In hindsight, the direction this series was going should have been fairly obvious, though I confess I didn’t see it coming. It certainly reveals the double-meaning of the “Rewind” title in a very clever way. This episode was the very antithesis of the first in pretty much every way – rather than a blisteringly-paced focus on the original timeline we got a thoughtful, somber reflection on a new old character and the black hole his life has become. If the premiere was the showcase of director Hatakeyama Mamoru, this episode belonged to writer Mochizuki Tomomi.
What we don’t have yet, of course, is an explanation of just why there are two of Sakurada Jun out there in different timelines – only that there are, and that the fork in the road was when that letter arrived and the boy chose to circle one option or the other. Given what that young boy was like when Shinku came into his life, it’s not hard to imagine that what we saw this week was how things might have gone if she hadn’t. As crazy and dangerous as his life became, it was the presence of the Rozen Maidens that jolted Jun from his hikikomori existence, one which could very easily have seen him as a college student with no friends and a depressing apartment, the subject of mockery from his boss and his fellow students for his lack of social graces.
I’m sure this episode wasn’t to everyone’s tastes. To say it’s not a typical Rozen Maiden ep in tone is an understatement – there aren’t even any Rozen Maidens in it, apart from scattered body parts and a few pictures. But this is the sort of material that Mochizuki-sensei simply owns – lots of silent, empty spaces in the narrative and inhabiting the mind of someone uncomfortable in their own skin. I thought it did a masterful job of painting the picture of an isolated, meaningless existence – a kind of slow death that’s probably all too common among members of Japan’s lost generation. The only people this Sakurada Jun seems to have any contact with are his scumbag bookstore manager (Sudou Shou) and his co-worker Saitou (an excellent Takamori Natsumi). She’s a timid girl working her way through theater school, and the only one who tries to get Jun to open up a little – mostly to no avail, although there are signs of a small breakthrough during a walk home from work.
Given all this it’s no surprise that Jun takes an interest in the strange “How to Make Girls!” book from an unknown publisher that shows up in the bookstore (I worked as a shipper/receiver at a bookstore, and I can verify that many weird things passed through that back room). Jun clearly knows something is wrong – there are echoes in the Rozen Maiden instruction manuals that strike a chord with him, and when he sees the “Wind/Not Wind” question on a page, something stirs in him. Even so it’s still a shock when he seems to receive an email from his middle-school self, telling him about the split in timelines and the Alice Game. The younger Jun seems just about to tell the older about the danger he’s in when his mails are suddenly cut off (quite chillingly portrayed by Hatakeyama and Sound Director… Mochizuki Tomomi).
It seems as if in its own way this was every bit as much of a setup episode as the premiere, albeit done in a completely different style. Now that the framework of both realities has been established the story can truly begin, and some of the mysteries be addressed. It seems as if both Juns are “real” at least in some sense, though just how the one found – never mind emailed – the other is one of those mysteries. It also remains to be seen whether the series will switch between the two realities and the perspectives of the two Juns, or focus on the elder and his quest to act on the warnings from his younger self. With the talent this show has behind the camera I’m expecting something quite dark, psychologically complex and challenging – perhaps a series that will sufficiently diverge from the original RM stylistic template to displease a sizeable portion of the fanbase. My expectations were quite high going in, and after this episode I’m more convinced than before that they’re likely to be met with something really interesting and atmospheric.