Revolutionary Girl Utena Vol. #03: The Black Rose Blooms -

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Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Central Park Media
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena Vol. #03: The Black Rose Blooms

By Chris Beveridge     November 13, 2002
Release Date: November 12, 2002

Revolutionary Girl Utena Vol. #03: The Black Rose Blooms
© Central Park Media

What They Say
From the director of Sailor Moon and the key animation supervisor of Neon Genesis Evangelion! A haunting and surreal coming-of-age fairy tale: Utena has always protected her shy friend Anthy from jealous bullies. But now, mysterious forces are actually trying to kill Anthy, and only Utena, with the help of a magical sword and an eccentric cast of characters, can solve the mystery.

The Review!
After more than a 2 ½ year hiatus between the last volume and this one, things just went smoothly and within seconds of the opening sequence, I was once more in love and in tune with the world of Utena.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The shows stereo mix continues to be strongest with the music, with that aspect sounding the richest and fullest across the forward soundstage. Dialogue throughout is nice and clear, though there isn’t quite that much in terms of directionality.

In some ways, Utena will simply never look gorgeous, especially for those hoping these episodes will look like the movie they’ve seen. The transfer for Utena here looks quite similar to the Japanese release, with its pale large swathes of color that look solid, but just have that feel like they’re going to break up. Characters are fairly minimally drawn at mid to long range, and they often look little more than little blocks of color. This release was done on a dual layered disc, so with the extra bits and fewer episodes compared to the first two volumes, there is an improvement in overall quality. Cross coloration is fairly well non-existent and there’s only some slight aliasing during a few panning sequences.

One drastic and excellent improvement is the shift in cover artwork used, and I believe this pulls from the Japanese laserdisc covers. With the Japanese and English logos along the top, we get the volume title below it and a nice shot of Utena and Anthy embraced set against the white background that meshes into a flow of roses. The back cover does the background in reverse, with the white section providing the discs special features and episode summaries while mixing in some animation shots. The reverse side of the cover has some nice black and white artwork for both Utena and Anthy while providing scene selections for all four episodes, a full bilingual cast listing and the basic production credits for the show.

Using the stylized spinning roses in the frame as the basis of the menu, they added in a transition piece of character artwork in the lower right corner that runs through as animation plays underneath and the opening song hurls along. Selections are quick and easy to make (though I continue to dislike the episodes being called “movie”. The menus have definitely come along nicely from their earlier ones, though I dislike the way it plays automatically after a few run throughs.

There’s some good extras included here, though one of them is going to be the very definition of milking it. And that’s the interview with series director Ikuhara, who gets a nice 2 minute piece here that was done during a recent convention. With the listing of more to come at the end, it’s just a longer interview piece broken up into multiple discs. While I can appreciate the practical reasons behind it, I hate it from a fan perspective. I want to hear Ikuhara talk at length, not in what amount to soundbites. But for that, I’ll just go to the movie commentary track. The art gallery runs about 50 seconds as a video piece, showcasing some really nice pieces of artwork. There’s a six minute interview session with one of the English voice actors, this time with Roxanne Beck (Wakaba), and there will presumably be more in the future. A definite necessity for those who’ve forgotten what they’ve seen before, there’s an almost four minute video text piece that talks about what happened during the first thirteen episodes. This is great in that it does help recap things, but also manages to refresh it just right before going into these episodes. And finally, there’s a nice brief video text piece that talks about Chiho Saito and what she’s done beyond Utena itself.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Well, first things first. There’s a few things on here that for some people is going to completely and utterly destroy any chance of them actually enjoying the works contained on this disc. So let’s get that out of the way. After a previous promise to not use any hard subtitles, several have shown up on this disc. Depending on what you consider them to be, there’s a couple or there’s a bunch. Since I don’t consider the English logo underneath and partially over the Japanese logo to be all that bad, considering enough companies still replace them outright, I don’t consider them as hard subtitles. Nor the episode translations or the “next episode” text that’s underneath the Japanese text.

Within the episodes, there are maybe five instances that I recall where a sign has a hard subtitle below it with the translation. Not directly over the Japanese text, not obscuring anything else really. The only two that were detailed were from a clipboard image where we see the characters vitals such as name and other information written out. This is shifted up to the left top side of the screen in black text. But strangely, there’s one sign that’s hanging on a doorknob that got a soft subtitle. Why they went this way is beyond me instead of providing a second subtitle track as is becoming increasingly common. But from the reactions I’ve seen about it, it’s just another reason so many fans get written off by not only the companies, but by other fans as well. At least all the songs are soft subtitled.

