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Revolutionary Girl Utena Collection 3 – Apocalypse Saga Anime DVD Review

12 min read

The time to revolutionize the world is at hand – but will anyone notice?

What They Say:
As the final duel rapidly approaches, the Student Council’s will to continue is beginning to waver. After all, End of the World’s identity and motives remain a mystery, and Utena, fueled by her desire to protect Anthy, continues to prevail over the feeble ambitions that drive the Student Council to fight. The Council’s ambitions are reignited, however, when they hear a sound. At first, it’s faint, but soon it becomes clear: the promised revolution is within reach – and the duels must go on. And what of Utena’s own ambition? To become a prince, the duels may be only one of the trials she has yet to face.

The Review:
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 fifteen episodes here is spread across three discs with four episodes to each of them and three on the last 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 several 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 Akiom Utena and Anthy together that works very well with the shades of purple used. 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 many clear thinpaks that covers the TV series, the movie and the disc of extras 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.

With this final set, there are extras on some of the discs that come more in the form of commentary tracks with the series Japanese director and the like as well as on the movie disc. The bulk of the extras are all available on a separate disc and there’s an extensive amount of material here, when combined with the awesome book that was made, really makes this as near a complete collection as can be for North American fans. There’s a lot here with behind the scenes material, interviews, trailers, TV spots and other production items such as galleries that you can get into a lot of different things with it. The more you watch, especially with the behind the scenes material and the copious commentary tracks, the more you can connect with the series and feature itself.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the final section of Revolutionary Girl Utena, the series takes on a bit more of a surreal feel which is appropriate. With much of the series premise being about moving beyond childhood and things associated with it into young adults, there are so many different things that young people have to face that seems unusual, contradictory and nonsensical to them, especially when there’s often no real guidance or explanations about it by adults. And with this series, having the only adult being Akio as the acting chairman and obligatory Lord of Flies, well, suffice to say these kids are being manipulated like crazy and not even realizing it.

While the middle arc dealt with the more psychological aspects of the characters and their problems as they were manipulated and tested, this one goes in a bit more of a languid approach is it touches upon real relationships and physicality. It plays it a bit coy in some ways, but there’s a growing push to pair up Utena with Akio as she’s most definitely drawn to him and he’s seeing her as a potential to really be the one to let the game come full circle at last. By using her through the Rose Bride in order to free the power Dios again, he wants to be able to achieve everything he wanted that was thwarted in that strange, distant time that happened with Anthy that put them in this position. And that close bonding that happens through some small dates, her moving in with Anthy in the tower residence and then spending time alone in the car and out in what seems to pass for the real world through a skewed view, well, it pushes a lot of buttons. Age differences, position of authority, sexuality and more comes into play and through the style we’ve seen from the series since the start, watching it unfold is almost hypnotic even as it avoids directly being lecherous or full of fanservice in a creepy way. It’s restrained in a very distinct way.

Similar to just about every other instance of watching this particular arc of the series, I’m still in that strange place where I completely understand what it is they were trying to say and the way they did it, but I always fall back to just enjoying it on a more base and simple level. There’s plenty of symbolism, metaphors and other tricks used here to be something bigger, and it’s open to a whole lot of interpretation based on personal experiences and beliefs, but it’s also a very, very well done show as it handles the characters going through another round of duels, bringing past grudges to light once again to be dealt with and doing it all while keeping Anthy and Utena’s problems front and center, especially with Akio thrown into the mix. It goes big with the action and it’s overall visual direction is a natural progression that suits it perfectly. The bringing together of so much that happened with the characters at the end of the series is definitely very well done, almost a little cruel at the end, but it’s also the kind of show that ends in what I consider good anime form with some answers and some ambiguity that leaves you guessing and making your own decisions about where it would go from there.

Adolescence Of Utena Movie
Unlike past experiences with the TV series, I was able to go directly into the movie after finishing the series. While I’m typically not as much of a fan of movies rewriting the TV series with huge changes, this movie is one where it’s practically a requirement because it’s the grand opportunity to take a series that went big and tighten it down hard and show it from a very different perspective. The movie doesn’t take place within a timeframe of the movie but more as a new telling of it from a different perspective. As such, the endings are quite different as are the fates of many characters. One of the more frequent characters from the series, Nanami, only makes a token appearance at the halfway mark in her cow form while battling against Chu Chu and Kerropon. School headmaster Akio also has a drastic change in his impact on the show, going from crucial to “hello balcony drop-off”.

