Review for Rozen Maiden: Traumend - Volume 1
You wouldn't have thought that an anime show about dolls would have raised my interest levels, and to tell the truth, neither did I. But Rozen Maiden turned out to quite an unexpected surprise a few months ago. Of course it wasn't really just about dolls brought to life, it was about the Alice Game, a competition where these magically animated dolls compete to become the one true Alice, by taking the Rosa Mystica of their rivals, and consequently being reunited with their 'father' the one who created them. Except it really wasn't about that at all, it was the tale of one socially awkward boy, who after a trauma simply hid away in his room, refusing to interact with anyone at all, and who through acquiring, and becoming the servant of a particularly arrogant doll named Shinku, was slowly rehabilitated into normal society. It was an entertaining and lively show, with a harem of dolls, a weird twist on an oft-visited cliché, but which had no lack of heart. That said, the central premise of the show, the Alice Game and the search for the dolls' creator did seem to get short shrift. But fortunately a second series was commissioned, Rozen Maiden Traumend (I think there is supposed to be an umlaut in their somewhere), which continues the tale in a further 12 episodes.
Jun Sakurada is a wimpy teen, who after being bullied at middle school simply came home, pulled the covers over his head, and refused to leave the house again. That's despite the best efforts of his sister Nori, who kept trying to coax him back to school. He became a shut-in, a recluse, whose only joy was Internet shopping, and only thrill was keeping the stuff for the trial period, and then sending it back before he became liable for payment. Then one day he answered an ad that was unconventional to say the least. As if by magic, a trunk appeared in the middle of the room, and within the trunk was a clockwork doll, and a key. After checking for underwear (well he is a boy), he wound up the doll, only for it to come to life and slap him. Shinku is awake now, and insolent though he may be, Jun is now her servant.
As this second series begins, things have settled down since Shinku's defeat of Suigintou. Shinku and Hina-Ichigo continue to live with Jun and Nori, while Suiseiseki has returned to live with twin sister Souseiseki and their elderly owners, but are often around to annoy Jun and toy with Hina-Ichigo. But when a new doll shop opens in town, trouble looms.
The first half of Rozen Maiden - Traumend is presented on this disc from MVM.
After all this time as a recluse, fitting back into society isn't easy for Jun, and his seat at school still remains empty. This time it's because he's busy in the library, revising and trying to catch up with the education that he missed. At least Tomoe is keeping him up to date with the homework he hasn't done. But there is more to worry about at home, Shinku is out of sorts, isn't sleeping well, and that is beginning to affect everyone, although when Jun tries to coax some information out of her, she's tight lipped. Before they can get to the heart of the matter, a magical light appears in the basement, and Jun and Shinku are pulled into another realm, where they meet an obfuscating trickster rabbit. That's just a prelude to the real meeting, as the seventh Rozen Maiden has arrived, a doll named Bara-Suishou who completely outclasses Shinku. It can only mean one thing; the Alice Game has begun in earnest.
Shinku swears Jun to silence; she knows that if the other dolls learn of Bara-Suishou's arrival, it will throw them into panic. But Jun recognises something far too familiar in Shinku's desire to run from reality, and he tries to persuade her otherwise. When that doesn't work, he escapes to the library, hoping in vain that he will be able to find something on the seventh Rozen Maiden. Tomoe meets him, and takes him to a new shop that's opened in town. Enju is a doll emporium, filled with exquisitely crafted, hand made dolls, and its owner is eager to make a good first impression. But the owner isn't Enju; it's the doll maker toiling away in the back of the shop.
There's a visitor spying on the Sakurada household. The Rozen Maiden Kanaria is plotting and scheming and working out the best way to obtain all four Rosa Mystica currently in the house, but unfortunately for her, she's hampered by an innate clumsiness. She finally manages to sneak in when Jun and Nori leave for the day, but the other dolls have been watching their favourite Detective Kun-Kun series on television, and they are up for solving a good mystery, which is just what Kanaria's hidden presence represents.
Despite her shrill nature and obnoxious attitude, Suiseiseki has found much to like about the dolls' current living arrangement, and she isn't too keen on pursuing the Alice Game to its ultimate conclusion. Her sister Souseiseki is being realistic, and understands that they may have to turn on each other before the game is up, but Suiseiseki swears that she will protect her sister. For that she needs power, and for that she will need a master, and you would think that the logical choice would be Jun. However the two can't help getting on each other's nerves. It's when Bara-Suishou attacks again, drawing all of the Rozen Maidens into a theatre of nightmares, that Suiseiseki is faced with having to put her pride to one side.
5. Der Brief
Shinku and Jun tend to spend a lot of time together, which is all well and good given that they are master and servant. But Jun serves two masters now, and Suiseiseki wants some attention too. She decides to impress him by helping around the house, although her familiarity with cooking utensils and vacuum cleaners is non-existent, if not downright lethal. It's made worse by the good natured, but troublesome assistance of Hina-Ichigo. Soon the dolls have some apologising to do, and Hina-Ichigo has the idea of writing him a letter. It's such a good idea that Suiseiseki has to throw a few impediments in Hina-Ichigo's way.
