Friday, October 01, 2010

Anime Review: Rozen Maiden

I'm surprised at myself for even watching this series: Dolls creep me out big time. Their eerie porcelain faces, their stary little eyes, the stiff fingers that are probably just large enough to strangle you in your sleep...

But the dolls in Rozen Maiden are kinda cute. And since they seem to be magical automatons, they behave more or less like humans. Except they can enter dreams like J-Lo in The Cell and Leo in Inception, walk in and out of anything that has a reflective surface (mirrors, puddles), survive for centuries without getting their dresses wrinkled, and travel in flying suitcases. Yeah, this show is a little trippy. By the time the giant telepathic rabbit shows up, you think, "Well, I should've seen that coming."

The story is simple, if bizarre. Six dolls were created at some point in the distant past by a dollmaker known only as Rozen. He imbued each Rozen Maiden with an artifical spirit called a Rosa Mystica (oddly, one of the names of the Virgin Mary) and released them into the world to fend for themselves. The idea is that when all six dolls are "awake" at the same time, they will attempt to steal each other's souls in a series of magical battles called the Alice Game. The doll who collects the Rosa Mysticas of her five sisters will become Alice, the perfect doll that Rozen was unable to create himself.

Each doll may choose a human "servant", or medium, from whom she can draw energy. Rozen Maiden #5, Shinku, chooses a hikikomori boy named Jun. She is soon followed by three of the other Rozen Maidens, who arrive by crashing their suitcases through Jun's bedroom window (Jun and his older sister, Nori, are living alone while their parents are abroad, so there are no adults around to notice this). Jun and Nori become more or less parents to the dolls, providing them with meals and tea. The smallest doll, Hinaichigo, is incredibly annoying. Shinku is imperious and demanding. The "twins" Souseiseki and Suiseiseki are mismatched; one is aloof, the other won't shut up.

Jun and Shinku

The first villain to appear is a Gothic Victorian doll with black angel wings, Suigintou. While the other dolls are ambivalent about fighting each other, Suigintou is determined to collect their souls. She chases her sisters in and out of dream worlds that reflect the deepest fears and desires of the dreamers (Jun's dream world, for instance, is full of junked computers and insects shaped like toy cars). Each doll has some magical power or implement that can be employed in dreams: the twins have a magical watering can and giant shears, Shinku can blast her enemies with phosphorescent rose petals, Suigintou can shoot dart-like black feathers, etc. If you can imagine Samurai warriors as tiny white chicks in bonnets, you'll get the picture.

When all the dolls appear and some of them have visions of the man they call Father, the Alice Game becomes unavoidable. Weirdly, though, most of the action is crammed into the last two episodes. The final battle and its aftermath are quite anticlimatic, and we never really learn who or what "Alice" is. The series is mostly about the day-to-day lives of the Rozen Maidens, their growing loyalty to each other, and their relationships with their "servants". The moral dilemna of the Alice Game hangs over their heads. Is it better to fulfill Father's wishes and fight, or to retain the bonds of sisterhood?
Though sometimes overly cute, Rozen Maiden is ultimately a touching and enjoyable series with a dark twist. The dream sequences, in particular, are gorgeously animated and quite eerie.


Vest said...

Its nice to occasionally get away from the real world.

tweetey30 said...

Hey this sounds intersting..I bought the book you were talking about.. It will be here in the next week or so.

S.M. Elliott said...

Cool! I'm almost finished with it and it's very good. It's amazing how much the city has changed in just a century; at the time of the Eskimo trial, it had about as many people in it as our hometown.