So, two paragraphs about how a show could be ruined. Well, they bothered me for all of two seconds when they were on, but after that I was once again lost inside this world of Utena and the Ohtori Academy. The love I have for this show pretty much all came rushing back, since it’s been so many years since I saw the last installment on DVD.

The Black Rose Saga is one that makes much more sense the second time around, which is my subtle way of saying I’ve seen the entire series already, thank you very much. After all that had happened to the school council during their previous duels, almost all of them are off doing their own thing at the moment. Utena and Anthy are living comfortably together in their own wing of the academy and are going about their business. Things would likely continue this way if it wasn’t for Soji, an enigmatic high school boy who has college professors bowing at his feet, and that’s just for starters. This boy has influence, and has built it up well within his own close circle, allowing for few to really know his power. After seeing what Utena has done to the school council, he’s now firmly setting his sights on her.

His methods are definitely different than those of the council however. His style is to bring someone who is not a duelist into the game by getting to the core of the hearts worst problem of fear, and then turning them to his favor. This is shown in a very interesting way, with the person arriving for an interview and talking to him from a small room that seems to glide down. As they talk, they reveal secrets about themselves, and he offers the simple words about revolutionizing the world. At this point, their hearts are under his power, as the area of the school he manages to control is one where some time in the past, one hundred duelists died tragically. In the basement, he provides his interviewee with the black charred rose ring, and sends them off to challenge Utena.

Those who go under the power of Soji and the ring end up with some impressive skills, and the confidence to back it up with. Their mental outlook is definitely changed as well, as the darker side is brought forth, a colder aspect of their personality being in charge of them. We see this initially from Kanae, a woman we come to know as the schoolmasters bride to be. The schoolmaster named Akio, who we learn is actually Anthy’s older brother, isn’t the full master of the school, but sort of helping the family out. Through the relationship, the Academy’s real master, Kanae’s father, has given Akio power there, and Kanae has fallen madly in love with in. Akio returns it as well.

Kanae goes from this bright and attractive blonde with a very outgoing friendly personality to that of a cold hearted duelist quickly, and with the black rose ring on her finger, she challenges and battles against Utena for possession of the rose bride. And this happens again and again, as Soji looks for the one who can really handle Utena. In some senses, this is like the monster of the week of most other shows, except that these moments reveal such a wealth of information and background that it’s really unfair to consider them such. What we learn from Kanae and then Kozue and so forth is critical for the show to leap forward.

This volume also contains one of my favorite episodes, where Touga’s younger sister Nanami has decided to take control of the student council. In one of her celebratory moments, she throws a party to show off some jewelry, only to be outshone by Jury’s necklace. But something helps her out, and an collection piece from a prolific British designer arrives. She quickly changes gears and uses that as her piece, not realize that it’s just a really fancy cowbell.

Yes, a cowbell. She does everything with that cowbell on, though nobody can bring themselves to tell her how silly she looks wearing it, regardless of its origins. But even though it’s comedic in appearance, it does have a darker motive to it and it starts to mollify her, and she slowly becomes cowlike in personality, eating more and more and her vocabulary interspersing with “moo’s” throughout. If there’s any real disappointment with this disc, it’s how the translation for that was handled, where they added “ooo’s” into existing words when other translations have had her simply adding “moo’s” to the end of sentences or in various other areas. But that quibble aside, Nanami as a cow is a real highlight of the comedic style of this series and always cracks me up.

The return of Utena to my schedule is a very welcome thing, as I much prefer to have a translated version over the raw Japanese DVDs I have of it. This show, much like Ikuhara says in his brief interview, is definitely influenced from plays and the theater. Hearing him talk about that, and then taking in the architecture and design of it again really brings that point home, and even with this being something like my fourth viewing of the series, there’s still something new to be experienced with it. That’s a great series in my book.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Interview with the Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara,Interview with U.S. Voice Actor Roxanne Beck,Art Gallery,Episodes 1-13 Storyline Synopses,Artist Biography: Chiho Saito

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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