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Rozen Maiden Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

22 min read

Sometimes entering into a contract leads to far more than you could ever imagine.

What They Say:
Remember those nightmares you had as a child, where your toys came to life? That’s the reality that Jun Sakurada suddenly finds himself living in when Shinku arrives in a box. She’s the first of several magical Rozen Maidens to invade the secluded life he has made for himself since refusing to attend school anymore and living the life of a hermit. Worse, he finds himself magically bound to Shinku, his life force powering hers, and she’s not too crazy about the way he’s been living his life.

Unfortunately, fixing everything that’s wrong with Jun is going to have to take a back seat to making sure that Shinku survives the Alice Game, a competition that pits Rozen Maiden against Rozen Maiden for the prize of becoming a real girl, while the losers’ life essence is drained and they become lifeless toys again. In order to win this deadly game, Jun and Shinku will have to find a way to work together – but to do that they’ll have to start trusting each other first!

Contains episodes 1-12 of Rozen Maiden, episdoes 1-12 of Rozen Maiden: Traumend, and episodes 1-2 of the OVA special, Ouverture.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is rather straightforward as we get the two languages included here in stereo encoded at 224kbps. The show has its strong suits when it comes to the audio in that the opening and closing sequences are a lot of fun and very well rounded. There are also some very good action scenes, albeit brief ones, where the forward soundstage comes alive very well. But the majority of the show is simple dialogue driven stuff with one or two characters at most talking and generally a center channel based feeling. The characters do speak clearly in both languages without any noticeable problems such as dropouts or distortions during regular playback. While neither track really shines brightly when it comes to what it wants to do, it does serve the material just right and left us pretty happy with it.

Originally airing from 2004 to 2006 with the OVAs arriving at the end of 2006, the transfer for this release is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show looks pretty similar to what Geneon has released before with the same problems in that there’s a good bit of cross coloration to be had. It comes alive more during the panning sequences than anything else, but it’s visible in other areas as well. It’s primarily associated with the edges of the characters hair and you can see it along the arms and some of the dolls clothes. It’s a distracting issue, one we had in the original release and re-releases as well, that doesn’t seem to be able to be improved upon. Beyond this issue, the show generally looks good with its low bitrate due to the lack of motion in most of the scenes since it’s focused so much on dialogue. It’s not a huge standout show with its visual design or colors, but it looks good overall beyond the main issue and even that is less distracting the more you watch it.

The OVA release thankfully does not appear to suffer significantly from these issues as the cross coloration is pretty much non-existent and the line noise is very minimal overall, though there in several scenes. The materials for this simply look to be in better condition for this than the TV series which looks like a port of what we saw with the previous editions as that’s what the material available is like. Getting a cleaner and smoother looking OVA presentation that’s on its own disc doesn’t hurt either.

The packaging for this release is stackpack that’s the size of two normal keepcases that comes with some foam inside to keep everything in place. The front cover for the case looks very good as it goes with the traditional ornate image of Shinku against the framework with the colors that really make it a striking image with her design. It’s very appealing, much as it has been for past releases, as it has an air of innocence and superiority about it. It makes clear on the cover the disc count, episode count and the inclusion of the OVAs as well. The back cover makes this clear as well along the top as it breaks down the three series releases included in here. The back cover is kept rather minimal overall with a black background with some neat green framing edges around it that goes to the whole classic ornate nature. The interior section that dominates has a good series of shots from the show on both sides while the center has a very simple premise summary that covers the concept in general. The discs features are clearly listed and we get the usual production credits. They also break things down with a really good technical grid that has all the right data points laid out cleanly in an easy to read fashion. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for the series is kept very simple but it works just right for the show. The main menu is done with a split screen effect where the left side has different pairings of the characters with a lot of really nice detailed artwork. The right side breaks down the episode numbers and titles as well as language setup submenus and other special features that may be on the disc. The whole thing is nicely framed by a black panel with some pink edging as well as a few hints of green to give it that classic novel feeling. The character design artwork is quite nice though and definitely an appeal, especially as the key bits of the opening song plays along to it all. Submenus load quickly and everything is easy to access. The discs also read our players’ language presets with no problems.

