Watching this episode, I kind of felt like David Bowman in the Stargate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey…
OP: “Watashi no Bara wo Kuuminasai (私の薔薇を喰みなさい)” by ALI PROJECT
It’s been a long time since I’ve watched any Rozen Maiden anime – even longer since the events of this episode were covered – and I’ve never read any of the Peach-Pit manga on which it’s based. To top that off I was never a huge fan of the series to being with, but more of a casual viewer, which means relatively little detail has stayed with me. So an episode like this, which seems to condense pretty much all of the first season (though I don’t think there’s much of Traumend, the second full season) into 22 minutes, was bewilderingly fast to say the least. I’m not going to bother even trying to recap the plot – if they couldn’t successfully do it in an anime episode I sure as hell can’t in a couple of paragraphs. Hopefully you know the material better than me, and there are resources to check out if you don’t.
Setting aside the question of whether or not this was a good way to start is difficult, because without knowing where this season is going it’s hard to know what this premiere needed to accomplish. The translation of the German title is “Rewind” which is vague enough to allow any possibility, pretty much, and the re-design and re-casting of MC Sakurada Jun certainly implies this will be something of a sequel to the first series at the very least. Being as it’s written by the legendary writer/director Mochizuki Tomomi, I have pretty high expectations for the new material I assume will begin next week.
If anything should have been clear from watching last Spring’s underrated Sankarea, it’s that Deen is capable of producing a great-looking anime and director Hatakeyama Mamoru (or Omata Shinichi – I have no idea why he’s alternatively listed under both names) is capable of producing an anime of great style. Sankarea had issues – mostly connected to the one-cour length – but Hatakeyama-sensei did a masterful job with visuals and atmosphere. He’s a SHAFT veteran and seems to embody the best elements of the SHAFT style without the excesses, and he’s the other half of the reason why I singled out this show as one to watch this season based mostly on staff. And with Mochizuki-sensei’s hands more or less tied in the premiere, it’s Hatakeyama’s work that stands out.
While I never considered it a great series, there’s no question that Rozen Maiden is an important one. In terms of look and theme it’s one of the more copied franchises of the 2000’s, a trend-setter in the realms of goth and moe which flowered into great prominence in anime in Rozen Maiden’s wake. Those earlier series were made by Nomad and this one by DEEN, but it retains much of the same look in terms of the character designs and backgrounds. In these hands though, I don’t think the franchise has ever looked better – Hatakeyama excels at the juxtaposition of beauty and disturbing imagery, and as such I think he’s a perfect fit for this series. At it’s best Rozen Maiden is a story that’s both cute and creepy, closer to a horror series than the visuals would have you believe. There’s a reason it’s been copied as much as it has.
On balance, there’s a pretty big gap between how this episode worked on its own terms and what I think it says about the show’s prospects. I don’t like starting series with recap episodes, especially as this could be a one-cour show (length has not been announced), but I assume it was deemed necessary given the length of the hiatus. Simply put this was too likely fast to be satisfying to veterans or coherent to newbies, but I think it showed off that Zurückspulen is going to be a beautiful and stylish series, and I have full confidence that Mochizuki will deliver the goods story-wise. All the characters of import are back, centering on lead Rozen Maiden doll Shinku (Sawashiro Miyuki) and hikikomori Sakurada Jun (originally and in this episode a 13 year-old played by Sanada Asami, seemingly starting next week a young adult played by Ohsaka Ryouta). None of the Dolls’ places in the character hierarchy seem to have changed, really – among them my favorite is the tragic tomboy Souseiseki (Morinaga “Mako-chan” Rika). In a sense it really seems as if the series actually starts next week, and I suspect I’ll have a much better handle on what to expect after that episode – but despite the awkward opener, my high expectations are undiminished.
ED: “Alternative” by Annabel