July 9, 2008
This definitely isn’t a genre I’d usually watch from, but given that, I guess it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
STORY – To be honest, despite this series only being twelve episodes long, it took a while for me to figure out what exactly the plot was, and when I figured it out, I wasn’t much impressed. In the beginning, everything seemed to happen pretty arbitrarily. Nothing was really explained, and things just seemed to keep happening for little or no reason. This was annoying, and I found myself losing interest pretty quickly. It was slice-of-life with unexplained fantasy elements. And when the story did finally emerge, it still seemed mediocre at best.
Because they were the fantasy elements in an otherwise very ordinary world, the story of the dolls and the Alice Game seemed much more interesting than the social anxiety struggles of a middle school recluse. But really, I found it hard to sympathize with either parties. The dolls were not explained well enough to garner sympathy, and even when they finally were (like, during the second-to-last episode), the situation seemed too absurdly simple, and I still wasn’t impressed. Jun’s plight was also only described vaguely until the very end of the series, and then, it was even less impressive than the dolls’ story. My reaction was pretty much, “Are you serious?” I had expected something much more tragic. To some extent, I suppose it’s interesting to consider that even something so simple could have such a great affect on a person, especially considering the pressures within Japanese society, but it really wasn’t presented well enough to be effective.
CHARACTER – Given the weak story and the slice-of-life nature of many of the episodes, I suppose it isn’t really that surprising that a majority of the characters were very flat and that most of their substance was for entertainment value only. This is the most true for Hina Ichigo and Suisei Seki; the former is the most stereotypically “cute” thing I’ve ever seen, and the latter is just gimmicky (desu desu desu). Sousei Seki seemed to only exist for a (rather boring) subplot, and while she might be considered a foil for her sister, neither are really explored enough to matter. Nori was your typical older sibling character — you know the type. She is 100% devoted to her brother and provides unconditional love and support, but isn’t able to do much more than put up with his verbal abuse. Really, she just seems overly convenient; she is the character who can cook, clean, and run errands since there are no adults in the house (they just happen to be working overseas; yeah, sure). Generic support character is generic. Similarly, Sougintou was a cookie cutter villain. Seriously, everything from her design to her laugh to her evil grin seemed like a copypasta from every other generic villain in the world. Because nothing was explained until the last possible second, you have no real context for her antagonisms, and it was difficult to relate to either side of any fight.
As the two protagonists, it makes sense that Shinku and Jun are the only characters in the entire series to have any real development. What was the most interesting to me was the gradual progression and development of their relationship throughout the course of the series, especially since it tied into both of their individual plotlines. Both of them grew, though Shinku had less room for change than Jun, and graduated to a higher level as people (or a doll) by the end of the series, which was possibly the only real good part of Rozen Maiden’s conclusion. It was cute.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – It’s obvious from the beginning the the artists spent a lot of time detailing all of the dolls’ lolita fashions. Each doll accurately represents a different kind of lolita, and they are all beautifully rendered. The human character designs are certainly plain in comparison, but they’re only supposed to be ordinary school children anyway. The animation was good and smooth, but some background elements and special effects seemed a little cheap (the swirling clouds, for example). Overall though, Rozen Maiden was quite pleasing to the eye, and I’m always impressed when there are characters so overloaded with minute details. It’s one thing to have pimped out backgrounds; it’s another thing entirely when they have to animate all the ruffles and ribbons on a character.
MUSIC – I have a bias towards ALI PROJECT. I love ALI PROJECT. But really, I think the fancy, high-strung violins really suit the subject and style of Rozen Maiden. Classical elements are often associated with lolita, after all. The opening, “Kinjirareta Asobi,” is pretty typical Ali Project: high in anticipation and urgency, fast-paced while simultaneously beautiful and delicate sounding. The lyrics are actually pretty intriguing, but I’m not sure how much relevancy they have to the series. The ending theme, “Tomei Shelter” by refio + Haruka Shimotsuki followed up each episode fairly well — I’m always a fan of the more energetic stuff first and the more mellow stuff second anyway.
The soundtrack in the actual series seems to echo the style and mood of the opening, thus reminding me a lot of Yuki Kaijura’s work even though she isn’t the composer here. There were some very moving violin pieces throughout Rozen Maiden, and it’s definitely a soundtrack I would recommend listening to beyond your viewing of the series. Then again, maybe I’m just a sucker for violins and pianos and the classical junk. :P
VOICE ACTING – Average, I’d say, although… As much as I don’t really like the character, I think Suisei Seki has a fun voice and her “-desu” on just about everything, while somewhat gimmicky and annoying, is actually pretty original. Certainly she isn’t the first character to have words tacked on to almost everything (Chichiri’s and Ryuichi’s “no da” and “na no da” come to mind), but “-desu” is a first, and it’s amusing because it’s a grand exaggeration poking fun at the Japanese’s own language, which yes, does make frequent use of “-desu.” Sousei Seki’s “boku” isn’t as prominient, probably because she doesn’t speak nearly as much, but it’s one of the reasons I’d consider her a reverse-trap, a rare creature indeed. I find it interesting when characters’ verbal patterns dictate so much about them. It makes them more fun to listen to anyway, and both twins’ voice actors do a great job with them.
OVERALL – Rozen Maiden was kind of disappointing when I consider the fanboyish recommendations that had been thrown at me by my brother, but that makes me wonder if my lack of interest is just rooted in the idea that this isn’t really my genre. The actual story didn’t make the grand delay in getting to it worth it, and the abundance of two-dimensional, uninteresting characters really dragged it down for me. The series never took the time to explain much of anything, and even now I have tons of questions, but I can’t be bothered to really seek out answers to them because even they weren’t all that interesting. But it was frustrating to know that they omitted so much when they spent so much time on completely pointless subplots (the quest for flower-topped hamburgers, for example). While I’ll admit that it was kind of cute in the end, that cuteness didn’t really make up for everything else I had to put up with. Maybe I’m just utterly unaffected by the massive moe though. I’m told the second season is much better, and maybe I’ll get around to it eventually, but for now, I don’t really feel that inclined.