The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences for the respective releases, though the OVAs don’t receive any.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After being released by Geneon and then getting a couple of minor re-releases here and there over the years, Rozen Maiden finally gets a complete collection at an awesome price that brings the two TV seasons together with the previously unlicensed two episode OVA run. We were big fans of the show when it was originally being released, flaws and all, and have checked I tout a couple of times in the last couple of years again. The show is based on the manga series by Peach Pit, Rozen Maiden is made up of two twelve episode series that deal with two main storylines. The show was initially released in the singles era, which mean we had six discs to cover the twenty-four episode run. The two episode OVA here is also being released as its own separate title for those that just want those episodes.

Rozen Maiden revolves primarily around Jun, a second year middle school student who hasn’t had the best of times during his scholastic period. Events left unsaid so far show that he’s suffered at the hands of others and become rather introverted because of it. So much so in fact that going outside of his house is a major strain on his frame of mind. To compensate, his older sister Nori handles most of the family needs since their parents are abroad for work. For Jun, he primarily indulges in his hobby of buying oddities online that are tied to the occult or superstition and laughing at them before sending them back. Jun’s being the younger sibling has him feeling fairly dominant which is made even more possible since Nori tries to please him so much as she wants him to go back to school.

One of the items that Jun gets in is a chain mail kind of letter that asks him if he’d wind it or not. Not really caring what it is since he doesn’t intend to do anything, he follows the directions after indicating that he’d wind it and forgets about it. In the confusion of an argument with his sister he ends up tripping over a case he doesn’t remember arriving. To his surprise, inside is a very elegant looking doll with a beautiful outfit. Winding it up and not making the connection to the letter, he’s then greeted by the doll as she introduces herself as Shinku and promptly slaps him. Thus begins the relationship between the two as she sets up a master/servant relationship with Jun.

Surprisingly enough, the series seems to be built around the Highlander concept. There are multiple dolls like this out in the world that are all seeking servants to live with. The each have distinct personalities and they each have very different powers and abilities. The goal among them that they must perform for their Father is to defeat each other in battle. The last one standing becomes “Alice” which presumably means that they can become a real girl. Dolls that lose the battle end up going to sleep in their current form and aren’t able to interact with anyone anymore.

Naturally, Jun’s not sure about all of this but the arrival of a cutesy doll that’s intent on causing him pain has him swearing to serve Shinku before he realizes the scope of it. Shinku’s quite the amusing character since she carries herself with such poise and minimal concern for her servants. She does bring about situations that end up helping them in the long run but she clearly views herself as the superior being and is intent on winning the Alice Game. A lot of the humor in Shinku tends to come from her size and how she looks in various situations. While you have Jun running about and overreacting, Shinku is sitting there calmly on the couch watching a puppet program. She seems to have no qualms introducing herself to other people either which just freaks out Jun even more.

Along the way the show adopts a somewhat standard harem situation as more dolls are brought into play, as well as their servants. Unlike a lot of other harem shows though, the dolls don’t have the same kind of claim on Jun that you’d imagine. There’s more of a respect relationship that slowly grows as each of the dolls have their own goals and desires, few of which Jun seems to really be ideal form. So far at least it doesn’t end up with a series of dolls that all want Jun for their very own. Even Shinku comes across as indifferent to him as long as he serves her needs and gets her closer to her goal. To her Jun simply needs a lot of work but has some potential.

The first season does have a good bit of fun to it as we see the dolls get along and torment each other. These are important to have as they balance out the darker material that’s brought into it, revolving around Suigintou. Suigintou is continuing her attempts to remove Shinku from the Alice Game and she kicks it up a few notches throughout the season, first by taking out Hina and then by manipulating Suiseseki to do her bidding. Drawing Hina into the N Field in the mirror, Suigintou is able to bring Shinku and the others into her realm which reveals quite a lot about her state of mind. For Jun, it’s quite the revelation considering the bright world that Hina seemed to reside in. Though the battle is fairly predictable, it’s the verbal sparring that proves to be the most enjoyable. Shinku’s growing band of servants is something that Suigintou is able to really have fun with in a mocking manner.

Suigintou also makes some good inroads into utilizing Suiseseki as a means for dealing with Shinku. This comes in the form of another doll that’s introduced that turns out to be Suiseseki’s twin sister. Through this manipulation we’re finally able to see more of what makes up her past and that helps to explain a lot of her motivations and reasoning behind the way she is. Suiseseki isn’t my favorite of the dolls but this episode brings her up a few notches as she begins to show more of herself. So much of her has just been mean or teasing since the start, especially since her defeat, that seeing some real emotion coming from her is very welcome. And it does sound odd to be talking about real emotions coming from a doll.

