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Revolutionary Girl Utena Collection 1 DVD Review

11 min read

Thrust into a world she doesn’t understand, Utena finds herself dueling with others, literally, in order to hold onto the Rose Bride.

What They Say:
“Never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up.” When Utena was just a child and in the depths of sorrow, she found salvation in those words. They were the words of a prince, who wrapped her in his rose-scented embrace and bestowed upon her both a ring and the promise that it would lead her to him again. She never forgot the encounter. In fact, she was so impressed that she aspired to be like the prince and also help those in need.

Now a spirited teenager, Utena attends the prestigious Ohtori Academy; however, her strong sense of chivalry soon places her at odds with the school’s student council and thrusts her into a series of mysterious and dangerous duels against its members.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio tracks for this release are very good as it uses the newer Japanese 5.1 mix, encoded at 448kbps, and it has a very strong design to it with the opening song in particular using all the channels to great effect. The disc also includes the original Japanese 2.0 mix and the CPM produced English 2.0 mix, both of which are encoded at 192kbps. Having listened to the other two mixes before, we opted for just the Japanese 5.1 mix and came away very pleased with it here. The dialogue scenes themselves are about as you’d expect considering the original stems, but the music is where there’s a lot of payoff as it has a very rich feeling and is worth the upgrade for that alone (and makes me drool over hearing it in lossless, someday, hopefully). The action scenes have a lot to like about it as well and the ambient sound effects add a lot to it. Just the first few minutes of the first episode sets a lot to the stage and expectations and the show pays off well with it. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of this language track.

Video:
Originally airing throughout 1997, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This release is working off of the remastered material from the recent Japanese release and it’s a significant upgrade over what we had before as it looks fantastic, and practically begs for that extra push into high definition since it’s from a film source. The twelve episodes here is spread across three discs with four episodes to each of them with a bitrate average that seems to stay pretty steadily in the nines. The series has a very specific look to it with soft, cool colors in the backgrounds and some striking colors that look good and really have some pop to it, especially with Utena’s hair and a few other areas that really shine. The look of the transfer is fantastic overall and it’s left me feeling very, very pleased by it as this is the Utena I’ve always wanted to see.

Packaging:
This release of Utena far outshines anything else released in the US before as it adheres to Nozomi’s particular standards. The show is released across three discs that are kept in three clear thinpak cases inside a heavy chipboard box. The box has a great amount of style to it with a black background and framing that gives it a very elegant but ominous feeling. The front of the box has the pairing of Utena and Anthy together, but stylistically it’s done where their skin is all in black so you can’t make out their features. With the floating castle in the background, done in the same kind of black and red designs, it has a very rich and detailed look that is really eye-catching. The back of the box is kept to a very simple look as it’s all black with just text. The series name along the top and the summary and extras breakdown is done in a soft gray which can be hard to read depending on the light, but it does cover everything really well. The technical information is kept to the grid which is along the bottom of the box.

Inside the box we get the three clear thinpaks and they’re all laid out the same with the logo running sideways along the left in a simple yet elegant font while the background has the rose symbol in a very light gray. Each of the covers features a different pairing of the cast, with the first showing Utena and Anthy, the second with Jury and her friend and the third with Touga and Nanami. The back covers are very simple but again works that in theme elegant look with an all white background that has just the rose symbol again along the top and a breakdown of the episodes by number and titles as well as what extras are available on that particular volume. None of the volumes have reversible covers.

The big extra with this set is the inclusion of a forty-six page full color booklet that covers a whole lot of material. The first few pages has the director providing commentary of a few paragraphs for the episodes on this set and a look back couple of pages as well. A couple of pages are devoted to the creation of the ending sequence as well which is enlightening. There’s also almost ten pages worth of discussion on the remastering with the Japanese staff behind it when it comes to both the video and audio which is really interesting to go through and understand what went into it. A couple of pages are devoted to talking about the manga and they even brought out several pages of liner notes from the previous Japanese laserdisc edition. Add in several pages of key art in gallery form and it’s really a fantastic book all around that really adds a lot to the release.

Menu:
The menu design for this release riffs off of the packaging pretty nicely when it comes to the thinpak portion. The layout is the same with the logo along the left while the right has the character artwork that’s on the cover of that particular volume. The bottom of the screen has the navigation and it’s all very straightforward and easy to use and the submenus load quickly and are problem free. The disc is laid out so that the Japanese 5.1 track is the first one to get picked up and our players’ language presets grabbed that with the full subtitles as its default.

