Rozen Maiden is a show that is a little bit hard to describe. The storyline follows seven imperfect animate dolls made by a genius doll maker hundred of years ago. All seven of them participate in the so called “Alice Game” which, bluntly, is a free for all death-match whose victor supposedly will become a perfect doll of the name of Alice. As a show Rozen Maiden though spends a lot of time on irrelevant things and has a very little stage (most of it happens in the space of a single house), its sheer originality and awesome sense of aesthetics makes it a show very well worthy of a watch, especially for an experienced viewer. Don’t pick it up if you are looking for action or for an unforgettable experience, but definitely check it out if you are getting bored with all of the cliches of anime world lately. Rozen Maiden wont stun you, but it will make you rise your eyebrow at least.
Dolls do not really “die”. They just go far away… Existence is all determined by ideas. The idea is that he is himself, a clear awareness of being here. Once he thinks that here is not where he belongs it is the same as not existing at all. He becomes a mere object.
Originally drawn as manga by Peach-Pit (DearS) and directed by Matsuo Kou (Kurenai) Rozen Maiden is a tale about pursuit of perfection. Ages ago a master artisan by the name of Rozen created seven dolls with so much passion and soul that they came alive. Unfortunately, his real dream, the creation of a doll which would encompass perfection, Alice, was never achieved. However, his strong feelings for his ideal turned him and the dolls he had created immortal, ultimately leading them to believe that attainment of Alice can only be achieved through one doll consuming the other six. Thus has started the Alice Game, a sacred ritual in the form of war between seven dolls only one step away from perfection. Since the dolls each held an unparalleled strength in their element, none of them could completely win and their struggle would have continued for eternity if not for the haphazard occurrences once the time-line of their war finally hit modern-day world.
Frankly, Rozen Maiden was completely different from what I was expecting, in a good way. It could have been Chobits influence, but once I’ve heard about dolls living with a hikikomori, I instantly visualized an ecchi harem type of show followed by low production values. Nothing could be further from truth, not only Rozen Maiden has outstanding production values, it doesn’t offer any fanservice whatsoever and treats its dolls like dolls (with some of their parts obviously mechanical) and not some sort of erotic fanservice machines. Rozen Maiden tells a relatively original and though not the best, but solid story full of soul and passion. At least the creators of this show know that pleasing fanboys is not a form of art and go with a show which actually has their genuine feelings stuffed in. This anime doesn’t offer most epic of stories, its characters, though multi-dimensional enough, don’t offer much novelty and the ideas of self-worth aren’t the deepest of philosophies I have observed in anime, Rozen Maiden is, still, one of the most solid shows I have ever seen. It doesn’t offer much, but the stuff it does offer is executed in a way which leaves little room for complaints. In other words, Rozen Maiden is an example of nearly flawless execution of a just above average matter.
It’s not the technicals which exceed in Rozen Maiden’s animation done by Nomad (Sola), it’s again, the director’s comprehension of what art is. Backgrounds rarely contain little details and most of the scenes take place in the main character’s house, so there is little variety in pictures. However, during the intervals action takes place in “dream world” backgrounds are really well done in the sense that they offer many surreal things befitting “dream” atmosphere. Furthermore the color palette is very well done, keeping its colors relatively vivid while never losing its gothic feel. Backgrounds aren’t necessary high-tech, but they look beautiful when it really counts.
Character designs, on the other hand, are simply lovely. Some of the best gothic dresses and cute faces in anime are befitting the dolls which are striving to achieve perfection. Each one of them has a completely ingenious design with clothes fitted masterfully to them. Their different dresses not only fit their different complexions, but their personalities as well. Heck, the attires of such quality makes you forget everything about the fact that men don’t play with dolls. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind decorating my room with dolls if they were done with such quality and style as characters in Rozen Maiden are.
The fluidity of animation doesn’t feel outstanding until the show finally hits its action scenes. Though this anime is certainly not action based, the few short action scenes it does offer are nothing short of beautiful. Though action rarely takes longer than one minute, that minute is full of vivid movements, beautiful choreography and pleasant little details, such as flower petals created through magic spells. Frame-rate is pretty consistent and it actually boosts up during important action scenes and drops down during slice of life moments or slapstick, a technique many other shows with action should not forget to use. In-betweens aren’t lacking either, though not always obvious, little things in the backgrounds move very well.