Like a lot of harem shows, it’s easy for Jun to get lost in the shuffle. He holds his own in some of the episodes but he starts to take more of a back seat during some of the other episodes as it focuses on the dolls. One episode in the middle of the first season does a great job of bringing him back to prominence as well as dealing with some of his personal issues. The aftereffects of one of the battles in the Alice Game has him really concerned about one of the dolls and he has to do some active research and work in trying to get things back on track. Though the growth is obvious and minimal overall, the end result is that Jun has some really good moments here as he researches for an answer. It also brings in some small but interesting revelations about the dolls pasts overall and how well known they are in general.

The final arc of the first season has a bit of setup to work through which comes on the heels of having properly assimilated Souseiseki into it. By using the situation her master is in with his wife being in a dream state, we’re able to see them resolve that particular issue while opening up a much more interesting situation. The dream world that the Maiden’s can access isn’t surprising in and of itself, but it brings some really nice touches as it uses branches and connected trees in order to show the bonds people have with each other. These branches allow them to travel between the dreams and interact with the dreamer. The initial story doesn’t have too much to it beyond resolving that particular outstanding story subplot but what it brings to the table really sets things for the remainder of the volume.

Suigintou is still the main villain of this arc as she’s intent on winning the Alice Game and requires eliminating Shinku so that she can essentially go on unopposed. Whether that’s actually true or not is likely to be dealt with in the second season, but for now she’s almost obsessed with removing Shinku from the picture. The belief that doing so will leave her in a position to finish things out is driving her, almost to madness, but there are reasons for it. The entire concept of the Alice Game gets explored a little bit more as Shinku provides some reflective moments and explains why she and the others want so much to win, explaining part of their origins in relation to their Father. These are quite humble moments for Shinku and some of the few where she seems to truly be something more than just a cool and almost cold Maiden.

With the shift to the dream world, a good bit of character material is explored for the three main characters that have to deal with it. Shinku has plenty to deal with as there is the threat of Suigintou herself and what she’s trying to do with Shinku. She also has to deal with Jun who has been drawn into a sealed dream where he’s being assaulted with all the negative thoughts and voices he’s heard over the years. Jun’s fear of practically everything outside of his home hasn’t been a huge part of the story but it’s been a constant. Using that for the finale is an obvious angle and through the dream state they have plenty to work with from his past without it seeming too clichéd. At the same time, you have Suigintou trying to use one against the other in order to realize her own dream of being the winner in the Alice Game.

Rozen Maiden has also played it somewhat close to the chest when it comes to the relationship between the characters. While it goes for the obvious in some ways with the overly gothic loli stylings, it hasn’t really tried to be overtly sexual or anything. There is a subtext to be sure, but full on fanservice just doesn’t exist in the traditional sense. This doesn’t quite change here but there are some nods towards the strange relationships that are forming. The most blatant moments come when we see the dolls changing their clothes and Jun finds he’s a bit red in the cheeks from it. But instead of titillating, it’s actually quite interesting because it’s the rare time that you see their joints. If not for that, you usually only see them as little girls. Shinku doesn’t fit into this at first but rather in a later scene with just Jun that really provides a very different view of her than we’ve seen in the past.

Rozen Maiden Traumend
The first season of Rozen Maiden presented an interesting enough concept and then ran it through a relatively self contained story arc. If that had been all that was ever made, it would have been satisfying enough on its own even though there wouldn’t be a true conclusion. Thankfully however, we have the Traumend season which puts forth the actual Alice Game as the remaining dolls have all arrived.

The characters have been fairly well groomed during that first season so that when this one kicks off there’s little to no time spent on introducing anyone. It’s simply expected that you’ve seen the first season, so much so that some characters aren’t even named for the first couple of episodes. Life has returned to normal at the Sakurada household with Shinku and Hina living there alongside Jun and Nori. Suiseiseki and Souseiseki make their regular visits, much to Jun’s dismay of course, and everyone gets along in their own way. Shinku isn’t having all that good of a time however as some nightmares continue to persist. The knowledge that the Alice Game could be closer combined with what she’s done to Suigintou haunt regularly.

