Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 29th 2008
Rozen Maiden Träumend
Life hasn't been the same for Jun Sakurada ever since a collection of walking, talking dolls moved into his household. Inquisitive Hina Ichigo goes on an outdoor adventure to mail a letter to Jun, while Suiseiseki makes all sorts of mischief trying to stop her, and Shinku seems to have gone into lazy mode watching Detective Kun-kun day after day. Even worse, another doll is trying to break her way in—the arrogant, violin-wielding Kanaria! Meanwhile, something's not right with Souseiseki, who has a vision of the great dollmaker Rozen and becomes convinced that she must defeat the other dolls in the Alice Game to appease her creator. Could these be the machinations of Barasuishou, a mysterious new doll owned by the local craftsman? And what of black-winged angel Suigintou, who has re-emerged from the junkpile with a new master?
As Rozen Maiden: Träumend reaches its midpoint, the series takes on a difficult balancing act: keeping the comedy hijinks afloat while bringing in more serious plot elements. It's still too early to give away the whole game, but at the same time, there's got to be enough intrigue to keep viewers hooked, and all this has to be woven in with the usual wacky-dolls-making-a-mess-of-the-Sakurada-household antics that give the show its charm. Can it be done? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. For every stretch of quality entertainment, there are also periods of tedious plot-churning as various elements of battle move into place. At least the pretty colors and designs make the tedium worth sitting through ...
Fortunately, the first episode on this disc is anything but tedium. Much like Episode 5 in the original series, "The Letter" is pure comedic energy, although the use of that energy varies from predictable (Hina Ichigo and Suiseiseki go nuts in the kitchen) to brilliantly hilarious (the bathroom door gag). Although not perfect, it's still an above-average effort by comedy standards, and provides one last dose of levity before the series digs into the serious stuff in Episode 6. By sectioning off the humor from the darker plot elements, the change of mood works out smoothly, and also gives the next episode plenty of room for a haunting fantasy-supernatural sequence about Suigintou's rebirth. Unfortunately, the one-dimensional conversations between Suigintou and her sickly, near-suicidal owner aren't quite as effective and drag down the pacing of this episode.
The subsequent Episode 7 features perhaps the most forceful attempt at bringing comedy and drama together: Kanaria finally goes on full offensive and tries to bring the Sakurada house down, except her attacks are so over-the-top (a killer violin? Really?) that it's obviously not meant to be taken seriously. The battle is still fun to watch, but when Shinku defuses the whole situation with "well, let's just hang out and have cookies" it takes off the dramatic edge. To find where the real drama is happening, one will have to closely observe Barasuishou and the mysterious dollmaker, but the last episode on the disc still leaves too many things hanging. This kind of unresolved foreshadowing closes Volume 2 on a rather unsatisfying note, with the only concrete plot developments being (a) Souseiseki decides to become mean to everyone, and (b) on a lighter note, we learn that Kanaria's doll-obsessed owner is a complete nutcase.
Just as the storyline tries to balance light and dark, so must the visuals capture the show's divergent moods. The character designs and artwork are certainly up to the task, jumping from the extremes of super-deformed comedy style to the grim, special effects-laden atmosphere of Suigintou's visit to the otherworld. A wide-ranging color palette and clean linework also help to keep the level of technical polish consistent, and of course, the visually appealing goth-loli dresses speak for themselves. However, various shortcomings are also apparent, including a lack of creativity in the background designs and various animation shortcuts (most often taken during comedy sequences and filler conversations). So blame the dull, plot-churning scenes on animators who apparently wish to share the boredom by having, say, Souseiseki stand in place and spout ominous yet monotone lines of dialogue.
And that's clearly one aspect of the series that fails to rise above average—dialogue, music, and other aspects of audio. The only wit to be found in the writing is a number of predictable yet untranslatable puns; meanwhile, all the belabored hand-wringing about the Alice Game just goes to show how embarrassing it sounds when someone has to explain a complex fantasy-supernatural universe. On the other hand, the long stretches of soprano yelling and bickering during the comedy bits aren't that much fun to listen to either, either in Japanese or English. Shinku's ultra-refined tone and Suigintou's world-weary attitude are the only saving graces of the English language track, along with a reasonably faithful translation. It's harder to find positives about the background music, though, which recycles most of the original series' score in all its repetitive, melodically forgettable glory. The only soundtrack elements that really work are the gloomy mood pieces, as well the gothic stylings of the opening song (and even that is hampered by Ali Project's iffy songwriting skills).
Rozen Maiden: Träumend's transition from oddball comedy to supernatural drama is not a seamless one. In trying to reveal the plot elements needed for the dramatic finale, but not actually getting there, this middle set of episodes can sometimes feel vague and directionless. The shift into serious mode also becomes its own worst enemy when it leads to to cheesy, melodramatic stretches of dialogue and ridiculously arcane discussions about the Alice Game. But with the right focus, the series can also offer some wonderfully entertaining moments, from the antics of Hina Ichigo and Suiseiseki's unending rivalry to the explorations of Suigintou's grim, tortured soul. And for those who are simply here for the enjoyment of gorgeously designed dolls garbed in the finest Victorian couture—well, that one episode with the crazy doll collector is not to be missed.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : C
+ Manages to balance off-the-wall comedy with chilling drama, along with the usual elegant designs and artistic polish.
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