Well, this is a moment we definitely knew was coming sooner or later. There was always going to be a point where the dolls would take center stage, Jun and the cast of the Unwound World would fade into the background (quite literally, as it happens) and the story of Zurückspulen would come to much more closely resemble that of its anime predecessors. It also represented by far the most conventional episode of the series so far in the broad as well as the franchise-specific sense, so overall there was a pretty strong sense of tectonic shift in watching this episode.
All in all, I think Hatakeyama and Mochizuki handled the transition about as well as they could. In truth I would say this was my least favorite episode since the first, but I’ll concede that’s largely a matter of personal preference. I much prefer the moody, meditative character study of the last 7 episodes to this more action-driven style, and Suiseiseki (Kuwatani Natsuko) is possibly my least favorite among the dolls to boot – she embodies the preciousness that sometimes put me off the earlier Rozen Maiden adaptations better than any of the others. In truth I much prefer her twin sister Souseiseki, though she also seems to have made an appearance this week (which I’ll get to in a minute).
Fortunately – for me and viewers of similar taste at least – my gut tells me that this episode represents a high-water mark for this style of Rozen Maiden. The series had been so profoundly shifted in the opposite stylistic direction that I think it would have been impossible to move back to the center and stop – it was inevitable that in transitioning the first episode would whipsaw the way it did, and perhaps even intentionally done for effect. With the settings re-adjusted, I suspect the final four episodes will be more of a true hybrid of the two styles. I don’t think Unwound Jun’s storyline will be shafted in favor of an all-out battle of the dolls, and I expect the deconstruction of his character to be a major focus of those episodes.
While the intervening episodes between the recap-styled premiere and this week have been elegantly simple and practically Bergmanesque in their interior focus, they’ve slyly set up what amounts to quite a large plot. Kirakishou’s vines seem a nice metaphor here, as there are thorny plot threads tangled everywhere. We have Jun’s personal journey and his growing mutual feelings with Saitou. We have chibi Jun stuck in his derelict PC N-field universe with only Kanaria and Mitsu’s emails for company, trying to think his way out of his cosmic prison. The twin “fictions” of “A Doll in the Palm of My Hand” and “Practica Dolls” continue to cast their shadows on “real” events, suggesting that everyone is part of a larger passion play – and hanging over everything is the spectre of the Alice Game and LaPlace, out of sight but never totally out of mind.
As things stand, it seems as if little Jun and Kanaria may be on the verge of escape – ironically, perhaps an unintended consequence of Kirakishou having successfully tricked big Jun into building her a body. Shinku describes the overlap of the Wound and Unwound Worlds as akin to that of a minute and hour hand on a clock, and indeed the prop clock on stage at “Practica Dolls” begins moving on its own as the two worlds collide, and stops – along with the time of all the humans except Jun. Kirakishou at last reveals her true motive – she wants to be able to use the bodies of the other dolls at will, seemingly, and is using the souls of humans who’ve been Masters of Rozen Maidens as her “seed bed” to draw the energy she needs to continue to exist. Indeed, she seems able to do so with Jun as well, despite the absence of a contract between them. This is enough to draw Sugintou and Shinku into a formal if temporary alliance despite their mutual distrust (Sugintou’s snark towards her sisters is probably my favorite part of the episode) and Shinku’s hesitation in attacking Kirakishou’s body, which she believes to be Hina Ichigo’s.
Suiseiseki’s arrival is the wild card, the game-changer of the episode. She reveals that the body is in fact Souseiseki’s (absent proof to the contrary I’ll conditionally believe her for the moment) and refuses to allow Shinku and Sugintou to attack. If there’s a regret with Zurückspulen for me it’s that Souseiseki hasn’t appeared since the opener – she was always my favorite among the sisters, and it’d be a shame if her only role in this series is to be Kirakishou’s shell. What I sincerely hope is that the rest of the series is not simply a grand battle among the dolls, but an opportunity for Unwound Jun to have real closure – he’s been the main character and he can’t stand passively by as the dolls (or even his pubescent self) do his fighting for him. Happily I have full confidence that opportunity will come, based on the faith I have in the source material, director and writer after seeing how outstanding this series has been up to now. It’s also going to be a treat to see the two Juns interact at last, and it appears as if that may happen very soon, maybe even next week. In lesser hands an episode like this one would have me quite worried, but as it stands I view it as an entertaining table-setter for what’s to come.