Review for Revolutionary Girl Utena: Part 3 - Blu-ray Collector's Edition
It’s not the worst feeling in the world, but it’s never good when you have high expectations for a show, and the show fails to deliver. Revolutionary Girl Utena has always been built up in my expectations as the epitome of shojo anime, a veritable classic loved by fans all over the world. On the strength of this reputation, and the fantastically bonkers Adolescence of Utena feature film which I had already seen, I went the whole hog and ordered the three collector’s editions from All the Anime. And now that I have been watching them, they’ve consistently fallen short of my expectations, especially the Part 2 Black Rose Saga, which appeared to offer a narrative dead end capped off with a reset button, not good in a show already driven by an episodic cyclical storytelling style. This Apocalypse Saga should at least get the story back on track, but as it stands, I’m really only looking forward to revisiting the movie at this point. I’m willing to be proven wrong though.
Utena’s parents died when she was a little girl, but she was consoled by a prince, who gave her a distinctive rose ring. And like every sweet princess, Utena vowed to grow up to be a prince, just like her saviour. And now she’s attending the exclusive Ohtori Academy, where her predilection for a princely school uniform gets her loads of female fans.
There’s something strange going on at the Academy however, specifically in the Student Council, who partake of a bizarre tradition. The council members all wear rings of the sort that Utena was given, and this allows them to duel for the hand of the Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya. She’s also a student at the school, although the expectation is that she will be ‘owned’ by the victor of the duels, and subject to their whims; all part of some strange destiny. And then Utena defeats the obnoxious Council Vice President Kyoichi Saionji in a duel, and wins the hand of the Rose Bride...
The concluding 15 episodes of Revolutionary Girl Utena are presented across 3 discs, and a fourth disc presents the Adolescence of Utena feature film, all from All the Anime in this Collector’s Edition release.
25. Their Eternal Apocalypse
26. Miki’s Nest Box (The Sunlit Garden – Arranged)
27. Nanami’s Egg
28. Whispers in the Dark
29. Azure Paler Than The Sky
30. The Barefoot Girl
31. Her Tragedy
32. The Romance of the Dancing Girls
33. The Prince Who Runs Through The Night
34. The Rose Seal
35. The Love That Blossomed in Wintertime
36. And This Opens the Doorway of Night
37. The One to Revolutionize the World
38. End of the World
39. And Someday, Together, We’ll Shine
The Adolescence of Utena Feature Film
Click here to read the review of the original DVD release of the film from MVM. While my appreciation of the film has grown with repeat viewings, my opinion of its story hasn’t really changed.
Revolutionary Girl Utena gets a 1.33:1 widescreen 1080p pillar-boxed transfer. Utena is one of those landmark shows, and as such, it got a restoration funded by the Japanese studio (usually it’s Discotek hunting down old film prints and shelling out). This was a cel and paint anime, from before the switchover to digipaint, and as such, it would benefit the most from an HD transfer and restoration. The image is clear and sharp, although it’s had enough in the way of noise reduction to diminish the sense of a film source. But detail levels are excellent, and colours are rich and consistent. This is all to the good, as Kunihiko Ikuhara’s prodigious imagination is on display here. Utena is a shojo anime aimed at the female demographic, and that tells in the softer colours, and the elegant character designs. The film might have been really out there, but the TV series isn’t short on abstract imagery and directorial quirks.
The Adolescence of Utena movie gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p presentation on the final disc. It’s a pretty fair presentation, as while the rather more simplistic TV series visuals do benefit from an HD remaster, the film’s more complex visuals and sheer imagination aren’t served quite as well by the obvious DNR and rather static grain structure that ensues. Knowing how well feature film anime can turn out in HD, you do know that there is better possible.
You have the choice between PCM 5.1 Surround Japanese, and PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. Just like the video, the audio got re-mastered in Japan, rather than being the usual up-mix accomplished by US studios. That is apparent from the first moment when the theme song for the first episode plays, as this is certainly not a glorified stereo track. The surrounds are put to great use helping the show’s music fill the room, while the action and ambience is genuinely immersive. Given the rock opera feel to the show, the surround is definitely worth it. The actors are suited to their roles, and the subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos. The feature film has the same options, but I did notice that while the dialogue and action was fine in the film, the music, particularly the insert songs didn’t fare quite as well, having a hard time deciding which speaker to issue forth from.
You get 4 discs in a BD Amaray style case with a reversible sleeve, with all four discs on either face of two centrally hinged panels. The case slides into a rigid slipcase, where you will also find a foldout poster and 5 artcards, and with enough room to also slide in the blurb sheet in the cellophane on the back of the case.
