This review is going to be different from usual. Solaris has written up an in-depth essay about the themes and characters of the Rozen Maiden series. There are quite a few spoilers though, and near the end there are also some manga-spoilers, so be careful with that.
Alice Game and Rozen
Rozen and Alice roots were cleverly untold by the authors. We got only suppositions and random clues about them. That helps the reader immagination to build his own explanation about that matters like it happens in Haibane Renmei anime. Rozen and Alice are meant to support the anime’s topic which is the relation net between the dolls plus Jun. Rozen and Alice are only plot devices and not the central topic of the anime. So, everything works well even by lightly developing them.
Given that the personal relation among the dolls are fairly more interesting. They are coupled and for every couple one doll is given a thesis and the antagonist doll has got the antithesis.
Themes developed are ideal and imperfection with Shinku and Suigin Tou, Conflicting identity of the gardener twins, personal growth and delaying into childhood for Hina and Kanaria.
There’s also the theme of the imitation that longs for self awareness in the story of Barasuishou. Those themes are the real focal point of the show. There’s yet another doll to be developed, but her story came abruptly to an end due to manga being quit. Lucky enough they started another serie of Rozen Maiden. I hope to read more about it.
Manga has much less fillers than the animated serie and it comes out really more dramatic. Events flow better and there are many less humor breaks, that were added in the anime to lighten the mood. Indeed Rozen Maiden is Noir.
If you read the manga you’d catch many hints about Alice Game. They tell us in vol 2 each Rozen Maiden has a fragment of a single Roza Mystica. The goal of the Alice Game is to rebuild that Roza Mystica. The winning doll may be then achieve perfection, that is to say become Alice. It could literally mean the winning doll would be changed into a human girl, but I’d rather think that outcome is more symbolic. Alice Game is a metaphor of the life and its goal is death of the other dolls, that is, Alice is a trascendental simulacrum of transformation, or trepassing life into the realm of pure ideal. In other words if you just win the Alice game you die and become a happy angel. That is. Beware my dear Shinku, beware! :)
Furtermore there’s this enigmatic Rozen fellow. We have many hints about him, but his identity is yet undercover. He’s hidden, but watches the Alice Game from afar, not yelding any interference with his own presence. People associated him to a kind of godly figure for the dolls, but think about it: Doesn’it just resemble the setup of a kind of mystical experiment where Rozen is the master and the dolls are the specimens? An Occult scientist, an Alchemist.
As a matter of fact, in the 5th volume of the manga, they suggested Rozen could be the Count of Saint Germain. He was an enigmatic man, supposedly alchemist, surely a fake, but is told he really discovered the long life elixir. It’s also told he’s still alive today. Of course he’s a legendary figure right now, but there are some philosophical theories are inspired by him. Theosophia, is the science of manipulating natural phenomena by the study of the divine. It’s aim is to enhance human towards perfection. Uhm, doesn’t this sound a bell? Does Alice game resemble a Theophysic ritual doesn’t it?
I wouldn’t be surprised if the authors really took inspiration by this Count of Saint Germain to build up the Alice Game. That’s a really interesting mix of religion, alchemy and mystichal scence.
But that is not all. There’s another enigmatic character with uncovered whereabouts: Laplace Demon. He’s the controller of Alice Game. He interacts with the dolls or Jun, in the place of Rozen. The Demon has full power over the world dream and can open dimensional doors at will. His names comes from the Math Scientist Pierre Simon Laplace, the one who made up the well known Laplace Transform. Laplace was a determinist*, that is to say he believed science to be exact, or that you can calculate everything by the means of mathematical analysis. Given an infinite accurate representation of reality and an infinite amount of compute power, it is possible to calculate future and past by the laws of classical machanics. Laplace Demon is such an automaton who posses such capacity of calculus. Therefore he knows the past and can predict future, has the knowlege and power of destiny. It’s uncasual he’s the perfect arbiter for the game of the doll’s destiny: Alice Game.
