That I consider Rozen Maiden Zurückspulen an outstanding anime is certainly no secret by now. But it’s such an odd thing to follow the reactions – or rather, lack of them – to this series with a very established fan base. Mind you that fan base is a part of the problem for Zurückspulen, no question, as it’s defied a lot of expectations. But I don’t think think there have been many shows this good which have been so ignored. I’ve loved plenty of shows that have received a lot of hate, but with this one it hasn’t been so much negativity as complete indifference. There were some disgruntled comments near the beginning from fans of the anime who didn’t like the change in tone, but mostly each episode goes out into the ether, and elicits almost no reaction whatsoever. It’s almost as if the series doesn’t even exist. I was happy to see that Zurückspulen had a better than expected second week for Blu-ray sales and at least managed to break into the 2000s, but for a series with this much of a track record that’s still a disappointment.
As the dolls have moved into focus over the last few episodes, the series has held together much better than I feared it might. As I’ve stated earlier one of the things Zurückspulen has done has given me a new respect for the manga, as this is apparently the most faithful adaptation to date and I’ve never found the dolls to be as interesting and relatable as they are in this version. Souseiseki is the least changed from earlier anime versions, which is unsurprising as she’s always been the most grounded and least precious of the sisters. Shinku is a far more humble and contemplative figure here than ever. But the likes of Sungintou and Kanaria are leagues above their earlier versions in terms of interest – the former having been used mostly as a cartoon villain and the latter as a comic buffoon before (I admit, I still can’t stand Suiseiseki).
In a way, though, the most surprising figure to emerge from this episode is Kirakishou. She is the villain here of course (someone has to be), but she’s also a tragic figure. It seems as if Kirakishou has been abandoned by pretty much everyone right down to her creator, and under the circumstances – a disembodied intellect marooned between universes, forgotten and alone – it’s hardly surprising that she’d go insane lash out at the world around her. Even right down to the end there’s an almost total lack of empathy for her among the other sisters, even the more usually compassionate ones. Being abandoned by Jun too was the final death knell for Kirakishou, it seems, and if indeed what we saw (and heard) was her death knell, it was a memorable and surprisingly poignant one. It’s not easy to watch someone so desolate and miserable die alone and in agony, no matter what they’ve done.
What all this amounts to, plot-wise, is getting the giant prop clock started and getting everyone back to their proper world. Shinku seems to realize that doing so will mean the end of her time in the body Big Jun built for her, but she says nothing. The dynamic between these two has always been interesting, and continues to be – Jun certainly notices Shinku’s smile when Little Jun is mentioned (and Suiseiseki adds insult to injury when she makes it very clear that only Little Jun will ever be her master, thank you very much – and given a choice, one suspects she’d like him to be more).
It seems increasingly clear now that both “Practica Dolls” and “A Doll in the Palm of My Hand” are parables relating to Big Jun’s life. Both (especially the latter) seem intently focused on the notion of getting what you want through short cuts, something that Jun is increasingly learning is not necessarily a good idea. This was Kirakishou’s promise, to change the world however he wanted it – and we saw in the latest chapter of “Palm” that it was taking a dark turn – and now Jun is realizing that what he wants is to put his world back how it was, even though he always considered himself unhappy there. If there’s a central theme in Zurückspulen it’s that of Big Jun taking responsibility for his own life (“It’s pointless if it’s just given to me!”), including all the unhappiness he’s endured and blamed on the outside world. It’s fascinating to watch how themes have replayed themselves across the season’s best anime – we’ve seen it with the tanuki hotpot and porkbowl situations in Uchouten Kazoku and Gin no Saji, and Zurückspulen has elements in common with Watamote in its observations on the life of a lonely young person dealing with severe social anxiety disorder.
As things stand, we have a fascinating situation playing out on many fronts. Little Jun has been found by both Kanaria and LaPlace – who he rightfully distrusts, though LaPlace has led him to Shinku’s true body, being watched over by Hinaichigo’s Roza Mystica. The twins have gotten the clock working, but Shinku is down and seemingly out – and Sugintou seems resolutely to be holding Souseiseki to the deal she agreed to in giving her back her Roza Mystica long enough to re-animate Suiseiseki and start the clock. Sugintou has never been more interesting – arrogant, hard-as-nails, yet seemingly practical when the need arises and imbued with enough recognizable decency to make her a fascinating enigma. And the fact remains that while Big Jun has chosen not to look for short cuts and the way back to the separate wound and unwound worlds seems to be open, there’s still the matter of just what sort of world each Jun wants to make for himself. It may well be, in fact, that the unwound world is destined to be forever just that – the choice Jun made can never be unmade and he’ll have to make a better future for himself without the benefit of the dolls that have been so critical in bringing Little Jun out of his downward spiral.