What They Say:
Utena and Anthy have become close during their time as roommates, so when Anthy casually mentions she has a brother, Utena can’t help but feel shocked. She thought she knew Anthy, but the longer she and Anthy are friends, the more she discovers she doesn’t know. What other secrets could Anthy be keeping?
Utena won’t have time to dwell upon such matters, however, as a new group of duelists has emerged from the shadows. These new challengers wear black rose signets and also seek revolution, but their methods are different than those of Ohtori’s Student Council. They don’t wish to possess Rose Bride – they want to kill her.
Contains episodes 13-24, plus a collectors’ art box and a book featuring content from the recent, limited-edition Japanese DVD box set, including episode commentary, artwork and and the second installment of production notes from the Japanese laser disc release.
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.
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. On different setups, we can see some line noise present in the transfer which causes some jaggies, but it’s definitely varying in how noticeable is depending on the setup.
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 shadow style forms of Nanami, Tsuwabaki and the three girls who follow her inside the school background. Similar to the first one but using yellow as the signature color, 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. 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 ninety page full color booklet that covers a whole lot of material. The first book was half this size and this one goes even further with lots of interview material, plenty of designs, lots of sketches and more. The episode by episode commentaries continue and there’s a good segment talking about the formation of the Be-Papas. This is a trove of information and artwork for any Utena fan that definitely merits some serious time to read through without distraction.
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.
The extras for this release are spread across all three volumes and there’s some fun stuff here. It changes things up from the first set by including some fun interview material with the director, more of the art galleries and a promo for the series from when it was released.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With Revolutionary Girl Utena in this collected form, the show definitely has a different feeling from how it was when I first saw it, especially with the lengthy time between releases. The first set introduced a lot of material while still working through the basic idea of a dueling show involving middle school students with something bigger around the fringes. It offered up a lot of possibilities and definitely tantalized with where it could go since it left so much open. With this set, it doesn’t exactly start answering questions, in fact it asks more, but it expands on the overall setting and in turn engages you even more as things start to make sense.
While the first set handled the basic introductions, giving us Utena and Anthy and then rolling through the student council members and a few other supporting cast members such as Nanami, this one moves the story forward more. With a number of duels fought and with Utena coming to a peace of sorts with her role in them since she now wants to protect Anthy so she can be who she wants to be. Of course, we also learned that the Rose Bride follows the will of Utena as the current victor so we’re potentially not really getting the real Anthy at this point in time. And we do start to see that there’s more to her than meets the eye here as she’s spending time with someone who turns out to be her older brother, the current acting chairman of the school. Akio’s in that position as he’s engaged to the chairman’s daughter and he has a very, very playboy image to him with his suave moves, style of speech and the way he worms his way into peoples hearts.
What ties this set together is the introduction of Mikage, a professor that now runs a special seminar in the Academy that’s getting quite a bit of attention from certain quarters. What he does is bring in students one by one, putting them through a mild emotional wringer in order to find what it is they really motivates and moves them in life, their biggest fears and issues, and uses that to create a Black Duelist. They’re all made to go against Utena after he twists them and gives them a Black Rose signet ring that puts them in a whole other zone. What makes the fights engaging is the location, which is what we’ve seen before but has a significant difference in that there are a hundred desks there and the red outlines of a hundred dead students. And for Utena, each fight is a challenge to be sure simply because they’re people that she either doesn’t know or are just friends that she can’t imagine would do this. She’s able to dispatch them of course, but it has a very different flavor through the style, the people and the uniforms they wear.\
This set of episodes does deal with a new duel with almost every episode, and they are engaging even if it does have a fair bit of repetition because of the structure of the series, it doesn’t spend all its time on such things. The set is kind of awkward at first with a recap of the first twelve episodes and the last one on here has a retelling of certain events related to Nanami and her schemes since her introduction. But it also has what is probably my favorite single episode of the series when she throws a party and gets a mysterious gift that’s a Christian Dior cowbell. As it progresses, she starts turning into a cow in her personality and everyone is kind of surprised by it and trying to figure out how to nudge her back to reality by getting her to remove the cowbell. But she’s so set on status and appearance that she can’t remove it since it’s such a high end piece of jewelry. Watching Nanami go through all of these changes is very fun to watch since it’s in her personality and physical actions. It’s so distinct that even after not seeing it for years, it cracks me up just thinking about it.
Revolutionary Girl Utena covers a lot of ground here as it deals with the people drawn in by Mikage who are turned into Black Duelists. They all bring different fears, concerns and anxieties about being a teenager and coping with the world. What Mikage does here really is fascinating and it’s made even more engaging when we get that one episode that details his past, how he came into this position and the exploration of other plans to revolutionize the world. Add in the introduction of Akio and his role in events overall, the way he’s nudging things and the way our perceptions of Anthy change and there’s a ton to like here. Surprisingly, Utena is much less of a focus here when looking at the set as a whole as she’s the one to deal with the duels, but that’s about it. Most of what we get is the exploration of the character of the week and their issues, manipulated into being a Black Rose Duelist and then facing those problems in the duel itself. There’s a lot of layers to explore here and a lot of surface enjoyment as well, making for a pretty engaging set and one that works surprisingly well again even all these years later.
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: August 2nd, 2011
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.