Laplace Demon is clearly alike to Lewis Caroll’s White Rabbit. Lewis Caroll was another Math Scientist, and novel writer, as we already know him. Rozen Maiden took a lot from Lewis Caroll’s Alice fantasy story. N-Field or Dream World is the modern version of the wonderland, a place where physcal laws are bended and leave infinite possibilities (aka infinite destinies). The fact Laplace Demon used to speak by quizzes and his words are to be interpreted leaves no question: The dream world is the place where one can defeat his own destiny and long for an higher ideal of self, but also on the exact contrary, it is possible to loose oneself and be doomed to insanity. The issue is to choose the right door, the right possibility. Thus the Laplace demon will always present you with two alternatives. To wind or not to wind, your is the choice, as the Laplace Demon already knows the infinite implications of both choices.
Thus said isn’t Alice game really a setup for a kind of mystical experiment where the stage is the Dreamworld, Rozen is the observer, Laplace is the controller and the dolls are the specimens?
Btw read the articles about St Germain Count (and Theosophya) and about Laplace on Wikipedia.
The dolls always repeat that it is possible to meet their father after the completion of the game. But what does it mean to end the game? In a Christian world that means to die and be granted to eternal life in the glory of God. So Alice game is the game where you long for death to transcend ones self towards an immaterial ideal of perfection. Brrr scary!
You really can’t ask a novel more than character development. It’s too easy to build up unchangeable and static chars. On the other hand it’s hard to make chars so dynamic they look alive. I said before the dolls come in pairs, so here’s how.
But let’s leave the game for now. How do the dolls face their deadly destiny? They spend most of their time in daily life, completely disregarding the game and its implications. Most of the dolls are just happy playing with each others and fear the game the most. The real meaning of the Game is uncovered only at the end of the second series, with the occasion of the fake final. Jun, that is the external spectator of the sad play suffers and is mad about all the death those pityful beings had to suffer. What was it for? What was the meaning of that? And Rozen’s answer was that was not the only way. The answer is not in death, but rather in life. At the end the real meaning of the alice game may be not to play, or play another life, but eventually play a life. Cause playing means to live to a doll, an artifact made for playing. That’s a positive meaning I suppose people didn’t think about. Everybody is mad cause the authors never said much about Alice Game and we fan are fantasizing over it, but that game is really an unimportant aspect of the show. What is really important are the personal stories of the dolls.
Shinku vs Suigin Tou
Rozen and his game are only a stage for the doll’s play. Some play to become a complete being, being pushed by a great sense of inferiority. On the other hand some other fights for making sure of her superiority, which is everything but a simulacrum of ones solitude. Shinku is doomed to be the best of the five dolls, thus not knowing what exactly means to be the best. So she continues to fight and look everybody with despise and superiority. Shinku and Suigin Tou are two opposite entities like images in the mirror that cannot understand each other and thus they hate.
But this is only the incipit. The development comes rather unexpected by pairing the two dolls with their nemesis: Jun is a rather unperfect human. By interacting with him she will find her place and her family. On the other hand Suigin Tou watches all the other dolls being completed and happy. She suffers from that and despises everybody. By being paired with a ill girl she will learn she’s not the only suffering soul in the world and will grow.
This will maybe lead to a reconciliation of the two archenemies.
The story of the mirror twins
With respect to Shinku and Suigin Tou, who are in open contrast being two complete opposite, the twins are built alike. But that’s the only surface. The twins girls resemble the faces of a coin, alike but different, sister yet deadly enemies. Every aspect of a doll is projected in the mirror on the other one. Yet they cannot be separated, they seem to share the same life, the same power. Their power is also complementary. The Gardener Scissors are useless without the Magic Watering Can and viceversa. They’re doomed to be together forever, but yet to fight cause of the Alice Game.
In Rozen Maiden the natural harmony between the two images at the mirror can’t be left unperturbed. The alice Game, which is the natural destructive aim to perfection, is also matter of the twins. How do an absolute command like fight is related to the complementary twins? How can one twin kill the other without self destructing herself? Action and reaction. The two faces of the mirror still reflect two opposite choices about that. One, taking over the couple’s armony above all, refused to fight, but the other, responding to the absolute command, longs for the fight. But that’s fake, cause the real desire moving Sousei Seki is to break from the chain of the twin life in search of self awareness.
Sousei seki and Suisei seki also appear different at the start of the story. Sousei Seki appears righteous and fair, the true strong one of the twins who protects her sister twin. Suisei seki appears wicked, spoiled and pretty evil. She’s mischievous and appears weaker than the sister. But that’s still a wrong image, like a fake mirage you see above cold lakes in north winter lakes. The image appears high in the sky and upside down (Morgan Fairy effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fata_Morgana_(mirage)). Twins image is really “puidedown”! Jun is a catalyst that let the dolls discover their true self and feelings.
