Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
DVD 3 - War of the Rose
With Souseiseki trapped in her master's dream by Suigintou, it's up to her twin sister Suiseiseki to saver her. With the help of Jun and the gang, of course. Afterwards Suigintou challenges Shinku to one-on-one combat, and the reserved doll accepts, leaving without telling anyone. Which, quite naturally, was a big, stupid mistake. Suigintou immediately imprisons Jun within his own nightmares, and sets about systematically destroying Shinku as soon as she's separated from her power source, leaving Shinku no choice but to marshal her resources and set off to save her shrimpy, crabby and inconsiderate prince from the vile influence of his own subconscious.
One thing you can say about Rozen Maiden, it isn't nearly as awful as manga duo Peach-Pit's own DearS—and it's pretty good for a show about battling dolls starring a complete a-hole. Which is exactly as high of praise as it sounds. As the series ties up its first season, it strikes out straight for high-drama territory, but simply doesn't have the strength to make it all the way there. At least it tries, though.
That the series has ambitions of being an affecting drama wouldn't be such a problem if the dark, draggy drama bits didn't effectively destroy any chance the series had of being light escapist fun. Though, given the poor pacing and deployment of the ineffectual "warm, funny character-building" sequences, perhaps that was never an option. The requisite friendly get-together before the you-know-what hits the fan comes across as stilted and crass, and the "amusing" hijinks are so annoying that you want lock the noisy little buggers in their boxes yourself, and perhaps toss them into a stream just so that they can be someone else's problem. A few of the lighter episodes from earlier showed some promise (the Kun-kun material was mildly diverting); here, though, any such lightheartedness is buried deep under a heavy load of ponderous moralizing and dramatic developments that are so overused that the plot resembles a pastiche or a parody more than a proper drama. To inflame the problem, the climax revolves entirely around Suigintou, whose defeat cannot come soon enough, not because she is menacing, vile or evil, but because she is so hideously annoying.
Jun is actually meant to be a grade-A dick, so he doesn't come across quite so badly as he might otherwise have. His attempts to overcome his social problems are obviously intended to be the heart of the series, and they do provide some much-needed depth. Unfortunately, the blatant nature of his progress in this volume leaves a bad, preachy taste in the mouth, and the insignificance of his issues with the world leave you wanting to smack a little perspective into him. So instead the emotional core of the climax is left in the hands of the usually imperturbable Shinku, whose moments of vulnerability are surprisingly affecting. Even these moments, however, are dampened (or depending on your taste, sharpened) by their romantic tone. In the clutches of Peach-Pit, the idea of romance between a human and a doll, which in more skilled hands could explore some very unsettling ideas about relationships, is simply vaguely creepy and completely lacking in moral context or psychological complexity.
The artistic focus of the series is, of course, the dolls. From their intricate gothic lolita attire to their delicate porcelain faces, they show all the earmarks of an unequally distributed art budget. With the exception of the highly annoying Hina, the dolls forgo cuteness in favor of the eerily perfect good looks of real dolls. The humans show much less care, though they do change their clothes more often. Jun is the spitting image of every bespectacled loser to snag the lead in a shounen romance. His sister, on the other hand, has a certain visual charm—most likely due to her frazzled appearance—yet another reason why she should have been the main character. Backgrounds are a step above normal, especially the various twisted dreamscapes. Movement doesn't play a very large role in most scenes, allowing the animators to focus on small details (facial expressions and insert shots) and the fight sequences. Climaxes mean fights, and Rozen Maiden's are surprisingly smooth and adrenalizing. Vines twist around, trees spontaneously sprout, feather-dragons rampage, and flower petals float, slice and shield. It's not exactly a top-drawer action series, but the displays of power are swift, lucid, and sometimes shockingly violent.
The Ali Project's opener is in their unique, and virtually indescribable, style and will be familiar to anyone acquainted with their work on projects like Avenger. Shinkichi Mitsumune's background music for the show is best when building an eerie atmosphere and rather annoying when delving into comic support. Quiet, emotional tunes also come across well, while the action music is sometimes good and sometimes too loud and intrusive. The ending theme is a quieter and more pedestrian tune than the opening.
Bang Zoom!'s dub for this series hits most of the right marks for an adaptation. Its script is tight and accurate; its cast is professional and accomplished; its performances are solid and faithful to the original without being slavishly so. Jun is a little too soft and weak (though it does ultimately make him more sympathetic), but Shinku is simply great, completing her flashy emoting scenes with every ounce of impact intact.
Extras are scant this volume with a small collection of TV commercials and a four-minute promo video checking in as the disc's only extras.
The series' attempts at serious drama are derailed by too many hackneyed sequences, paper-thin characterizations, and crude morals, while its value as light entertainment is similarly destroyed by its attempts at serious drama. Its periodic successes on both fronts, when weighed against its failures generally balance out, leaving the end result neutral—a way to pass some time without too acute a pain in the brain. Though it is hard to shake the feeling that the show is primarily intended as creepy wish-fulfillment for otaku whose relationships with their anime figurines are tad too intense.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Easy on the eyes; periodically affecting; good doll-fightin' action.
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