One word review time again , and this time around the word is “elegant”. You could even say minimalist and you wouldn’t be too far off in describing Rozen Maiden: Zurückspulen, but there are implications in that word that don’t really do justice to the work Peach-Pit, Mochizuki and Hatakeyama are doing here. When you get directors and writers who are really confident in what they’re doing, you often see shows where it’s very obvious that no one feels the need to try too hard – they’re content to let the work speak for itself, and that’s very true here.
One of the many striking things in the last three episodes of this RM adaptation is how willing it is to use silence as a dramatic device. There’s very little background music, for starters, clearly a conscious choice by the director. This allows the camera to linger on a face or a background detail and especially given the restrained amount of dialogue, forces the audience to really consider what it is they’re looking at. What is that character thinking? Why is that mirror shimmering? It reflects not only a confidence in the story being told, but in the audience’s ability to follow it. Mochizuki certainly displayed this aversion to hand-holding before (Zettai Shounen leaps to mind) and while Sankarea was more busy visually than this series, it likewise showcased Hatakeyama allowing the audience to digest what it was seeing and draw their own conclusions.
What all this restraint does is allow the rare moments that contradict it to really stand out. When there’s BGM we notice immediately. When we see the brief comic chibi sequences (like the one where Sakurada imagines Shinku taking him shopping) they stand out delightfully. The change in the way the Rozen Maiden themselves are being used this time around fits the style. The dolls are far less omnipresent this time and thus there’s a lot less vamping for the camera, and the doll who finally plays a significant role this week – Shinku, naturally enough – herself seems quite different from the Shinku we remember. This makes sense in practical terms because as she tells Jun, she’s not inhabiting her real body but a “lifeboat” as she terms it, an emergency measure taken by the “wound” Jun in sending her spirit to the “unwound” Jun. But there’s a sad, fatalistic look in this Shinku’s eyes and despite her spit and vinegar, a resigned tint to her behavior (watching her listlessly “tour” Jun’s bleak apartment was almost heartbreaking). She’s well aware that the situation isn’t good, and doesn’t seem optimistic that things are going to end well.
This Rozen Maiden plays less like the gothic fantasy the earlier incarnations were, and more like a tragedy – Rozen Maiden as re-imagined by Ingmar Bergman. In a sense RM has always been a character study (or perhaps a psychological deconstruction) of Sakurada but those elements have really come to the fore here, after often being overshadowed by the fetishizing of the dolls and the high drama of the earlier versions. The drama is surely coming but the series is paying its dues in setting it up. I’m not going to get as much out of the canon mythology plot as some, given how little of it I remember – but I’m fascinated by the question of whether either of these realities is more “real” than the other – or rather whether the unwound one is less real. Shinku makes it clear that by choosing not to wind this Jun has removed the Rozen Maiden from existence in this reality (I know, cause Boogle says so), but the notion that he could have so much power is clearly a baffling one for a young man who’s spent the last decade of his life trying as hard as possible to have no noticeable impact on the world around him.
So much of the series has been spend as an interior study of that Jun that it’s fascinating watching him interact with others. I continue to adore Saitou and their brief scenes together are always full of charm. Their meeting at the DIY center (with Shinku tucked into the backpack) was a simple yet wonderfully-written scene – one of the most believably awkward-flirty moments between shy young adults I’ve seen in ages. And it was striking to see Jun come alive when he began to discuss wardrobe options with Saitou – it was by far the most engaged we’ve seen him with another person. Shinku’s reaction was interesting too – an offhand comment that the middle-school Jun seemed “much more shy” (which he denies) and a casual reference to Saitou not just as his girlfriend but as “very charming”. This is the interesting element of seeing Jun as an adult interacting with Shinku – now the possibility of a romantic relationship and a life outside the home is a very real one, and she seems less threatened by it than I expected – at least so far.
Inevitably, the dolls are going to play a larger and larger role in the story going forward – Kirakishou already has Jun securely snared in her white vines – and Rozen Maiden: Zurückspulen is going to be more plot-driven, so it’s reasonable to worry that some of the graceful charm of the last three episodes might be lost in the process. I have a lot of faith in Mochizuki and Hatakeyama though, so I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t continue to be compelling. I definitely like Shinku better as she is now, with the volume turned down a few notches – she and her sisters have always been most effectively dramatically when the spotlight is on their role as tragic heroines in a play they didn’t chose to perform in. I can safely say that just as I expected, I’ve never been as engaged in a Rozen Maiden series as I am in Zurückspulen.