Utena, Revolutionary Girl DVD Set 2: The Black Rose Saga – DVD Review

Review by: Sophie Stevens

Publisher: RightStuf!/Nozomi Entertainment
MSRP: $49.99 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: 16+
Release Date: Available Now

Welcome to the real war of the roses.

The Student Council Saga was not only a great beginning to a truly enjoyable anime series but it also opened the door to something delightfully different and meaningful. In it we meet a different kind of “prince” and a girl who is the key to revolutionizing the world. Utena, Revolutionary Girl DVD Set 2 begins the second chapter called The Black Rose Saga and believe me when I say that it makes for yet another compelling and addictively watch-worthy set you should not miss.

Life in Ohtori Academy has become very interesting for Utena Tenjou ever since she met the lovely Anthy Himemiya who also happens to be known as the Rose Bride by a secretive clique within the Student Council interested in being engaged to her to bring about a world-changing revolution. It is Utena who stands as Anthy’s “prince” and defeats each member of the Student Council in a series of old-fashioned sword duels. So you can see that all eyes are now on Utena … especially the head of a group called the Circle of the Black Rose that is sponsored by the Mikage Seminar.

We meet Souji Mikage who we come to learn has somebody in his life who he believes truly deserves to be the real Rose Bride despite the fact that this candidate – a young man, no less – bares a striking resemblance to Anthy Himemiya. Souji will stop at nothing to make this all possible and the only way he can do that is if somebody killed Anthy. The person capable of carrying out the killing of the current Rose Bride must be somebody who is so consumed by jealousy, greed or a deep-rooted hatred.

Meanwhile, Utena makes an interesting discovery … Anthy has an older brother named Akio Ohtori who also happens to be the school’s acting Chairman. Akio happens to have an attractive fiancé named Kanae who, on the surface, comes off as sweet and kind towards Anthy. However, Kanae secretly believes that Anthy does no like her or feel she is best suited to her big brother and it troubles the girl to the point that she turns to the Mikage Seminar that happens to be located in an abandoned hall called the Nemuro Memorial Hall that is rumored to be the place where 100 students were killed in a freak fire.

As it turns out, Kanae is but the first of many victims of the Mikage Seminar as the people who go there come back not only wearing a ring with a black rose imprinted on it but also completely changed personality-wise. This change leads to Kanae to challenge Utena to a duel in hopes of killing Anthy and so begins Utena’s return to the unusual dueling arena.

So too falls Kozue, Mickey’s twin sister who so happens to have a very unhealthy love for Mickey that turns dangerous when Kozue realizes that her brother has a major crush on Anthy. Once again, a challenge is made and Utena is forced to duel. Then there’s Shiori Takatsuki, Student Council member Jury Arisugawa’s ex-friend who betrayed Jury by stealing away the boy she loved. Troubled that Jury doesn’t want anything to do with her, Shiori’s frustration turns deadly thanks again to the Mikage Seminar’s peculiar interview process.

Things become personal when Utena’s best friend, Wakaba, starts acting funny. You see, Wakaba has a secret involving ex-Student Council member and recently expelled Saionji. When she feels up against the wall and sees no other choice, Wakaba turns to the wrong person for help and ends up in a dramatic duel against Utena who refuses to fight a friend.

It’s clear that somebody has been slipping Black Rose rings on these people and Utena and her friends try to discover the mystery man connected to the Nemura Memorial Hall. Utena finds herself finally confronting her foe and learning of the young man’s past in the process. It’s a confrontation that is dramatic and downright entertaining.

Like the first part, the series plays up some lighthearted moments and funny ones as well as Nanami continues to be behind some of the best laughs in the series. Here, Nanami dons a most unusual fashion accessory best suited for a barnyard animal with disastrous results. Then, her obsession with her big brother leads one of her three followers – Keiko – to become part of the Mikage Seminar. We even get a second recap episode that acts as a sort of “Best of Nanami” clip show.

There’s much to love about a series that handles romance, drama and comedy to a unique degree that makes us want to keep watching. The Black Rose Saga is definitely an even better entry than the first and I absolutely loved the first part. I also enjoyed the fact that the Shadow Girls are now becoming a bigger part where Utena now comments on their crazy routines.

That said, The Black Rose Saga of Utena, Revolutionary Girl makes the DVD Set 2 a real Must Have for anything looking for a unique anime experience. You really can’t help but loving its style and storytelling that – hands down – makes this a true anime classic that you will want to watch again and again. Yes, this sounds like high praise but those who have been following Utena already know just how good this series is and, yes, cannot wait for the third DVD set.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
Having defeated the members of the Student Council, a mysterious young man who is part of a very revolutionary project sets his sights on Utena with the intention of killing the Rose Bride. Sending a collection of students whose souls are in turmoil, Utena must defeat them and defend Anthy and unravel the mystery of Nemura Memorial Hall.

VIDEO QUALITY: B+
As I mentioned in my review of the first part, the animation might be on the dated side but that is not necessarily a negative thing considering the fact that the art direction is unique and handled beautifully throughout. The show definitely looks great on DVD.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The music in this series is definitely a highlight as are the opening and closing theme songs but the rocking tune before the duels never gets old in my opinion. Then there’s the voice acting that is still topnotch whether you prefer the original Japanese voices or the English dub.

EXTRAS: B+
This set contains an animated art gallery, an original 1997 Japanese promo video for the series as well as a number of Nozomi trailers. There’s a four-part interview with Director Kunihiko Ikuhara that took place during the 2001 Big Apple Anime Fest that touches on a few interesting points about the art direction and other fun tidbits.

Then there’s the 91-page soft cover booklet that includes episode commentary, the key art gallery, Utena’s art style input plus an interview with Art Director Shichiro Kobayashi and another interview with Character Designer Shinya Hasegawa. The best stuff comes in the form of episode commentary from the director as well as the intriguing Part 1 of the Making of Be-Papas Studios. This is definitely worth the read.

OVERALL: A+
The Black Rose Saga is a strong entry in a series that continues to shine brightly and remain just as appealing as the first half. Utena, Revolutionary Girl is just one of those instant classics that you can’t help but fall in love with and believe me when I say you will definitely look forward to the third DVD set. This is one revolution you shouldn’t miss.

Review copy provided by RightStuf!/Nozomi Entertainment

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