The discs boot to animated menus, and each disc ends with a translated English credit scroll for all the preceding episodes. The extras are presented as follows.
Interview with Director Kunihiko Ikuhara Pt. 3 (3:13)
Interview with Director Kunihiko Ikuhara Pt. 4 (4:54)
Animated Art Boards Part 2 slideshow (36:21)
Interviews with Cast and Crew x10 [3 Japanese and 7 US] (45:56)
Clean Closings 2-4 (4:04)
Duelling Themes Karaoke x12 (25-odd minutes worth)
Japanese TV Spots (3:29)
Audio Commentary on Episodes 37, 38, & 39 with Hideki Mori (CPM Media), Kunihiko Ikuhara (director), Chiho Sato (mangaka)
Feature film commentary from director Kunihiko Ikuhara
Behind the Scenes: Recording the English Dub with Kunihiko Ikuhara (12:55)
Japanese Remastered DVD Box Set Movie Spoiler Spot (0:16)
Adolescence of Utena Trailers (2:18)
I hope with this that my karma is finally balanced out. Between me getting a broadband connection, and Crunchyroll (which was still free with adverts at the time) finally getting enough of a catalogue to eat up my free time, I went a little nuts ‘other-meansing’ the anime which wasn’t easily available in UK retail. There’s a whole lot of anime on my hard-drive which I have never actually got around to watching, including Revolutionary Girl Utena. Piracy is bad, mmm’kay, so I’ve been balancing karma by getting those shows on disc when possible to watch, and then deleting those unwatched files. Revolutionary Girl Utena has been waiting, unwatched on my HD for 12-odd years at this point, only now it’s in my recycle bin, as I’ve finally watched the show on my retail copies of the three Collector’s Edition releases. I just hope no one re-releases Coyote Ragtime Show, as that is pretty much my last vestige of karma to be corrected.
It might just be twice the karma I’ve paid back, as in the end, I didn’t enjoy Revolutionary Girl Utena. The Student Council Saga managed to hold my attention when I reviewed the first part, but the second part, The Black Rose Saga lost me with its whopping great reset button at the end of the arc. In my review of Part 2, I realised that most importantly, I had outgrown the target audience; this is a show best appreciated by an audience of similar age to its protagonists, who can more easily relate to the issues the characters face. The second thing is the story relies on cyclical storytelling (which helps with the use of stock shots), and 39 episodes of allegory and metaphor, really requires your full attention to be worthwhile. My attention drifted far too much during the Apocalypse Saga to do the show justice. Thankfully for my wallet, I did leave with the intent to give the show another chance, but I want to leave it long enough to lose this experience from my memory so I can give it my full attention next time.
We’re still with the cyclical episodic storytelling, with the characters duelling over who gets to be with the Rose Bride. The difference in the Apocalypse Saga is that the weapons for the duel are drawn from the combatants, not the prize. There’s also the recurring motif of the sports car on the highway, where the next prospective foes for Utena to face, get a ‘pep talk’ from the acting School Chairman, Akio. Akio is Anthy’s brother, and as the story progresses, the twisted relationship between Anthy, Akio and Utena is expanded upon. As the story meanders to its conclusion, the meaning behind this world is revealed, and secrets uncovered. There are the odd diversionary episodes that break from the norm, and the story also slips from the routine as it concludes. But I found the climax of the story to be unsatisfying and ambiguous. Revolutionary Girl Utena never matched the expectations that close to two decades of hype provoked in me.
But then there is the Adolescence of Utena movie, which I first saw fifteen years ago when MVM brought out the DVD, and which I’ve appreciated more and more with each re-watch. Back when I reviewed it, I was impressed with how it compressed 39 episodes worth of television into a concise and effective 85 minute feature. Now having seen the series, and of the opinion that it could tell its story in a fraction of the time, if it didn’t adhere to its circular narrative, it seems less of a miracle. But it makes it no less of a movie, and I loved it even more. It takes the characters from the TV show, and tells a parallel universe story, is far more direct about the tale it wants to tell, and is a lot more effective in finding the emotional arcs. Watching the TV show beforehand helps with the little character cameos and Easter Eggs in the film, but it turns out to be in no way essential. The Adolescence of Utena knows the story it wants to tell, does so in as efficient a way as possible, and still manages to blow the mind in the process. It is everything the TV series is not, and I now wish that All the Anime had released the movie separately.
The Revolutionary Girl Utena Collector’s Edition Part 3 Blu-ray is still available at the time of writing direct from Anime Limited, from Anime on Line, and United Publications, as well as mainstream retailers. It might be easier to get the Standard Edition release at this point, and if you want the whole kit and caboodle in one shot, All the Anime released a Complete Utena Collector’s Edition this year.