Shinku still has nightmares, this time of a vengeful Suigintou's resurrection. But this is no dream, Suigintou really has returned from non-existence, and she's not going to make the same mistake twice. This time, her first act is to enter into a covenant with a servant, but Meg is no ordinary servant. She's a young hospital patient with a terminal disease, one who is tired of life, of just hanging on, and one who is looking for an angel to speed her on her way. Suigintou appears to be that angel, and even when Meg learns of the Alice Game and the covenant with the Rozen Maidens, she's more than willing to give Suigintou her strength if it will shorten her miserable life. Suigintou has never cared about people before, but she finds that she has a lot more in common with Meg than she could have thought possible. But the question arises, how could Suigintou have come back to life?
Rozen Maiden - Traumend just like the first season gets the, by now familiar treatment for anime. It's a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, with the usual NTSC-PAL standard conversion applied. For Traumend that means a pretty clear and colourful transition to the DVD format, with little of the ghosting or judder associated with such conversions. That said, the bright and shiny animation isn't one to invite such issues, and the more important observation is that despite this disc having a decent six episodes to it, none of them are particularly marred by compression artefacts or the like. Traumend is an expressive enough animation, although not that full of energy and is occasionally quite static. There is an odd dichotomy with the way that the dolls are depicted in exquisite detail, while the human characters are a lot more rough and ready, simplistically designed, and with bold outlines. It all works well enough for the show however.
You have a choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles or signs. The dialogue is clear, and the new opening theme from Ali Project is once again by equal parts catchy and annoying, but perfectly suits the show. I found the Japanese track to be acceptable but uninspiring, although compared to the English track it's a godsend. Yes, this is one of those English dubs that are best avoided, even by dub fans.
This is exactly what the doctor ordered. If the first season of Rozen Maiden was more focused on Jun Sakurada and his recovery from his reclusive nature, then the second season actually concentrates more on the dolls and the intricacies of the Alice Game, although it's not suddenly morphed into a doll combat tournament anime a la Angelic Layer. Rozen Maiden is still primarily a character piece, although this time, with Jun in the process of recovery, it's more a focus on the dolls' characters, and in introducing the remaining key players in the Alice Game. But just as last time, the episodes on this disc vary between expanding the overall story, and taking some time out for some domestic comic interludes, and as last time, it's just as enjoyable to watch.
The Alice Game is all about defeating the other dolls, taking their Rosa Mystica (something like the Quickening in Highlander), with the last one remaining becoming the one true Alice, and being able to meet Father, the one that created all the Rozen Maidens. But the problem is that as we begin the series, we've entered a state where no one actually is that keen on playing the game anymore. Shinku, Hina-Ichigo, and sisters Suiseiseki and Souseiseki are living in pleasant disharmony with Jun, and they find that such domesticity is by far preferable to actually trying to turn each other into junk. The only real problem among their ranks is the guilt that is keeping Shinku awake, as she's unable to come to terms with her defeat of Suigintou at the end of the previous series. It's a common thread that continues through this disc, and colours the tension between Shinku and the other dolls, as well as how she relates to Jun.
But the Alice Game is the central focus of Traumend, and with the four dolls not all that keen on fighting each other, there needs to be some external stimulus, which is when we learn that the Alice Game only really begins when all the Rozen Maiden dolls are awake and in proximity. At the end of the first episode, we meet the seventh, and youngest Rozen Maiden, Bara-Suishou, who is to that point more rumour than fact, and who turns out to be even more formidable than Suigintou was. The final piece of the puzzle, or so it seems, falls into place when Kanaria arrives, although she is more comic relief than foe, her faith in her own intelligence let down by her lack of skill and talent. The couple of episodes where she plays a major part are the comic relief episodes, where she tries to sneak into the house to deal with the other four dolls, only to be tripped up by her own shortcomings.
But the surprise of the volume is the return of Suigintou, who we saw perish in a blaze of magical flame at the end of the first series. It's actually the most emotionally resonant of the episodes, as we see her encounter Meg, a terminally ill girl who has lost her will to live, and sees Suigintou as an angel that will take her beyond this world to the next. Meg was born ill, and has somehow survived far beyond the doctors' estimations, but she sees herself as incomplete, something that Suigintou can empathise with. It certainly makes Suigintou see people in a different light, and it leads to a very interesting reunion with Shinku, who is still nursing her guilt about Suigintou.
Of course that leaves the question of how it was that Suigintou returned. The obvious answer is that it was through the graces of he who created the Rozen Maidens in the first place, and the one who put the Alice Game in motion. With the introduction of Enju, the doll emporium, the mysterious doll maker working in the back, and the final revelation of just whose master Bara-Suishou actually is, the pieces of the story all begin to fall into place.
Rozen Maiden - Traumend is certainly very enjoyable, as it manages to combine light and fluffy, comic and trivial, along with emotional and dramatic themes. It can be silly one moment, then strikingly moving the next. This second series builds firmly on what has come before, and it also delivers what that first series lacked. Traumend is even more charming and sweet, and it's well worth a few hours of your time to appreciate.