I began my review of Nozomi/Right Stuf's first Revolutionary Girl Utena box set by discussing the difficulty of balancing surrealism and a coherent story. Many shows attempt both and fail at them equally. Thanks to interesting characters, an attractive art style and a set of solid performances, Utena balanced a very strange world with its increasingly complex story. It definitely started strong, but many shows begin strong and peter out near the end of its run.
So, the question is simple: Can the second and third parts of Utena continue to keep my interest? I mean, it's easy to handle all of the above in 12 episodes, but is it possible to keep up the same level of quality over another 27 episodes? Well, you'll just have to hit the jump to find out!
Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Black Rose Saga & The Apocalypse Saga
When we last left off, Utena defeated Touga to once again become the betrothed to Anthy, the Rose Bride. Despite throwing everything they have at her, the Student Council is still unable to properly defeat Utena. In comes Mikage, a genius who is intent on creating better duelists to defeat our plucky heroine. He makes those he can manipulate into Black Rose duelists, emotionally-drained individuals who seriously put Utena to the test. Instead of trying to control Anthy, Mikage wants to axe her and replace the Rose Bride with a sick boy named Mamiya. Obviously, things do not quite work out the way that Mikage or Utena planned, leading to sets of duels in the third volume involving duelists and their "Rose Brides."
To make matters even more interesting, we discover Anthy has a brother named Akio, who also happens to be the acting chairman of the school. Despite being engaged to the daughter of the actual headmaster, there are some hefty implications that Akio and his sister are a bit, uh, closer than they appear. Another wrench appears in Utena's emotions, as she slowly falls in love with Akio, despite his machinations behind the scenes. The duels leading into and through the final episodes culminate in an incredibly emotional battle that forces everybody to examine their motives and what costs they have.
Alright, once again that's a very brief synopsis for a show that goes into some pretty strange places. The second and third parts to Revolutionary Girl Utena go further into the realm of the absurd, with girls thinking they laid eggs, bells that turn people into cows and more bits of insanity. This extends to the relationships between characters, where simple incest is tame in comparison to the strange roads these people have traveled. The boundaries between man, woman, gay, straight and everything in between are blurred, so much so that you never really know a characters agenda until the end.
Nothing represents these blurred lines quite so much as Akio. A pretty boy in the most literal of terms, it doesn't really matter who you are. If you are human, are useful and are at least somewhat attractive, he'll probably bang you. However, look beyond his promiscuity and you'll see a cunning mind that is willing to do anything and use anyone to further his plans. Nothing is not a tool that he can mold and shape into an instrument of his. Yet, is that pimp exterior and brilliant interior all there is to him? Look even deeper and you'll a guy who is struggling to feel something in a seriously f**ked up world. He is by far the most fascinating character in the entire show and also a right bastard.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the other highlights in these episodes. Nanami continues to bring the laughs with some ludicrous side episodes that you definitely wouldn't see anywhere else. Her brother-complex antics go awry due to revelations later, but she still remains one of the best parts of the whole show. Honorable mention goes out to poor Miki and the crap he has to put up with between the School Council and his emotionally-damaged sister. For sheer trauma, I'll tip my hat to Mikage, but he's out of the picture before he can make a bigger impact. The shadow girls who perform are also comedy gold, but you'll find that the scenarios they bring up in their skits become reflective of what's going on. Be sure to pay attention!
Much like the first set of episodes, the quality of the animation comes and goes. Despite the general excellent quality of the remastered video, there is still the occasional bit of derp outside the well-animated stock footage. The audio is also pretty good in both languages, with the music properly reflecting the general oddity of Ohtori Academy. I warmed up a bit to the dub during this review, but I still prefer the original language track. Bonus points go to Crispin Freeman and Josh Mosby for their performances as Touga and Akio respectively.
Speaking of the stock footage, there are some new sets in each of the box sets, so be prepared to see a long hallway filled with signs, a descending elevator whilst a character spills their heart, Akio taking a ride on his bad ass whip, Anthy enchanting Utena's blade…you get the idea. Don't get me wrong, these clips all look great and their intelligent use probably kept this show on budget. It's just that there's a lot of repetition here. It's similar to the formula I mentioned during my review of the first set, but know there are more repeated scenes. It isn't a deal breaker, but it's definitely worth noting.
In terms of presentation of the final product, Nozomi/Right Stuf have done an amazing job. The boxes for the second and third sets have the same silhouette and color motif that I mentioned during my first review and they still impress me just as much as they did a couple of months back. DVDs come with the occasional commentary, which I always enjoy listening to. Each of the boxes comes with a booklet full of character art and interviews with the cast and crew, which is something I rarely see these days. You'll notice that the third set is a bit more expensive than set one and two, but that's for good reason. On top of booklet and an additional disk of extras, it includes The Adolescence of Utena film released in 1999. I'd definitely say that's worth the extra scratch right there. Those who order all three sets directly from RightStuf also get a replica of Utena's ring.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is a classic that everybody should give a shot. Granted, it won't be to everybody's taste, but it's unlike any other show out there. The flawed, damaged, intriguing characters have a surprising depth to them that most shows wish they could have. It treats growing up, relationships, sex and sexuality in a mature manor. In a world where sexuality and love have become more fluid and harder to define in definitely terms, I think the fantasy world of Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of better pieces of entertainment you can find.
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