With no time needed for introductions of the main cast of characters, Traumend doesn’t linger long before getting the storyline running. Framed by some hints of Father actually being nearby, the Alice Game is getting closer to happening as the Seventh Doll, Bara-Suishou, has made her appearance. The curious looking doll, which seems to be associated with a rabbit, has her intentions of getting the game underway for reasons not quite clear yet. The last requirement for the game however is all of the dolls, sans Suigintou. The arrival of the amusingly inept Kanaria sets the stage for that. Kanaria is thankfully not quite as inept as Hina is which means a lot more than you’d think. She has her own little game in mind at first but the way this group of dolls roll, well, nothing goes according to plan for anyone and Jun finds himself surrounded by yet another doll.

The arrival of Bara-Suishou gives the show its initial edge as it sets things up for the Alice Game fairly quickly. There isn’t exactly a lot of action here in the first third of the series as it’s still mostly in the setup phase, but there are some fascinating and creepy moments. The most notable is the little presentation that Bara-Suishou gives when everyone comes into the N Field where she uses dolls to show how Shinku could effectively win the game. That just unnerves everyone, Shinku especially, and reinforces the bond that the four dolls have with each other now that they’ve lived under Jun’s roof. There isn’t a real big happy family bond kind of moment, but they’ve all worked and fought with each other enough now that there is something there that wasn’t when it all started.

As the show hits its middle arc, it comes across feeling a little off as it’s working through a couple of things while trying to keep it light at first. One episode does do a good job of reacquainting you with the cast though as it’s mostly about the fun. Souseiseki is being her usual polite self and is writing a letter to the grandparents thanking them for everything they did and that has Hina thinking she needs to do the same for Jun. With some truly awful handwriting, she puts it together only to be frustrated by Suiseiseki who doesn’t want to be left out. She starts telling Hina about the evil mailbox it must go in so she can go write her own letter and hand deliver it. It’s all quite fun and with Shinku watching over it all, it’s almost ideal for getting back into the characters and their relationships.

There are episodes after that do mix in the occasional bits of humor, but they tend to revolve around Kana’s encounters with the group. She’s continuing to try and “capture” everyone so they’ll obey her and come to her masters house but she’s terrible at it. She often ends up coming across as a joke or is simply incapable of doing any real damage. That she does this as Shinku comes to a realization about how dangerous the Alice Game is doesn’t help, but Shinku’s change in personality allows her to approach Kana in a manner that is very unlike Shinku. The way Shinku handles all of it is surprising to the other maidens, but as part of her growing changes since meeting Jun, it all makes perfect sense. These changes aren’t exactly subtle here but they’re not pushed hard either, so it does tend to feel natural overall.

Thankfully, there’s also a good bit of setup going on when it comes to the plans that Bara-Suishou is working on. Her manipulations seem to point to using Enju to achieve her goals and she’s manipulating the other maidens in the way that she wants. In particular, she’s pushing more towards the Alice Game to get them all fighting, something that eventually does push Souseiseki into deciding that she’s going to be the one to take the prize because “Father is crying” over not creating his perfect Alice doll. Contrasting this is how Bara-Suishou is also playing a game with Suigintou about what’s going on, pushing her lightly into resuming her conflict with Shinku to get the Game going again as well. What Bara-Suishou is up to isn’t completely apparent but she’s found the way to manipulate several of them with only the smallest of words.

With Souseiseki deciding to pursue the Alice Game in order to win it with some serious zeal, the group that’s come around Shinku has taken on a somewhat depressed feeling. Suiseiseki can’t believe what’s happened and she’s intent on trying to win her sister back over to her side, to stop her from taking this approach. Though she’s not completely in agreement with Shinku, she has come to appreciate her stance a bit more on not fighting in the Alice Game in order to achieve what Father wants. But with the way that Suiseiseki has been manipulated, she can’t help but to get involved and to want some level of revenge on Suigintou and Bara-Suishou for what they’ve done.

For Suigintou, she continues to be somewhat divided over what’s going on, but she’s become so attached in her cool and cold way to Meg that she has to carry through with her plan. Acquiring the Rosa Mystica’s she needs to save her life, the acquisition of one of them leads to a moment where Bara-Suishou is able to manipulate her further. Though Meg doesn’t seem to really change much once she’s given one of them, Bara-Suishou is able to convince her that she’ll recover better if she has more. With one of the maiden’s taken out already to get this Rosa Mystica, Suigintou is able to bring herself to finishing the job, even though it’s a job she is finding more and more distasteful.

