Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 279 minutes approx.
The seven Gothic Lolita dolls known collectively as Rozen Maiden are back with a new twist on a familiar tale. The first episode will feel like déjà vu for anyone who has followed the series from the beginning as it takes us right back to the start, where the young shut in Jun Sakurada receives a mysterious letter one day with the simple cryptic question “to wind or to not wind”.
After choosing the former option, Jun receives a case inside which is a doll, which he activates with a key, and the doll miraculously comes to life, introducing herself as Shinku. She explains to Jun about her sisters in the Rozen Maiden family and the upcoming Alice Games, but before the whole story is replayed episode two hits the rest button to see what happens when Jun opts to “not wind”.
Known confusingly in Japan as just Rozen Maiden – the same title as the first series – we are thankfully afforded the addendum Zuruckspulen (German for “rewind”) over here to avoid such confusion. Apropos to the theme of restarting the story from a different launch point, this helpful suffix is just one change fans of the franchise will notice, another being the visuals with the production now handled by Studio Deen.
More importantly the most dramatic change is in the character of Jun, now a college student who may have overcome his hikikimori phase but still struggles to find his place in the world. A sullen, introverted and distrusting loner, it is Jun’s journey that we follow in this series, so devoted fans of the dolls may find this glacially paced reimagining a disappointment with their presence vastly reduced here.
This switch in central focus also brings with it an overarching storyline which was absent in previous series and by association, a more serious tone. There are some light comic moments but the silliness and extraneous frippery of the prior show has been all but eliminated here. For this writer that is a bonus as it means less screen time for the vexatious Hanaichigo, arguably one of the most irritating characters in anime!
Adult Jun now lives alone and divides his time between college and working at a bookstore, alongside perky but ditzy am-dram actress Saito and their lazy store manager Yamaguchi, who always puts Jun down for his dour demeanour. While unpacking the latest stock Jun comes across the first volume of a magazine series showing how to make a doll which had since been cancelled. Jun takes it home with him and is surprised to find the second volume has been delivered, complete with a case and some more doll parts.
Jun then receives a text message from his younger self, trapped in his own timeline, requesting that he builds the doll as it is Shinku, who has been defeated in the Alice Game. However shortly before completion Jun receives the cancellation letter from magazine and is a few parts short of completing the doll, but that night he is transported into an N-Field and guided by his other self, is able to find the final pieces.
While the early days of Jun and Shinku’s relationship follows the pattern as shown in the original telling, the difference is that adult Jun is more capable of outing the stroppy little madam in her place when necessary. And with his own life to lead, not to mention the absence of the other dolls, Jun isn’t so beholden to Shinku’s demands thus we get to learn more about him.
A flashback reveals that the talent he had for dress making as a youngster which was revealed at school was the cause for his withdrawing from life. This skill comes in handy again, not only in creating the new Shinku but when Saito invites Jun to help out with her latest play. Even with his diary now full, Jun still feels like an outsider and finds it hard to communicate with others.
In terms of character building adult Jun is a palpably more credible and relatable protagonist than his junior incarnation and his story, aside from the magical dolls, is not so out of the ordinary. The inference here is that maybe this story was designed to give hope and inspiration to shut ins who feel useless and perhaps need to look harder for their good qualities as Jun begins to have a positive effect on the people in both worlds, of which he remains unaware.
The saga of the dolls is a constantly active thread if not a prominent one, pushing to the fore late in the series run. Unlike the previous stories the key antagonist is not the pernicious Suigintou but the seventh sister Kirakishou, a creepy and malevolent force with a white rose in place of her right eye. All of the dolls make an appearance but screen time varies for each.
What makes Jun’s story so easily digestible and engaging is that it is straightforward and simple to follow; once the dolls’ story takes over the focus shifts to the mystical aspects with arguments over shared Rosa Mystica, the inter-dimensional travels of Jun, and other overcooked frippery. The result is a pocket sized and less successful imitation composite of Steins;Gate and Madoka Magica but with tiny dolls.
Studio Deen’s artwork and animation offer huge compensation for the often baffling script, the character designs benefiting from a mature make over which adds that air of authenticity to adult Jun’s life. The time taken to make Jun a fully rounded character and the paucity of screen time for all the dolls may be the deal breaker for many loyal fans but compared to its manic predecessors, this makes for a more satisfying watch.
While I cannot claim to be a fully paid Rozen Maiden convert from this series Zuruckspulen does reveal itself to be the franchise’s strongest entry, leaving us pondering why it didn’t follow this route in the first place.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Rating – ***
Man In Black