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Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Apocalypse Saga Blu-ray Anime Review

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Revolutionary Girl Utena Blu-ray Set 3The 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. But the Council’s ambitions are reignited 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 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 gives us a great piece of Utena between two of the more prominent men in the show with a really intense moment that’s both thrilling and frightening all done up while the rose sigil is behind them. The deep green 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..

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. There’s a lot here beyond that 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 Blu-ray edition of the series with a ton of love and care. With the beautiful 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 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles

TV Series extras: Animated art gallery, interviews with Director Kunihiko Ikuhara, interview with actresses Tomoko Kawakami (“Utena”) and Yuriko Fuchizaki (“Anthy”), interviews with the English-language cast, Japanese staff commentary for episodes 37-39, dueling themes karaoke, TV spots, Trailers.

Movie extras: Full-length movie commentary by Director Ikuhara, behind the scenes with the English cast, TV spots, and trailers.

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

Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: December 5th, 2017
MSRP: $79.99
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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