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Final Impressions: Rozen Maiden Zurückspulen

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Two timelines filled with crazy dolls

Seems it isn't just Genshiken that can disappear for years and come back with a vengeance. Everyone's favourite animated series about animated dolls has returned, bringing back the Alice Game and all of the crazy jargon that goes along with it.

After a rather insane start to the series (and for all the wrong reasons), it was easy to jump to the conclusion that this show was a disaster. However, the second episode was exactly what we'd wanted from the beginning, and everything seemed salvaged....at least, in theory.

Rozen, a mysterious doll maker with an apparent knack for infusing his creations with supernatural abilities, created seven girls known as the "Rozen Maiden". However, rather than being the doting father that he probably should have been, he instead starts the "Alice Game," claiming that only the doll that collects all of the Rosa Mysticae can become "Alice" and meet Rozen once again. However, it's the Rosa Mysticae that provide life to these dolls, so cue some crazy magical fighting.

The dolls soon find themselves owners, which in turn allows them to draw additional power to help them in fights. However, not all of the dolls are interested in becoming "Alice," so the show becomes a mix of forced fights and tea parties. The series also adds in another timeline to make things a little more confusing, with protagonist Jun speaking to a future version of himself. It's not quite the oddest premise out there, but be warned that you'll need to keep your wits about you if you fancy keeping track of the story.

And if you were looking for a conclusion, you're not going to find it in the final episode of Zurückspulen. The ending gears up for a sequel, teasing at the apparent non-death of Kirakisho and young-Jun 'tripping' while at school, as well as old-Jun jumping into an N-field after instruction from Shinku and friends in the other timeline. This is fine, so long as we actually do get another series, but remember how long it took us to get this one? It was also a tad anti-climactic, offering no cliffhanger or any food for thought in between seasons. 

The final episode of this season does wind down the story though, all on the assumption that Kirakisho is dead and Suigintou is taking a break from trying to fight with her sisters. It means we get to see old-Jun finally get one-up on his boss at work, as well as furthering the relationship with his co-worker. The play went down really well, and it seems that while old-Jun is still moping about losing the dolls he worked so hard on, his life is finally taking a turn for the better.

First, the positives. The art direction of this show is absolutely the best Rozen Maiden has offered thus far. The colors stand out, the animation is smooth and the girls looks like the dolls they are. I mention this specifically because the scale always seemed a little odd in the previous few series, but this time around they look exactly as tall as you'd expect them to be. You also know you've got a solid art team when you can appreciate how the anime looks without getting an art school thesis project like Bakemonogatari or C3. That style has its place, and that place isn't here, so I'm pleased to see it didn't worm its way into Rozen Maiden.

If we pretend the first episode doesn't exist, then the pacing was also really well-judged. There was always something going on, and it never seemed to dawdle too long on one particular event before moving to the next. Old-Jun's life at work and with the dolls was also covered well, so we didn't end up wondering why he cared a lot for Shinku, or where this friendship with his female co-worker came from. So long as you've seen the previous material, you won't be all that fussed about not seeing the young-Jun too much, at least until the ending. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Kingdom Hearts 2 when you play as Roxas: You don't really know what's going on and you know you're not the main character, but hey, this is kind of interesting too.

The main chunk of the plot, more specifically Kirakisho attempting to secure a vessel of her own by using this alternate-universe Jun, was actually pretty interesting. Seeing a recluse like future-Jun using this doll-making hobby as a way of expressing himself was nice to see, and it makes the collapse of Shinku's temporary body hit that much harder. However, forcing Kirakisho out of Souseiseki's body was an utter mess; it didn't make any sense and seemed incredibly rash. Kirakisho's situation is genuinely an upsetting one, and while her story is likely to be explored in  a potential sequel, it leaves this season feeling just a bit empty.

There was also the scene where Souseiseki and Suiseiseki fix a grandfather clock in order to create pathways to the two timelines, so old-Jun can go back to his world while young-Jun can return to his. These dolls have special powers, sure, but it would have been much better had these particular powers been established beforehand. As it was, we saw two dolls basically produce a magic tree out of a clock, and suddenly everything is okay. Perhaps this is handled better in the manga, but as it is it makes me wonder if we were missing something.

Which, in all honesty, is a shame. There were moments when I really enjoyed my time with Rozen Maiden Zurückspulen, as it breathed new life into a series that, in my opinion, was growing stale. The split timeline story provided an interesting platform for the show to introduce some new concepts, as well as a new sister, and it was easily one of my most-anticipated shows. However, it does stumble and fall under its own convoluted weight at times-- important times, no less. This aside, I feel Zurückspulen is a very positive step in the right direction, and I'll be awaiting a possible sequel with genuine interest. 


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Chris Walden
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