Revolutionary Girl Utena, Vol. 3: The Black Rose Blooms (1997)
Review by Dindrane

Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara


Dindrane's Anime Warnings:

Rating: 13+

Anamorphic: N/A

My Advice: Rent it, or buy it if you’re a girl or like fencing

This is one title that stands on a razor’s edge; it could easily become too maudlin, too twisted, or too surreal for enjoyment. Luckily, it has not yet (and hopefully never will) become lost in the forest of shoujo darkness. Revolutionary Girl Utena is from the director of Sailor Moon and the key animation supervisor of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and if this sounds like an odd, yet intriguing combination, then you’re right--this title is a surreal coming-of-age story with elements of French faery tales, forbidden love, mental anguish, innocence lost and found, and many more complicated and often painful issues, all wrapped up in a pretty shoujo package.

In this disc, we get fewer episodes than in the previous releases--only four. But this beginning to the “Black Rose Saga” promises more of the wonderful surrealism and interpersonal angst that put this title on the map. Soji has decided that Anthy should die and be replaced by his own idea of the “correct” Rose Bride, and to do this, he manipulates the hearts of non-duelists, drawing them into the game and granting them the power to draw a sword from the heart of their beloved. Those under his power are marked with a black duelists’ ring and a black rose on their chest. One of the people Soji targets is Miki’s twin sister, and another is Kozue, Jury’s secret affection, and Kanae, the woman engaged to marry Anthy’s brother. These episodes are almost in the Sailor Moon weekly villain category, but they additionally become a catalyst for important character information.

One of the episodes, not directly a “black rose transformation” tale, deals with Nanami, and her reliance upon status symbols and desire to become a school idol. She begins wearing what she believes is a designer cowbell, which sets off a different kind of transformation--one in which Nanami essentially becomes a cow. This rather silly episode doesn’t seem to fit with the overall angsty and dark feel of the title as a whole, and yet fails to be funny enough to be comic relief either.

Admittedly, there are aspects of gender confusion (by this I do not mean merely homosexuality), incest on the part of more than one character, and psychological abuse, as well a rather disquieting trend to make small interpersonal issues into world-shattering battles between good and evil. There are also a lot of people who probably won’t like how homosexuality is handled in this title. There is some question as to whether or not a title targeted at pre-teen and young teen girls should contain so many negative and disturbing elements. However, for viewers willing to persevere beyond these issues, Utena can be a rewarding and interesting title.

It is good to be able to point to a title like this one to demonstrate how shoujo, or girl’s anime, can be appealing to boys, as well as containing real elements of adventure, fencing/kendo, character development, good vs. evil, and other challenging elements. It isn’t all about passing notes in third period saying, “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” Watching this show, girls can see that they can play on the boy’s turf and still win, all without giving up their femininity. Just talk to your girls about how anorexic all the female characters look.

The extras list is plump, if not stacked. We get a short interview with another voice actor--this time the voice of Wakaba, Roxanne Beck. There’s also a very nice art gallery that really shows off the gorgeous look of this show. The interview with director Kunihiko Ikuhara should answer a few questions about procedure and the creation of the show, but is rather choppy and gives less real information that we fans would like. The “About Chito Saito” is a little weak, but still interesting. Lastly, for anyone who has missed the previous volumes, or simply needs a refresher for this highly complex show, there is a nice storyline feature.

In short, if you do not expect happy endings and don’t mind the occasionally nonsensical story element, then you will probably enjoy Revolutionary Girl Utena. Yes, some of the elements were borrowed from other titles, but how these bits are put together into a whole is the real treasure here. This is a series that could quickly become too dismal and too ridiculously soap-opera, but as of yet, the writers and director have dodged that cliche bullet. I’ll be looking forward to future volumes of this one.

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