Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Rozen Maiden: Träumend
DVD 1 - Puppet Show
Shinku and her tea-sipping, sweets-loving brethren are back for another round of living-doll hijinks and Alice Game battling. They are joined by two newcomers, bungling schemer Kana and ruthless one-eyed ice queen Bara-Suishou, who along with the junked Suigintou and Shinku's cozy foursome comprise all seven of the Rozen Maiden dolls ever created. With their appearance the Alice Game begins in earnest, and the prospect of destroying still more of her sisters leaves Shinku—still haunted by the brutal demise of Suigintou—incapable of battle. Suiseiseki, convinced of the need to protect her comrades from Bara-Suishou's powerful magic, seeks to complement Shinku's powers with her own by completing a contract with a human, and naturally poor Jun is convenient. Jun himself is studying hard in preparation for the continuation of his long-abandoned school life, an important step in his re-entry into human society—so long as the hyperactive troublemaking dolls in his care don't wear him to a stub first.
The beginning of the second series in this franchise casts back to the opening episodes of the first season when the series still deserved the “entertainment” in "high-gloss, low-depth entertainment," before it succumbed to ambitions of drama that submerged what charm it had.
There isn't anything wrong with dramatic ambitions of course, but you need strong qualities (character, truth, conviction, focus—anything really, so long as it's strong enough) to succeed at those ambitions, and outside of its technical prowess Rozen Maiden simply hasn't any strong qualities. That remains unchanged. There isn't a thing—a conversation, event, or character—in the show that wasn't borrowed from the vast stores of stock anime elements. New season? Cue the new villain who is stronger than everyone combined and cook up an excuse to keep your trump card (Shinku) out of the fray until the last moment. The resulting predictability bores rather than reassures (the way the similarly predictable UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie does). Character growth is substituted by the showcasing of shallow quirks (everyone has their own speech affectation, awesome!), and the new additions do nothing to add to the tenuous charm of the existing character interactions.
Luckily this second season has yet to dwell at length on tedious dramatics. The resolution of Jun's social maladies eliminates most of the original's oppressive preachiness (and raises his likability meter a degree or two), and sequences like Shinku's apathy-inspiring moral agonizing are inter-cut with other things better suited to the series' depth and strength (or lack thereof). Like humor. Though repetitive, and sometimes irritatingly so, the series' silly-antics-centered humor divides up the bits that drag. It even manages to coax out a smile here and there—most often at Shinku's amusingly uncharacteristic love of Detective Kun-kun and his really lame puppet show. The occasional doll skirmishes serve a similar purpose, piling on the eye-candy with spectacular displays of magic and surprisingly fluid animation until one almost forgets how inconclusive and ultimately pointless they are. And even when plodding along dreary, well-trod narrative paths, the series' slick gothic style provides plenty for the eyes to feed on: more elaborate dream worlds, dolls whose eerie porcelain beauty is appropriately doll-like, and loli-goth outfits with frills and folds lovingly animated. Even the score has a nice gothic quality when it isn't wasting composer Shinkichi Mitsumune's talents on fluff compositions.
Träumend's dub isn't strong enough to be a dub/sub cross-over phenomenon: its faithfulness to the subtitle script keeps it from being as smooth and natural as it could and the acting has occasional glitches. Nevertheless the cast is thoroughly professional, there are no glaring mistakes in the casting choices, and the potential for good performances is there, enough so that the cast sometimes feels wasted on the material (particularly Mela Lee as Shinku). Unfortunately Träumend is one of several series whose future is as uncertain as that of their licensor Geneon, making it—and its quality dub—something of a risky investment.
Whether Träumend will drown while attempting to navigate the waters of high drama in its creaky ship of clichés the way its predecessor did remains to be seen; in the meantime its lighter moments and stylish visuals, along with its improved lead character, are bailing water just fast enough to keep it afloat. So long as its uncritical acceptance of human/doll romance doesn't sink things for you, that is.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Jun isn't a total bastard anymore; not as preachy; still beautiful to behold.
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