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 audio presentation for this release mirrors what we had on the last DVD edition but delivers it to us in uncompressed form with the Japanese side getting both 2.0 and 5.1 presentations and the English in 2.0. To some degree, the differences may be negligible on some setups as the DVDs were pretty solid on the 5.1 front but getting it uncompressed here definitely makes a difference in certain areas. 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, something I had wanted to hear since I got my hands on the DVDs back in 2011. 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 1080p using the AVC codec and it’s in its original full frame aspect ratio. The twelve episodes for this set are spread across three discs with four episodes per disc and it’s all worth while. 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. I’d wanted to see this remastered edition from several years back get the high definition treatment and it’s very much worth it to say the least 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. Colors are strong, the film grain natural and pleasing, detail holds up incredibly well, and the darker areas maintain their solidity beautifully. It’s almost a revelation in some scenes and it takes on a whole new life because of how well the color presentation is done.
The packaging for this release comes in a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case with a hinge inside to hold two of the discs. The front cover artwork is a familiar piece that’s well laid out with some great design elements as we get Anthy and Utena together all done up while the rose sigil is behind them. The brighter pink along the side with the logo definitely works well even if I’m usually not a fan of sideways pieces and it has a distinctive and elegant look about it as a whole. The back cover sticks to the black background with pink text design that reminds me of the original CDs I used to import for the show back in the 90’s. With some decent lighting, it’s all very easy to read and covers things well. The shots from the show are of a good size and I like the simple but elegant framing aspects. The technical information is a bit harder to read with it being smaller but everything is clearly and cleanly laid out. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
I really like the way this release is done with the menus as it pulls the familiar pieces together but it has a certain polish and quality about it that it really stands out well. It’s done with an all black background where we get the logo sideways along the left like the cover while the right has the character artwork, which changes from volume to volume with different character pairings. These are richly brought to life with the color quality here all while slowly spinning the rose sigil behind them. It’s subtle but effective in giving it movement without being distracting. The navigation along the bottom is straightforward with easy to read menus that move well throughout and are clear about what’s selected both during playback and as a top level menu.
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 about six years since I last saw the anime, 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 finally in high definition, 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 and 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.
One of the things I’ll long be grateful for is that a show like Utena was made before the problematic switch in how anime was produced in Japan, allowing us to have some great source material to work with that could be remastered and brought to life in high definition. I loved the DVD sets that I had before this from back in 2011 but this opening salvo really does help to change how you view things because the color and design pops on the screen even more than I expected it to. 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.
With the series celebrating its twentieth anniversary earlier this year, Revolutionary Girl Utena still has a real sense of identity that has held up wonderfully well over the years. 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. This set, if you’re not interested in the complete premium set coming out in a few months, is going to be your new favorite thing for a long time to come.
Japanese 5.1 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, TV Spots, Music Video
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: October 3rd, 2017
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
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.