Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 11th 2009
Rozen Maiden Träumend
The magical living dolls of the Rozen Maiden collection are in for some nasty surprises as the elimination deathmatch known as the Alice Game draws nearer. Souseiseki has already jumped into the fray, but she is ill-equipped to face the dangers that await her. Then Hina Ichigo, who has been running on borrowed power, starts to notice her energy fading. With only Shinku, Suiseiseki and Kanaria still at full health, can they stand up to the destructive powers of Suigintou and Bara-suishou, who are intent on winning the Alice Game at all costs? A long and bitter fight awaits them, but the greatest blow will be dealt when the dollmaker Rozen himself appears...
As far as unsatisfying endings go, Rozen Maiden Träumend ranks somewhere on a level with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game that ended in a tie. Don't worry, this series doesn't actually run out of players—after all, one doll must remain standing—but having the decision reversed on a technicality, and then having the guy-in-charge laugh it off and disappear into the shadows, is a pretty lame way to end your epic magical deathmatch. Whatever happened to having the lead character take down the villain with a definite sense of closure and no loose ends? Oh wait, that's what happened in the first Rozen Maiden—and rather than rely on a tried and tested formula, this one tries to get all fancy with story complications and extra characters. The result, sadly, is inferior to its predecessor.
It's a shame, because the episodes leading up to the finale don't really show any signs of impending downfall. The only noticeable change is that the shift from comedy to fantasy-action-drama is all but complete, with Episode 9's backyard antics eventually giving way to Souseiseki's duel with Suigintou. The fight lives up to the expectations set by the series—dark, dramatic, and laden with magical effects—with the only irritation being a drawn-out denouement with a whole lot of Suiseiseki wailing. But if that one was a hard emotional hit, the next one is even more effective: it may seem silly to get all choked up over a doll, but anyone with even the tiniest slice of sympathy for Hina Ichigo will surely agonize over her fate in the beautifully executed 10th episode. Gently paced, and with nary a fight scene over the space of 25 minutes, this touching account of the bond between doll and owner is the perfect calm before the storm.
But the storm must arrive eventually, and so it does in Episode 11, which counterbalances the previous one by being almost pure battle. For those who like the fantasy-action aspect of the series, the last two episodes deliver the goods, especially when the dolls start getting eliminated and the survivors absorb their powers. (At the same time, comedy aficionados will still get a kick out of Kanaria bumbling around and trying to land a hit with her killer violin sonic waves. She almost succeeds.) This is escalation at its best—by the middle of the final episode, Shinku's throwing black feathers and Bara-suishou is wielding the watering can and anyone familiar with the characters will understand how awesome this must all sound.
Then comes the Really Stupid Ending: the dollmaker makes his shocking revelation, only to be shocked in return by a conveniently placed deus ex machina; the guy who was pulling the strings the whole time runs off cackling maniacally; and amidst all this, a couple of dolls still haven't been saved. Were they banking on producing a third series or something? This kind of loose-ended fudging—not to mention the complete lack of involvement on Jun's part (what does he do, just stand around yelling angrily for the last two episodes?)—completely wrecks the storyline.
Not surprisingly, this action-packed finale puts a lot of demand on the animators, and there are indeed a couple of bright spots—Shinku and Bara-suishou's final duel, the elaborate backgrounds and effects in the Rose Garden battle, and the slick transformation where a certain ominous shopkeeper reveals his true form. But far more noticeable is all the corner-cutting in the other episodes: lots of static dolls-floating-in-air shots, insipid dialogue scenes that obsessively avoid any character movement, and lower-level fight scenes (namely, Souseiseki's last stand) where the most complex motions end up being the sloppiest. This lack of techinque is somewhat offset by attractive character designs and a vivid color scheme, but come on, we've been looking at these pretty dolls since Episode 1, and if there was ever a time to step up the animation quality, it's right when everything gets serious. Sadly, it's a case of too little, too late.
The same might be said of the background music, which is content to recycle earlier material (even reaching back into the original series) until the last handful of battle scenes. The vaguely classical flavor of the soundtrack, coupled with the dark mood of the last few episodes, makes it a bit more listenable, but even tone-deaf ears will have noticed by now that it's the same few melodies over and over. At this point the opening and ending songs will probably have stopped being interesting as well, although the animation sequences during the credits are still pretty impressive to watch.
Careful listeners of both audio tracks may notice how well the English dub matches the vocal ranges of the original cast, right down to having Jun voiced by a female. Unfortunately, this also means having to put up with screamers in both languages: Suiseiseki going nuts in Episode 9, Hina Ichigo's ear-splitting outbursts, and whatever it is Kanaria is yelling. Rising above it all (or perhaps beneath it all, in terms of pitch) is Mela Lee's wonderfully refined performance as Shinku. The dub script also moves along smoothly, steering clear of any awkward phrasing while still managing to retain the meaning of the dialogue almost line-for-line.
Anyone who's followed the Rozen Maiden franchise this far has probably already forgiven the shaky story foundations—why is "Father" so intent on having his creations fight each other to the death? How exactly does the Rosa Mystica work in giving a doll life? Isn't it kind of convenient how there are tons of alternate dimensions so the dolls can avoid causing collateral damage in the real world?—but it will be much harder to forgive Träumend's inconclusive, slapdash finale. The trust between creator and audience, so carefully built over past episodes, is betrayed in this hollow victory where the villain wins, but then doesn't win, and the real villain was just toying with everyone. This is the kind of stuff that works great as a lead-in to the next story arc. It works horribly as an ending.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : C
Art : B+
Music : C
+ A couple of deeply emotional turning points lead up to a suitably epic final battle, fought by beautifully attired characters.
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