Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 25th 2013
Rozen Maiden – Zurückspulen
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Middle school shut-in Jun receives a letter from a creepy rabbit-demon-thing. On the letter are two simple choices: Wind. Do not wind. Jun circles wind. An eerily realistic doll is delivered to his house, and as per the letter, Jun winds it. Which is how he ends up partnered with Shinku, a tea-loving Rozen Maiden embroiled in an existential conflict known as the Alice Games. When, in the ensuing turmoil, things go very badly for Jun and Shinku's benevolent Rozen sisters, Jun makes a desperate gambit and breaches the barrier between realities and contacts… himself. In another reality Jun has circled “Do not wind.” This Jun has overcome his shut-in status and moved out to attend college, but he's also isolated and directionless, adrift in a post-high-school world that he can't seem to find a place in. That starts slowly to change when he begins receiving mysterious instructions in the mail. Instructions on how to build a doll named Shinku.
Based off of manga duo Peach-Pit's sequel to/reboot of their earlier Rozen Maiden manga, Rewind has the feel of a series that has learned from its predecessor's mistakes. Its magical mumbo-jumbo has teeth, its streak of life-drama actually works, and best of all it finds a way to eighty-six bratty teen Jun in favor of a more damaged, more reserved, and infinitely more sympathetic adult version. The result is still riddled with problems, but it's also eerie and intriguingly melancholy. Not to mention gorgeous. And this time, there's no reason to feel guilty for surrendering to its beauty.
Rewind is essentially two different and really only tangentially related series. One is a convoluted supernatural mystery, built around Shinku, teen Jun, the Rozen Maidens, and the hidden happenings of the Alice Games. The other is a quietly affecting drama about a young man's struggle to open up and find his way in life. Of the two, the magical mystery definitely supplies the most problems. It's a big mess of portentous terminology and deliberately unexplained mystical parameters that is simultaneously overcomplicated and curiously uneventful.
It begins in a montage rush of events as the first episode rehashes the main Rozen Maiden story line. In short order the series gives us the basic outlines: There are seven Rozen Maidens, created by a shadowy master craftsman. The Maidens choose human partners, whose energy they use for magical attacks. The Maidens are engaged in the Alice Games, in which they fight to take each other's Rosa Mysticae, which are more or less their artificial souls. When one Maiden gathers all the Mysticae she will become the perfect maiden and/or be granted a wish of her choosing (it's not terribly clear what the prize is).
Shinku, with her “Master” Jun, wants to win the game without taking anyone's Rosa Mystica. Things seem to be going well enough, when her youngest sister, a Maiden with no physical body named Kirakishou, starts mucking things up. She “eats” Shinku's sweetly innocent ally Hinaichigo and starts kidnapping the other Maidens' Masters. She corners Jun and Shinku and thus they are forced to contact College Jun in another dimension.
Now, none of this makes a lick of sense. There's no possible reason why College Jun creating a temporary Shinku in a branch universe would help the real Shinku and her Jun in their universe. Furthermore, all Shinku does in College Jun's universe is drink tea and ominously count down the days to her own extinction. For her part Kirakishou has no discernible motive for her kidnapping spree, in addition to which she has no body (yet can summon rose vines) and apparently lives inside of mirrors. Or perhaps in the N-Field. It's unclear. As is basically everything else. The prize for the games is vague; the Maidens' origins are unexplained; and whenever huge ruptures in reality need to happen/be explained away, the series brings up the ill-defined N-Field and its rabbit-headed butler-demon overlord.
Total nonsense. But unlike previous Rozen Maiden incarnations, there's a feeling that maybe, if we get just a stitch more info, it'll all start to make some kind of dream-world, nightmare-anti-logic sense. And also unlike previous incarnations, there's a real, black menace underlying all the magical gobbledygook. Kirakishou, with her smiling dearth of empathy, is genuinely unsettling; made all the more so by her undefined physical presence. What she does to poor Hinaichigo is authentically upsetting, and her habit of lurking behind mirrors is just plain creepy. Laplace no Ma, the rabbit demon, also adds to the creep factor, as well as to the pervasive air of supernatural dislocation that somehow makes the show's conceits seem less ridiculous than they objectively are.
The second of Rewind's internal tales begins when the first episode ends and the series literally rewinds. Specifically, to the moment Jun receives his Wind-Don't-Wind letter. From there we follow the Jun who didn't wind. He's living a rudderless life of part-time work and halfhearted college classes, his only real human contact being with cute coworker Saito and his total dick of a boss. It's at work—he works at a bookstore—that he notices and decides to subscribe to a magazine called “How to Make Girls.” Every issue he gets parts, tools, and instructions for how to build Shinku. When he finally succeeds, he decides to try more new things: engaging with Saito; helping her amateur acting troupe with one of their productions.
It's that common, age-old tale: Man drifts through life in a grey hell of anomie; man finds magical book about doll-making; man makes magical doll; man begins feeling his way towards a more fulfilling existence. Okay, maybe not so common. But it is surprisingly relatable. The life it sketches for adult Jun—alone, floating through an uncaring urban world, just trying his best to avoid getting emotionally pummeled—is painfully plausible. Jun himself is a highly believable mixture of bruised pride, desperate loneliness, and downtrodden numbness. He's easy to identify with, and equally easy to cheer for when his halting relationship with the insanely (insanely) adorable Saito prompts him to take his first tentative steps outside of his self-constructed isolation.
Aside from the unnatural home deliveries, sinister magic, and living dolls, it's all pretty conventional. It's written with an unconventional keenness however, especially given the blunt blundering of the previous seasons' attempts at drama. The details of Jun's awful life are cuttingly observed, and the script can be downright shocking in its intelligence. The scene where Jun's terrible boss drops his dullard-villain exterior to cruelly dissect Jun's personality and then outline his own deeply amoral but undeniably logical recipe for happiness is the kind of bitterly smart, quietly sadistic betrayal of expectation that would normally have sprung from the pen of someone like Hideaki Anno. It's hard to believe that it, or any of College Jun's personal developments, came instead from the pen that wrote DearS.
Regardless of which track the series is following, it always looks thoroughly fabulous. Jun's everyday life is marked by a scrupulously real color palette and borderline photorealistic settings. Characters are drawn on the realistic side of the anime spectrum. Sound design is spare, built of incidental noises that merge into a sort of quiet symphony of urban alienation. All of which makes the gothic stain that seeps over from teen Jun's world feel disturbingly, excitingly alien. That seepage is usually handled by Shinkichi Mitsumune's score, which alternates between delicate beauty and subtle upwellings of dark doom. On its supernatural side, the series' look is dominated by the Rozen Maidens. With their meticulous loli-goth attire and exquisitely miniaturized features—dainty hands, tiny buckled feet, perfect, porcelain faces—they are the series' artistic highlight: detailed, lovely, spookily unnatural.
The overall effect, visually speaking, is one of restrained melancholy—far removed from the florid gothic action of the previous Rozen Maiden series. It is a perfect match, however, for this compellingly imperfect successor.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Does a wonderful job of evoking the loneliness and lack of direction of a certain kind of college living; eerily atmospheric and drop-dead gorgeous; sharply written at times.
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