Saturday, 28 September 2013

Rozen Maiden: Zurückspulen (2013)

Rozen Maiden’s lauded revival, now with Studio Deen (in better form than usual) rather than the just-about-avoiding-being-defunct Studio Nomad, stumbled at the first step. They decided to devote the first of their mere 13 episodes to a lengthy flashback covering the original Rozen Maiden manga. It was so brief and rushed that newcomers would be utterly baffled, while established fans who found it unnecessary were I’m sure largely bored. It was nice seeing key scenes redrawn looking pretty, and the lack of Barasuishou heavily hinted that the Deen version was going to discard all the anime-original plots of the first seasons, but if the rumours that this season was relatively unsuccessful in Japan are true (though an upcoming Nendoroid of Shinkuu being promoted while we were there hints that there’s still plenty of interest in the property), this opening stumble may have quite a bit to do with it. In a strong season with lots to watch, I can see many outside the core fanbase being put off.  

And that’s a shame, because with episode 2, we saw that Deen were going back to the manga, where conveniently Peach-Pit had broken off their part one and dived into what they call Rozen Maiden II. The break allowed for a reset here as well. As so often happens to me – most notably with Fullmetal Alchemist  - I was a fan of Rozen Maiden’s original anime and kept up with the manga while it seemed the larger chunk of the fandom got bored and left, so was well-versed with II and delighted it was going to be animated. There are some wonderful moments and my favourite doll, Souseiseki, got great moments.

The second part of the manga focuses on an older Jun – a university student – whose life diverged from the protagonist of the original when he chose not to volunteer to wind Shinkuu’s key. This Jun continued in his lonely hikkikomori life, eventually dragging himself out to be a university student with a dead-end part-time job. As Kirakishou, the seventh doll without a body of her own, has set her rather unhinged plans into motion, Jun and Kanaria are trapped in an N-field and Shinkuu has to turn to the Jun of another timeline to help her.

Several fan-pleasing events can follow, although lovers of Hinaichigo are less fortunate than others. With a new antagonist, the ever-popular Suigintou can become a grudging ally, and her silly little squabbles with Shinkuu are adorable. When Kirakishou tricks Jun into giving her a body, Suiseiseki appears and her actions lead to the revival of her twin, which made me very happy. Kanaria finally gets to show a little more competence, and moved up in my personal order of preference to third place, after Souseiseki and Shinkuu. And Megu was given more depth, ahead of the events of the next arc.

But that’s the problem here, really – that Rozen Maiden was given just 13 new episodes, with only 12 having real content. That was enough to give Unwound World Jun his story arc (though it’s not the last we’ll see of him), including the satisfying ending where he realises how much his life has improved after opening up to others, working hard and making friends. But the part of Rozen Maiden II that’s really enjoyable is where it returns to the Wound World, and all we got of that was a cliffhanger that ended so abruptly it almost seemed a desperate bid to secure funding for a follow-up.

I firmly believe we’ll see more Rozen Maiden animated. It remains highly popular, even if the fandom has fizzled out somewhat, and not being the smash hit the original was doesn’t mean Zurückspulen (meaning ‘rewind’, by the way) is considered a failure. But I also am conscious this season hasn’t left the property in the best place. Unwound World Jun is compelling and sympathetic, but takes quite some time to grow on audiences, and it is having both parts of the equation that makes Rozen Maiden II so enjoyable, which is missing here. The story may have felt on a lesser scale than its predecessors, and Kirakishou is nothing like the villain Gin was. This would be a terrible time for the series to fizzle out, but there is certainly a possibility that will happen. Even more OVAs would be perfectly acceptable.

I hope there will be an outcry from the fans in Japan…and I’m certain there are things Deen will animate that will be less popular. So I am fully prepared to wait it out for another few years to see more Rozen Maiden. Because it remains something I love, and the new animation style – with funky wings for Gin, more doll-like proportions for the Rozen Maidens and cute, expressive faces – strikes just the right note with me. 

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