Time for another shameful admission with which to start off a review - I am an unrepentant Rozen Maiden fan. I even have Japanese copies of the manga which I am utterly unable to read. There is something about the world that the series inhabits, the flourishes in its characters and art style that I really enjoy. So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard Overture was to be released in the UK as this is the one part of the franchise that I had never gotten around to watching. So how does it hold up?
To give background, Ouverture (which my word processor keeps flagging as as mis-spelt word, but this is how it appears on the DVD menu!) is a two-part OVA that was released after the second season of the Rozen Maiden TV series. Chronologically it slots in somewhere into the middle of the second season, and also has sections that are a flashbacks to a nondescript Victorian time and setting. In the series world a set of seven living dolls all fight a battle royale to become to top doll and so be reunited with their creator, the titular Rozen. However, all of the dolls think of each other as sisters, and as such are somewhat loathe to do the whole killing each other thing. Thus, most of the time the majority of the dolls hang around with a shut-in called Jun, watch detective shows, eat silly food, and engage in shenanigans.
At the start of Ouverture, lead doll of the show Shinku manages to damage one of the many bows on her overly-complex outfit. Jun tries to sew it back on with a pretty new brooch, which upsets Skinku so much she goes bananas and rips it off. Jun then gets pulled aside and subjected to a lengthy flashback to explain why a brooch would make Shinku act in an even brattier fashion than usual. This flashback forms the bulk of the narrative in this OVA.
The main failing of Ouverture is that the show doesn't know what it wants to be. Is it a love letter to fans? An origin story? A side story? a prequel? The show gives each of these formats a spin but never settles on one. The curtain lifts with a quick set of fan service re-introductions to the cast, with everyone getting a quick moment in the spotlight.. Even the wet blanket antagonists of the Traumend season show up for no reason at all other than to remind the viewer that they (unfortunately) existed. This is then dropped for the flashback plotline, which also has trouble on picking something to focus on.
Everything about this release feels meandering and aimless, without any kind of over-arching backbone to tie everything to. By the time the flashback that makes up the bulk of the OVA had ended, I had utterly forgotten the reason behind it being told - it lazily drifts between multiple story threads without providing firm resolution to any of them. The manner in what feels like it should be the climactic fight scene is prematurely cut off will make readers of the original manga laugh in frustration as it mirrors the disastrous way that series was cut short in its prime; if this was intentional then I have to give some credit to the staff for including such a ballsy callback.
Even the revelations it trots out are not shocking in the slightest as the key reveal that it leans on was already done back in season one.
All the world introduction I did in the second paragraph turns up in the show, but in a very haphazard and stilted way. In certain scenes exposition about the over-arching plot is just crammed in, as if the writers suddenly thought "Oh wait, what if new people are watching this?" This only starts after around 5 minutes into the show and constantly feels like too little too late - it really hurts the pacing of the OVA, especially if you already know all of the background, due to how clumsily it is crowbarred into the action. The show feels confused as a result, flipping between assuming the viewer knows what is going on then suddenly whiplashing into dull, elementary exposition.
In fact, the show has a terrible habit of suddenly turning dull on you just as something interesting is about to happen. Multiple times a fight scene begins and just starts to get some momentum going when all of a sudden it ends in a forced stalemate, killing any tension instantly. It feels like a horrible tease that never pays off.
While the design work present in the characters and background is as pleasant to look at as in other entries in the franchise, this OVA is severely let down by a highly visible lack of budget. Very little actual animation takes place in many scenes, the chief sign of this is in how characters are often digitally moved across the scene, something which is very jarring to behold and immediately pushes you out of the show.
The authoring of this DVD release also appears to be somewhat suspect - the show looks brutally compressed, both through readily apparent colour banding and a very fuzzy overall presentation. In the case of the former it is like someone had smeared a thin layer of vaseline over my TV, and this caused me to change out DVD players and screens to make sure it was not just a hardware issue.
The sound is generally fine, re-using backing tracks and voice actresses from the existing anime seasons to provide much of the same atmosphere. One massive negative mark on the show is the direction of Rie Tanaka, the Japanese voice actress for the doll Suigintou who is the main focus of the flashback. For the overwhelming majority of the OVA she speaks in a pained, gasping tone that quickly outstays its welcome due to how grating it is to listen to.
Ouverture, if you couldn't already gather, is a tremendously flawed work. It feels like a project that was started without any sort of clear vision or reason to exist and it really, really shows. Even for someone who identifies as a fan of the franchise this entry feels like a dull meandering trawl. It's impenetrable to newcomers as it expects a level of comfort with the characters, but then wastes time on remedial exposition anyway. In the end, it is just unpleasant to watch and satisfies no-one. Truly a load of junk.