What’s interesting about the situation is that as it progresses, we see a couple of the dolls lose their lives, or at least fall to a slumber because of how events play out. Some of them are quick and fast, such as what happens to Souseiseki. Her battle against Bara-Suishou doesn’t play out in a surprising manner in the slightest, nor with how Suigintou is so intent on capturing that Rosa Mystica. What proved to be a whole lot more emotional, and one of the best things about this season, was watching as Hina-Ichigo starts to wind down due to her power relationship with Shinku weakening. Going back to live with Tomoe briefly, the relationship that the two of them have – and has been largely ignored for awhile – comes across beautifully here in a way that’s very emotional and feels very honest. It gave the show the kind of intensity in emotions that it really needed and that has been largely lacking.

As is expected with this season, and how the first season played out, everything comes down to a battle with the remaining maidens going against Suigintou and Bara-Suishou. The manipulations that have been worked over become clear to Shinku and the others and they realize just how foolish they have been. There are moments where the obvious things are pointed out, such as about Father and the curious bunny, but by and large the last two episodes focus on bringing everything to a close through fighting. This is difficult for Shinku since she’s been trying to push the other approach, but when she’s pushed beyond her limits she doesn’t hold anything back herself. Which is a good thing since it leads to a very engaging fight sequence where you get the sense of how much power these little maidens really possess.

One of the things that felt weak with this season was the interpersonal relationships that the maidens have with Jun. The coming together of everyone in the first season and Jun’s dealing with his issues was something that was easy to connect and empathize with. With this season, he’s concerned about the well being of the dolls and is looking for a way to help out with that by learning from the doll maker, but his role feels understated and relatively unimportant in all of it. His reduced and seemingly pointless role diminishes him rather strongly and took out a bit of the heart of the series. When you have that in addition to the generally cool and disinterested Shinku, it doesn’t leave much for warmth. And most of the other dolls don’t really have that, especially in this season.

Rozen Maiden: Ouverture
The two part story here is largely flashback material, but its present day material takes place square in the middle of the second season of the TV series, Traumend. The gang hasn’t fully met Kana yet, though there are references to her, and Hina-Ichigo only gets a little bit of time. The main focus here is on Shinku as Jun has picked her up a little something for her that ends up setting her off as she simply doesn’t like changes. And it reminds her of the past at a time when she’s dealing with more than enough issues. The little rift it creates between her and Jun is simple but effective because they’ve constantly had this kind of problem due to a conflict of personalities. What helps is that Jun gets filled in on the reason for Shinku’s anger through Souseiseki, who essentially narrates the story.

And that flashback story is a lot of fun as it largely takes place in 19th century London where Shinku is going up against Sou and Sei. But what frames it is the true origin of Suigintou. Watching her as the first doll, incomplete, watching as Father finishes off Shinku and disappears with her is a strong moment, one that defines Suigintou well as she does her best to find both of them when things go into the 19th century London era. The early fights that the Maiden’s have are fun to watch since it’s kept simple, but also because we get to see another medium that Shinku used in a young girl named Sarah. Having this play out while having Suigintou come into Shinku’s life gives the two a certain kind of bond, one that we know gets shattered as time goes on. Seeing the two getting along so well only to see it turn where it has to in such a short time might feel a little rushed, but it works within the constraints the story sets itself.

In Summary:
Rozen Maiden is a series that hit at a time when dolls like this were a big part in my life through friends and significant others that had bought into the whole thing. I can definitely appreciate why it’s popular among a segment and has such a strong following, and why it worked as a series. The TV series was stronger in its first season for me than the second, since some of the characters got to be a bit too much and Kana isn’t the easiest to take, but it still did things well overall. Add in the OVA release to this set which covers more of the connected history of all the Maiden’s and it just brings that little bit of extra goodness to really help define it. Rozen Maiden certainly hits a certain kind of audience but it can cross beyond it as well as it does a lot of things right, with a good sense of style and fun. Definitely an easy recommendation, especially as this set covers everything that was released.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 6th, 2011
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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