I found myself surprised by how much I liked the first series of Rozen Maiden. For a series revolving around a reclusive schoolboy and the sentient porcelain dolls who bring him out of his shell, it actually boasted some decent action and drama. I was looking forward to seeing the continuation of the series so it's great to see that MVM have launched into it with barely a pause for breath.
The story continues on directly from the end of the last series, with Jun
spending his time alternating between catching up on his studies at school and
putting up with an extended family of squabbling dolls at home. His
patience may be wearing thin with Suiseiseki and her constant picking on the
cutesy Hina-Ichigo, but his biggest distraction is Shinku. The arrogant
and prim doll has not been herself since the end of her battle with Suigintou at
the end of the last series, and Jun is concerned over her sudden change in
character. The others have noticed too, and the quiet Souseiseki aims to
get to the bottom of her problems. However, there's more danger on the
horizon with the appearance of another Rozen doll, Bara-Suishou. The
newcomer is even more creepy and powerful than Suigintou and her appearance
really shakes the other dolls. It's not just her either, the scatty
Kanaria also arrives with the aim of defeating her sisters, and her introduction
is even more significant. She is the last of the Rozen dolls and now all
of them have come together the time for the Alice Game is at hand. The
Alice Game will see the dolls fight until only one is left (kind of like
Highlander, but with 3ft tall dolls), with the winner being able to return to
their creator as the perfect doll. Shinku, Suiseiseki, Souseiseki and
Hina-Ichigo have become friends as well as siblings, but their very purpose for
being is set to force them to turn on each other. How will they react when
the Alice Game starts and can their love for each other overcome their destiny?
The stakes have been upped this time with the arrival of the final dolls and the impending start of the Alice Game, but in many ways Rozen Maiden continues in much the same way as the last series left off. Bara-Suishou is pretty similar to Suigintou in many ways, although her detached manner lacks the cackling menace the the latter brought to the series, whilst Kanaria is pretty much a new Hina-Ichigo. Of the existing characters Suiseiseki's mini-feud with Hina-Ichigo continues, whilst Souseiseki remains calm and collected and Jun's sister
Nori is still mild and supportive. At first there doesn't seem to be a lot to really move things forward, yes, Jun has come out of his shell and is attending school, but mostly his home life remains unchanged. If the series continued like this then it would be a little disappointing after the surprising quality we've seen so far, but it doesn't continue like this. It gets better.
A lot of what makes this volume good is Shinku.
She has been bossy and aloof for much of the first series, only really showing
emotion during her fight with Suigintou. However, the fight has really
scarred her mentally and she is wracked with guilt and haunted by nightmares
which cause a dramatic change in character. Bara-Suishou plays on her
guilt and sends her further into despair, and it becomes up to Jun to save her
like she saved him from his fears. Shinku has been a kind of mother hen to
the other dolls and her new withdrawn attitude really puts them on edge, they've
not encountered Bara-Suishou and when they learn that she has appeared and the
Alice Game has begun the drama really steps up a notch. We've seen the
dolls form a kind of family with Jun and the fact that they're now destined to
effectively kill one another puts a vary dark and desperate edge to proceedings.
Even the assertive and tomboyish Suiseiseki is scared enough to want to form a
pact with Jun, even though she is embarrassed at the thought and tries to keep
up a tough exterior.
The story is pretty good with several new characters including an anthropomorphised rabbit that haunts the dolls' dreamspace and a mysterious doll shop owner who Jun comes across when trying to find out more about the Rozen Maidens. The new characters are often enigmatic and it will be interesting to see how they develop over the rest of the series, plus the return of an older character is handled quite well and adds another twist to an already engrossing story. Animation and voice acting-wise Rozen Maiden Träumend is pretty
much the same as the first series, which means that it looks great, features some fantastic imagery and does a good job of adapting Peach Pit's delicate artwork from the original manga. It also sounds great, with an excellent soundtrack topped off by a quality opening theme, although the English dub does leave something to be desired.
I really enjoyed Rozen Maiden Träumend vol 1. It built on the quality of the first series and moved away from exploring Jun's character to focus on the dolls, taking itself to new heights in the process. There are some comedic moments early in the volume, and these largely fall on the right side of the cheese line, but where this volume excels is in the drama and characters. It's not all great, Bara-Suishou and Kanaria are largely retreads of existing characters and things are a little too enigmatic for their own good at times, but it rises above its 'Highlander with dolls' premise to be far more interesting than you'd think it would be. I wonder how the dolls will deal with their impending battle, will it go like the creepy puppet show Bara-Suishou subjects them to (surely the most disturbing part of the franchise so far) or will they manage to stay true to their vows not to kill each other? My guess is the latter, but I still can't wait for volume 2!