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Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Black Rose Saga Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read

Revolutionary Girl Utena Blu-ray Set 2The path to revolutionizing the world is not new as we see a previous program surface in the present.

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? However, Utena won’t have time to dwell upon such matters. 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 are want kill her.

The Review:
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 Juri and Shiori together all done up while the rose sigil is behind them. The deep orange 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 certainly 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. 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 people’s 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.

In Summary:
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. This is also boosted really well thanks to the visual presentation as it carries forward what we had with the first set. The high definition aspect definitely makes a big difference and the result is great with a far more appealing series with its colors and details.

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 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Animated art gallery, 1997 Utena Promotion, and interviews with Utena Director Ikuhara.

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

Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: November 7th, 2017
MSRP: $49.99
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
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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