Finally, there are some scenes which are simply genuine works of art. For example the one which happens in the church during Traumend’s middle episodes. Wow, backgrounds, character designs, poses, marvelous soundtrack and sheer drama which encompasses that happening combines into one really fine form of aesthetic art. I could have watched that scene hundreds of times even without comprehension of the plot and it still would have thought it awesome. There are more scenes which successfully blend all the production values and plot together, but the one in church was by far the best one.
Rozen Maiden offers some of the best music out of any anime I haver ever seen. Featuring Kinjirareta Asobi, Seishoujo Ryouiki and Baragoku Otome for its three OPs all done by Ali Project. Not only the songstress fits her voice to the gothic lolita feeling of the show perfectly, the surreal imaginary which follows it is awesome. Unlike random character exhibition most anime take their OPs for, Rozen Maiden actually does art with its openings and I must confess I haven’t skipped any even once. And I’m pretty sure I have already watched Baragoku Otome OP for more than hundred of times, despite the respective OVA only having two episodes. I can’t believe they’ve managed to catch Sugintou’s character with something as OP so well… All EDs are calm, soothing songs, quite good for ending the show. On the other hand, they don’t hold a candle against the OPs so it gets kind of easy to skip them.
Anyway, the real quality of musical masterwork present in Rozen Maiden can only be noticed in its background music composed by Mitsumune Shinkichi (Furi Kuri, Zero no Tsukaima). It’s actually the second time I find out this guy fits music for the show I label musically genius, first being Furi Kuri. Anyway, music scene in Rozen Maiden is dominated by melancholic piano and strings. Every single piece is full of emotion and is fitted flawlessly to all of the scenes. Actually, I found myself more thrilled thinking about what kind of masterpiece will play next rather than what will happen with the plot. Not to imply that plot is bad, but music is simply awesome. I didn’t particularly like the comedic relief themes, but I don’t think I ever liked one in any show for that matter. Either way, I have the OSTs of all three installments of Rozen Maiden and recommend them to you as well. Music quality rarely gets better in media and those compositions, even when not awesomely fitted to the scenes, sound great. Frankly, I might have liked this show much less if not for the beautiful music work.
Voice scene of the show is also top-notch. I found Shinku’s voice Sawashiro Miyuki (Kurenai as Kurenai, Utawarerumono as Aruru), Sugintou’s voice Tanaka Rie (Gundam Seed as Lacus Clyne, Chobits as Chii) and Barasuishou’s voice Goto Saori (Sky Girls as Sonomiya Karen) to completely dominate the scene. Though Tanaka Rie comes out as awesome naturally, I must say that to my surprise she was actually outperformed by the other two. She didn’t use her weird articulation in this anime and went with a deep normal voice, so it’s not one of her most novel performances, but I was still dumbfounded as to how Goto Saori is so unknown despite having such an awesome voice. Frankly, her performance as Barasuishou might be one of the best mysterious/reserved character type performances I have ever heard. Sawashiro Miyuki also exhibits her talents and this show might be where she is at her finest, at least from the ones I have seen with her. Anyway, there are many awesome scenes where music and voices blend together, particularly Barasuishou’s deep voice and ambiguous script makes it sound like she’s reading prose along the music. Other performances are pretty good as well, but completely overshadowed by the leading trio. All in all, seiyuu work in this show is top-notch, as well, as everything else in sound department is.
I have mixed feelings with the setting of the show. Magical dolls, artisans of the past, dream worlds, weird creatures and the whole story about Alice Game is awesome. However, the show takes majority of its time, more than 80%, in one place, which is Sakurada Jun’s, the main character’s, house. I must say it really gets claustrophobic there when you realize that the plot wont be leaving house anytime soon, and that the only escapes from the four same walls are those dream worlds where the coolest action of the show takes place. It gets slightly better in Traumend because you will be observing more characters than just Jun in his house, but the majority of action still takes place there. I know it’s just a rant and that the show is just how it is, it wouldn’t make sense for action to take place outside the house much anyway, but it doesn’t change the fact that I got really tired of the same place over and over again.
