptions do change through the anime.  I don’t want to give away a ton of spoilers, as that would ruin any purpose you have for watching the anime, but the dolls and the two main human characters do end up developing quite a bit through the anime in what is a very natural way in the context of the story.  I was extremely pleased to see that, considering how little characters tend to develop in more recent series.  (Rozen Maiden was released in 2004.)  I found myself growing quite attached to the characters by the second season, and will admit that I ended up crying on three occasions at the climax of the plot.  The one downfall to these characters was their names!  The dolls all have very difficult names to spell and pronounce.  I’ll put them here in the order that they were made — Suigintou, Kanaria, Suiseiseki, Souseiseki, Shinku, Hinaichigo, and Kirakishou/Barasuishou.  Wrapping your tongue around a few of those is very difficult.

Story: The story for Rozen Maiden was pretty interesting.  As described by my fiance, it was very “Highlander meets Pinocchio.”  Now, I’m not sure if I agree with that statement entirely, but it was interesting to see a familiar concept (fighting to be number one) done with such a unique twist (the fighters were dolls).  While this anime is pretty character driven, there’s enough story to satisfy those who like a good tale over compelling characters.

My Thoughts: I truly enjoyed the Rozen Maiden series.  While the ending wasn’t completely satisfying to me, and there were some very sad moments and even a little filler, I found the characters to be very compelling and the story to be unique and intriguing.  I finished the entire 26 episode saga in two days, after all.  There were moments when devious Suiseiseki made me giggle, and tender moments involving Shinku and Hinaichigo that tugged on my heartstrings.  Seeing how the dolls developed through the episodes and developing my own feelings toward the ever-absent “Father,” has carved this anime a special place in my heart.  While it may not be a life-changing anime for you, it’s definitely worth a watch for anyone who likes solid characters and interesting premises.

Rank: A-

Support the Industry: Rozen Maiden is available to rent through Netflix here or purchased from Amazon here. Be sure to check your local anime sellers as well!

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