And so, beyond the fake righteous and selfsacrifice tendencies of Souseiseki you find a soul that struggle to let her inner self prevail. She’s burning for love and hate toward her sister’s unconditioned and overwelming love. Suiseiseki, on the other hand is the true strong pair of the twins couple. She’s not evil, but sweet loyal and strong! And it’s all thank to Jun if she could awaken this side of her char. She loves her sister so much she sacrificed the ideal of Alice that is her (and any doll’s) imperative categorical.
Grow or not grow
Hina and Kanaria are the last couple of dolls having antagonist feeling about something. This something is life and growth in their situation. Look how the two dolls are introduced. Hina is a selfish doll eager to play to death. Her behaviour is that of a little girl who doesn’t know anybody else to play and when she found one she attached herself to him/her in an obsessive manner. Hina is completely closed into herself and fears the world outside her own box. She’s also doesn’t trust humans and fear abandon. She has a reason to fear it, as she was abandoned by her former handler, maybe cause of the WWII. We know that from the manga, where we also meet a descendant of Hina’s former handler who claims possession over her! After Shinku defeated Hina, she was forced to live with jun’s family. Hina never appreciated this life. She was a scared crybaby, but being forced out of her own shell let her grow up as an individual. Hina comes to like (or love) Jun as well and undestands she has to grow stronger for her and those who love’s sake. There’s a very nice filler episode that shows up this: In an episode Hina wants to send a love letter to jun. She has to move out of the house in the world that she doesn’t know and fears. She will gain strength and walk outside and deliver the letter. That was a touching episode, narrated from the point of view of the child Hina. So a normal walk outside becomes a real adventure for this childish doll. A first walk in life outside the boundaries of one’s know world.
On the other hand Kanaria is extremely scared of the Alice game. She knows she has to fight, but she’s so unwillingly doing it. All of her behaviour is a game that shows insecurity and fear. She’s so nice when she attemped to inflitrate Jun’s house without much convinction and always finds herself scared away :). Once again she’ll find security and stength in Jun’s group. So, the theme of these two dolls is clear: they represent the fear to grow and to relate oneself toward the others. Hina represents the positive path in life: fight and struggle to grow rather than Kanaria indulges herself into childness and play.
BEWARE HUGE MANGA SPOILER: She will be forced to grow when she will remain the last doll fighting on Juns side against the dreadful Kirakishou.
Barasuishou and Kirakishou. (MANY SPOILERS)
These two last dolls are the “last bosses” of the anime second serie and of the manga. Kirakishou is depicted as a white goddess of death. She has no body but an astral body. She lives in the NField and she’s very powerful. Barasuishou is the fake doll who fights to prove herself a doll better than the original Rozen Maidens. The theme is stil perfection here, but it’s seen in a different way than in the case of Shinku and suigin tou. Barasuishou longs to surpass the perfect bodies of the rozen maiden, while kirakishou is the perfect rozen maiden herself. Barasuishou would be the Kirakishou she could never be! Kirakishou is a perfect ideal of the Rozen Maiden, but she has got no soul nor body. If you put it with the alice game, Kirakishou has the power to wipe out all of the Rozen Maiden and become Alice, but somehow she winning the game doesn’t look right. Kirakishou is complete evilness and has no emotions. How can she be the perfect Alice being? She lacks something that all of the other dolls acquired by living: feelings. Kirakishou has never lived herself other than in the Dream Field. She hasn’t lived any experience. Even Suigin Tou has grown up with experiences, thus should be more suited as a potential Alice than Kirakishou. But this cold hearted doll is going to win it all at the end of the manga! What it will be of the alice game is yet to be told. Hope the sequel of the story by Peach Pit will be published some day.
As for my own comments, I’d probably rate Traumend around 85/100. The depth of the cast of characters is really something that you don’t find in many series, but it does suffer from some pacing issues: the first season was perfectly paced and kept you on the edge of your seat. Traumend instead has one relative light part with lots of slice of life that takes up about eight episodes, which is then followed by a really dark part. It could have been mixed a bit more, although I also see that the fillers are also crucial to the dolls, showing them as they try to play and resist the Alice Games.