Extras:
The extras for this release are spread across all three volumes and there’s some fun stuff here. The basics are here with the clean opening and closing sequences as well as a variety of TV spots for both the CD box set release and the remastered box set release in Japan. There’s also a TV spot for the Rondo- Revolution piece and a music video.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of those endlessly fascinating releases in that it was made at the same time as the manga but has significant differences to it but also quite a lot of similarities. These types of releases are few and far between these days but were rather rare back then as well. While the manga author and the man behind this series, Kunihiko Ikuhara, worked together at various points, the anime has a longer and more distinct vision to it that ends up standing out more than the manga. It’s been years since I read the manga, and even longer since I last saw the anime (and in single volumes no less), but I didn’t come away enjoying the manga all that much whereas I adored the anime. Coming back to it in this form with the first main arc in this set, it’s only increased my appreciation of it.

After coming off of a show like Sailor Moon, Kunihiko Ikuhara wanted to do something with more meaning to it and to work with a lot of symbolism. Utena is loaded with symbolism and meanings to it that you can go through a lot of interpretation with, especially as it progresses. This opening set deals with the basics of things though, but it layers it well with all the foundations that it sets. While it isn’t completely clear, leaving some of it up to the imagination, we’re shown the beautiful, lush and ancient feeling Ohtori Academy which is set on top of a hill on what seems like a tropical island. It has Greek-like structures and designs to it but it has a very specific intent to it where it’s made to be the piece that is constant, ageless and authoritarian in contrast to the large number of bright, young and energetic students that populates it. Teachers are barely seen outside of a few scenes and that helps to make the school itself feel like the adult that wraps itself around the students and keeps them safe and bound.

Into this world we’re introduced to Utena Tenjou, a junior high school student who had an incident when she was young where she met her prince and fell in love. What the time in that hazy memory did to her though was make her want to be strong and confident like the prince, which is why in junior high she wears a modified boys uniform which frustrates the teachers but earns her a great reputation from both the girls and the boys, though some do look on it oddly. She’s got a great friend in Wakaba though the two end up not being roomed together upon their going to this school. What’s happened is that Utena has acquired a ring with a rose on it and she discovers that there is a massive arena at the back of the academy where dueling happens among a small number of students that are on the student council. She discovers this through saving a beautiful young woman named Anthy from the crude ways of Saionji, a very attractive upperclassmen who calls her his Rose Bride and claims he can do what he wants with her.

This sets Utena down a path where she discovers that she’s one of these Duelists, though she’s not operating on the same level of knowledge as them. The four members of the student council, Touga, Saionji, Miki and Jury, all receive mysterious letters from someone known as the End of the World and sets them on duels with each other over who will control Anthy as the Rose Bride. The one that can control her an unlock her power will earn the ability to break the shell of the world and then revolutionize the world. Over the course of these twelve episodes, we see Utena getting drawn into it with her match against Saionji in which she gains control of Anthy and does her best to try to befriend her and help her out of the situation. But she has to defend her against the others who see an opportunity in getting her back, and each of these instances helps us to understand who they are and more about this whole situation.

These first episodes are certainly interesting and it hints at greater things, but it doesn’t quite capitalize on much of it at this point. It has a great blend of action, drama and humor that comes out in some surprising ways, but it also has a fair bit of repetition as it gets moving. Each episode features a duel and after the first one or two, it settles into a repeated sequence of animation that looks great but gets a bit tiring when watching twelve episodes in a row. Or even weekly I’d imagine. But the show has such a great sense of style about it with the music and atmosphere that you can forgive it this because it completely puts you in the right frame of mind for what’s to come. The fights here aren’t as intense as they could be, but it has a flair to it that keeps it interesting and a kind of luck that comes into play that keeps you unsure of what will really happen. It’s not predictable and that’s a big plus in its favor since each of the characters has interesting things about them when it comes to their motivations for capturing the Rose Bride.

Revolutionary Girl Utena has a beautiful look to it and it’s one of the things that drew me in early on. While it has something of a magical girl vibe going with parts of it, it’s done in a way that really sets it apart because of the angular look of the characters and the surreal nature of the way the world looks. There’s a strong sense of layout here, especially when it comes to the dueling arena, in how it creates a fantastical place but grounds a lot of it to reality. The structures of the world is endlessly intriguing with its architecture and how the life is brought into it with the greenery, the flowers and the atrium in particular. While a lot of attention is usually paid to the characters, and they are really beautifully done here, the look of the world as a whole is what draws me in long term and holds my attention in this area.

In Summary:
The first third of this series has a lot going for it in how it lays out the world it wants to operate in, but it’s only scratching the surface of what it’s going to do. The characters are superficial at this stage but are showing more of what’s underneath. While it’s closing in on its fifteenth anniversary, the series still has a real sense of identity that has held up very well. The music, the designs and the larger storyline that’s operating here has a real sense of power to it but it also knows how to have fun with its quirky nature. It has the big moments and the drama, but it has plenty of time where you can smile and laugh along with it all. Revolutionary Girl Utena has a lot to offer, but it’s one of the series that will take some amount of work in order to really get the most out of it. But it’s worth every moment and has great replay value.

Features:
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, TV Spots, Music Video

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

Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: June 7th, 2011
MSRP: $49.99
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

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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