I was pleasantly surprised by the first volume of Rozen Maiden, MVM's series about a schoolboy shut-in and his dolls, and have been looking forward to seeing how the series pans out in volume 2.
Worryingly things start off in much the same light-hearted way the last volume
ended. The reclusive Jun and his sister Nori share their house with a
growing number of talking, sentient dolls, who are continuing to squabble and
cause trouble. However, quite early on things take a decidedly darker turn
when the belligerent Suiseiseki is given a painful reminder of the state she has
left her tomboyish sister in. Both of them used to belong to an aging
couple but when the couple's son tragically died the wife went into a coma and
the husband lost his mind, seeing Suiseiseki's sister Souseiseki as his son and
keeping her locked indoors. Suiseiseki ran away but Souseiseki refused to
leave, and for all her tough exterior Suiseiseki is heartbroken that they are no
longer together. Suigintou decides to use the situation to her advantage
in order to capture the sisters' Rosa Mysticas and with them their unique 'dream
gardening' powers, but she secretly has another target in mind - Jun's original
doll Shinku! The dolls are all locked in a battle called the Alice Game, a
fight to the death where the one survivor wins the right to return to their
creator as the perfect doll, and Suigintou sees Shinku as the only doll who
poses any threat to her. With this in mind Suigintou delivers a challenge
to her rival of a one-on-one battle, and to ensure her victory she wants to use
the dream gardening powers to trap Jun in a dream world. Without Jun's
power Shinku doesn't stand a chance, but is there time to prevent Suigintou's
plan from coming together?
After a start weighed down a little by cliché Rozen Maiden really hits its stride in this volume. To start with things seem much the same, but when when Souseiseki is first shown things get a lot more interesting. Suiseiseki has been a fun if somewhat underdeveloped character so far, but the first half of this volume really focuses on her as Suigintou manipulates her and Souseiseki into a conflict neither of them wants. As a result Suiseiseki becomes quite an interesting character as you see the real feelings that she masks with her short-
tempered manner. The relationship between Suiseiseki and Souseiseki (try saying that fast when drunk...) makes for the main point of interest at the start of this volume, but as with volume 1 the series is at its best when the twisted Suigintou is involved. Thankfully she is involved in pretty much everything in this volume, although it is interesting to see that she stays in the background to start with. However, whilst the volume is building up to a final showdown between her and Shinku, it's impressive how much it develops the other characters.
Jun has become more confident
through his time with Shinku and the others and after a minor skirmish with
Suigintou leaves Shinku in a deep sleep he is forced to face one of his biggest
fears - school. A book with information on the Rozen Maiden dolls is held
in the school library but getting it means conquering his fears, we finally see
the reasons he became a shut-in and Suigintou decides to use them to her
advantage. Suiseiseki becomes more complex as a character and thankfully
Jun's sister Nori, who was largely ignored and ridiculed last time, takes on a
far more important role in the story. However, it is the final battle
between Shinku and Suigintou which provides the most emotional impact of the
series. Their determination to win the Alice Game leads both to breaking
point, with Shinku's normally emotionless manner shattered by despair and the
calculating Suigintou forced into a rage by her rival. The true battle is
not for supremacy but for acceptance, and this makes their struggle all the more
The animation remains excellent this time round and has some great drama and action to match, in fact my only real gripes were with the very end, which seemed like a bit of a cop-out, and with Hina-Ichigo, who doesn't really develop at all. Hina-Ichigo (the obligatory 'cute' one) remains a bit of a nothing character, showing no signs of emotional growth and remaining a caricature throughout. Her voice in the English dub is incredibly grating too, there seems to be an inbuilt gene in US voice actors that make them voice all cute child characters
like failed auditions for Annie. Plus a note to all dub writers: speaking in the third person is cute in Japanese, but just sounds odd in English. Authenticity is all well and good, but making it sound believable is important too.
Admittedly though this is one of the few black marks against Rozen Maiden vol 2. Ok, it's occasionally cheesy and cute in style, but it also has a dark edge that you are not quite expecting. Suigintou is an excellent character, she's surprisingly creepy and deliciously twisted for a three foot tall doll and her evil laugh is used to great effect throughout the series. It the final showdown between her and Shinku that proves the series' highlight and also reveals the emotional frailty that hides beneath her beautiful but cruel exterior. Jun is forced to face his fears and fight to overcome them, and it's refreshing to see his struggle portrayed as just that - a struggle. It isn't shown as being easy, and even come the end of the series he still has a way to go before he returns to normality. It's because of things like this that I quite enjoyed Rozen Maiden, it may look fluffy and cute on the outside but it deals with some real issues and is quite dark when it wants to be. It's a shame that the look of the series will put some viewers off, because with 12 episodes in just two volumes it is a good series and good value for money too. Recommended.
After a barren volume 1 it looks like MVM saved all of the extras for the second volume! There's clean opening and closing sequences, trailers, Japanese TV ads for the series and a short promo video. A pretty average selection in the end, it's a shame they didn't include a gallery of Peach Pit's excellent artwork.