Anyway, the plot itself is quite slow. First season is concentrated on Jun and curing him of his hikikomori ways. I must say that all of it was pretty interesting while the slight mentions of Alice Game and Shinku - Suigintou relationship made me interested in the plot even further. It’s not magic, but complex relationships and curing mental deficiencies is always fun. The problem which drags the original plot from good to simply above average is that it wastes its time far too much on playing “house” with Jun and the dolls. Yeah, it’s good for giving depth to the characters and developing Jun, but too much is too much, during the first season I was quite positive that none of the dolls with the exception of Suigintou were even interested in that Alice Game. I mean, they were bullying Jun or watching detectives on TV most of the time, together. It kind of killed the suspense and the idea of “friends fight against each other”, because they didn’t fight, and Suigintou was no friend. Luckily the show starts getting better near the end of the first season once the complex things around Suigintou’s and Shinku’s past are introduced. Pretty much from that part, to the end of Traumend it’s all fun and dramatic ride (except for some hiccups when they decide to play house together again). Actually, the plot might have been better if they had cut out some of the slice of life play from it. I mean, it’s all dramatic and interesting, but it’s sometimes hard to get into when mood swings from tear jerking melancholic drama to slapstick about dolls fighting over food.
Ending, however, is very well executed and shows off that the show had an idea behind and was created by a passionate person. It doesn’t strictly conclude everything and leaves many things for the viewer to ponder about himself, but it does end it, and I find a sequel being unlikely. I should also mention the awesome prequel OVA Ouverture, which is one of the best OVAs released for a show which has had already ended in a conclusive manner. Rather than fasnervice I expected, I was treated to one of most dramatic and meaningful flashbacks relating to Suigintou’s and Shinku’s first meeting there. Actually, had this OVA been released straight after the first season, the second one would have had much more of dramatic flavor than it originally had, but, oh well. Since Ouverture doesn’t have “house” games in it, it’s probably my best experience of Rozen Maiden, don’t forget to watch it.
Rozen Maiden doesn’t spurt out many characters, but the ones it does, it does with style. All seven dolls have completely expressed, full-fledged personalities. While some of them appear to be based on more common archetypes, Shinku on aristocratic tsundere and Souseiseki on cool, reasonable type, they offer enough depth and personal background to dispel all the accusations of being stereotypical. Also, it’s most likely the dolls had some common traits with stereotypes on purpose, since, hey, they are dolls, right? Dolls were created to mimic human beings, so it’s only natural they should resemble their personality traits. Anyway, I kind of liked that the show never tries to hit any moe factors with its doll characters and even demonstrates that they have mechanical joints and no breasts, thus killing stupid illusions and making you believe you are actually observing dolls and not human beings. Personally I found Shinku, Suigintou, Barasuishou and Suiseiseki to my liking, both in depth and simple personality appeal.
Suiseiseki, for example, repeats word desu after every single sentence she says. This manner of speech is usually used by cute and withdrawn characters who are unable to communicate well and are always in fear to insult others. Yet Suiseiseki is tsundere breed who actually murmurs stuff like “lick my heels humans ~desu” while sleeping. I must say the complete misuse and overuse of that desu made her into a really refreshing character. You could say it’s a moe factor as well, but I believe it’s there to show how her human characteristics and doll appeal contrast each other.
Human characters are pretty good as well, especially the main character who has some really realistic troubles. Though he is not the best of leads I have ever seen, he was pretty good, and a nice change of pace when compared to the blind stereotypes in other shows. He is less mature than you’d want him to be, but he has his moments and I found myself interested in his struggles to overcome his self-worth problems. Self-worth is a leading theme in this show and pretty much every single characters, especially the dolls evaluate themselves in one way or another, but are never satisfied with themselves because none them can be the perfect Alice their Father wanted them to be.
All in all, characters are pretty good, and after Suigintou’s backstory none of the holes in the show remains. Then again, the fact that the characters were so obviously dolls and not humans might have been the double edged sword, because even though I did like quite a few characters and wouldn’t mind having their replicas on my desk, I never found myself caring for them as much as I did for, well, many other characters. It could have been that I myself have been simply slightly out of tune with them, but even though I agree that technically all dolls are fleshed out very well and I did like them, I didn’t love them.
Conclusion: Recommended for anyone who is of 13 years old or older Rozen Maiden is not the best show there is. However, it’s amazing music and relative originality makes it a show worthy of seeing. I kind of picture people who have seen their lot of anime will enjoy this slow, solid show better than the… err, newbies will. So if you are new to anime world - I recommend watching fast and simple shows first, and once you are already tired from generic things - go for Rozen Maiden for some fresh air. If I had to name an anime which I had found similar to Rozen Maiden I’d name two, both of which are considerably different, but have a similar fairy tale like atmosphere. So if you want something similar go for - Cossette no Shozo or Princess Tutu.