The show opens with the introduction of tomboyish Utena into one of the more unique looking schools ever created. While checking out a dueling match, she spies across the courtyard a childhood friend in the form of Touga. Dashing through the school, she eventually catches up with him and tries to find out why their paths have crossed again after so many years. He mentions the ring he has with the seal of the rose as being what he’s followed, and gives her a ring as well.

After exploring a bit more, Utena comes across another classmate named Anthy at the top of this platform that’s filled with roses. Anthy reveals that she’s the Rose Bride and obeys those who command her. Which is the cue for Saionji to enter, with his full green hair flowing behind him and a more desperate look in his face than you’d expect. Saionji explains a bit more about the Rose Bride, as he currently has “ownership” of her, and then upon noticing the rose seal ring on Utena’s finger, he takes the challenge of a duel for Anthy.

The duel is fast and furious, the music makes the sequence all the more tense and edgy, and the animation is stunning. The show, which while filled with a quiet sense of danger and presence, drops all pretense and just lunges into the battle and life springs forth from it. It’s an engaging moment that’s over all too fast. And a surprising one for Saionji as he finds himself the loser, and Anthy finds herself belong to Utena now.

The show doesn’t drop into a mode of repeated duels to gain control (that’s what the multi-layered TV series is for) but there are still a number of exciting duels to come. The time between them is used to present more of the characters and how they’re adapting to life inside this closed world. Akio, the school headmaster, had a sizably larger role in the TV series, but finds himself used for only setup here of other elements. He does have two amusing moments when he swivels over the cars and makes a sound doing it. I don’t know why, but I swear it cracks me up.

One other scene that continually has left me in awe of the talent behind this movie takes place when Utena goes to the rose platform and makes accusations at Anthy about how her life is. She complains that she can’t even see the stars at night, at which point all her energy is gone and she simply drops. Anthy goes to the water pipe and smashes it while the sun goes down. When Utena wakens, the roses are floating all over the platform, and reflected in the water is the stars in the sky. The two are intimately close through this, and with beautiful music playing, the two dance across the starry rose-laden platform.

It sounds corny as hell, but it’s one of the most powerful moments in this movie and it just stays with you.

The Utena movie is Ikuhara’s grand slam out of the ball park. It’s lavish on many levels and provides enough of a mental headbanging to keep a psychiatrist awake at night for weeks on end. I’d say this is him at the top of his game, but with him taking time to learn film from the US schools and learning some good decadent American ways, his next project is probably going to be even more over the top and more daring. The Utena movie is definitely one of the things that US fans will always remember him for though.

In Summary:
I hate saying it in general, but I consider Revolutionary Girl Utena to be required viewing. It’s a series that works with a lot of different ideas and a structure that doesn’t always work, but it achieves something few series really manage to in the long term. There’s a lot of thought and work that went into the psychological side of the series and it covers it in spades from different perspectives while dealing with the overall core idea of how we have to traverse from children to adults, usually with no help at all and constant feelings of loneliness, unease and uncertainty. Nozomi Entertainment has put together what’s definitely the definitive DVD edition of the series with a ton of love and care. With the beautifully remastered video, 5.1 sound, the inclusion of the movie and a slew of solid extras that helps to expand the understanding and appreciation of it all, there’s nothing that I can really find flaw with here. Very highly recommended and yet another top notch gem in Nozomi’s library of titles.

Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

TV Series Special Features: Animated Art Galleries, Interview with Director Kunihiko Ikuhara, Interview with Actresses Tomoko Kawakami (Utena) and Yuriko Fuchizaki (Anthy), Interviews with the English Voice Cast, Japanese Staff Commentary for Episodes 37-39, Dueling Themes Karaoke (Japanese Audio), Japanese TV Spots, Japanese Trailers, Previews.

Movie Special Features: Full-Length Commentary by Director Ikuhara, Behind the Scenes with the English Cast, Japanese TV Spots, Japanese Trailers, Original North American Trailer & Teaser.

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

Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: December 6th, 2011
MSRP: $79.99
Running Time: 460 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 / 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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