Revolutionary Girl Utena Anime Box Set – Volume 2, Disk 3 (English)

January 12th, 2012

Revolutionary Girl Utena, Volume 2, Disk 3 provides a whole lot of food for thought, doesn’t it?

So, first of all, let look at the final of the puppet duelists for the Black Rose, Nanami’s henchchick, Keiko. Like Wakaba, Keiko’s story hurts. It hurts, because she’s not one of the beautiful people and not one of the chosen. She’s a real person, with big gaping flaws, but we can’t quite hate her, or dismiss her, as we might Tsuwabuki, precisely because, like Wakaba, her dreams are so mundane. Anyone might wish for a moment alone with their idol. It’s a dream that is dull as dirt. As a result, when Nanami is horrible to Keiko, we feel it. When Yuuko and Aiko are horrible to her, it’s especially unforgivable.

And, at last, we reach the core of the Black Rose story, and the illusions with which Mikage has wrapped himself. The story, however one looks at it, is at best, creepy and self-serving. At worst, it’s possible the single most depressing illusion in the entirety of the series. There was a young, sickly boy, Mamiya and his sister Tokiko and Mikage became obsessed with their memory…but it’s not Mikage at the center of the manipulation, we learn incontrovertibly. It’s not just Akio, as we might have suspected. For whatever reason  – and at this point I’m inclined to think that Anthy’s line about lying to one’s self for love is the first honest thing she’s said in this series – Anthy is involved. In the first arc, we thought to ourselves, “She is merely being used.” But when Akio tells us that Anthy does not exists at the school, we have to wonder how much of everything is her doing. Akio has social engineering skills and he apparently wields the power, but then, we have to ask ourselves now…what is Anthy?

At the end of the arc, we get a completely different kind of clip episode, highlighting Nanami’s duplicity and ego. It’s very hard to like her at the end of this arc. It’s important to remember, yet again, that Nanami is about 13. She may pretend to be grownup, but…it’s clear now and will become even clearer later, that she’s basically clueless about people. This will also become very, very important towards the end.

Here at the end of the Black Rose Arc, we’re no closer to understanding any of what’s going on, or are we? We know several things; Akio is manipulating the situation, even as far as Utena and Anthy’s relationship. We know that he has all but abandoned the Student Council, except as tools, and we know that whatever is going on, Anthy is the center of it, in one way or another.

And we know, although she truly does not yet understand this, that Utena is the only sword that can cut through this Gordian knot.

The third and final arc is on our plate and I find myself tense about watching it. In fact, I’ve been kind of avoiding it for the last few years.

In the extras Ikuhara gives us some answers as to why there is an apparent strain of lesbianism in the series. His answer is cogent – for him, making Utena and Anthy “lesbians” is a visual symbol of otherness. But that only explains some of what’s going on, really, the stories of incest and male homosexuality that are either hinted at, or explicitly stated. I’ve said for years that Utena is a series that is exactly like any other high school, on steroids, and in this case the sexuality is stand-in for all the many things that make us different. For once I think Ikuhara did a good job of answering really crappy fanboy question. Dudes, there were *way* more than just lesbians in the series.


Art – 9
Story – 10
Character – 9
Yuri – 3
Service – 3

Overall – 9

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9 Responses

  1. JIN says:

    My ‘Black Rose Saga’ is coming in the mail, which gives me two sets and the movie also. ‘Apocalypse Saga’ I will get next month. I have seen all of the complete series before but did not have my own. After the first arc, I think I must prepare myself as I am a little too sensitive to certain things. Ah, when you said, “The third and final arc is on our plate and I find myself tense about watching it. In fact, I’ve been kind of avoiding it for the last few years.” Can you reveal this avoidance or hesitation?

  2. LLJ says:

    Nozomi’s Utena release is EXCELLENT. I daresay that even Criterion can take a few pointers. What I like about these sets is the fact that the booklets and the DVD extras really tell us WHY Utena is such an important and highly respected show. When was the last time an anime release included booklets topping 100 pages? And it’s not just all artwork– it’s actual essays, interviews, reminiscences, side commentary…truly great reading material for morning toilet trips, I must say!

    The Black Rose Arc is very interesting in how it sets everything up for the Apocalypse Saga, and, as Ikuhara suggested, foreshadows Utena’s eventual fate. At the end of this arc, Utena has been built up to be an almost unbeatable opponent, which makes Akio’s emotional manipulation of Utena in the Apocalypse arc all the more suspenseful and uncomfortable for the viewer to watch.

    Great stuff.

  3. @JIN – The reasons will be part and parcel of my Apocalypse reviews.

    @LLJ – Yes indeed. This is the remastered version, with the coomentaries. These were no available with the original CPM release, but were special 10th anniversary releases. So, these were special, even in Japan.

    I’m personaly of the belief that, for this specific series, *why* isn’t all that helpful, neither is what. In many senses, I think the best way to watch a Ikuhara series is just to watch it and enjoy the ride.

  4. Eric P. says:

    The ‘finger-pointing’ episode was interesting. I understood the butterfly-frame, but otherwise what was I supposed to notice or even think about with the cats on the balcony and Akiko’s lip marks on the mug? The booklets really were helpful in a lot of ways, at the very least giving us a starting point in guiding us how to view the imagery. If not for that I would’ve deducted the finger-pointing as being one of several examples of Ikuhara-san taking sadistic pleasure messing with us (not a criticism). But of course there is a meaning behind everything, we just shouldn’t hurt our brains so much over everything.

  5. Lady_Rufus says:

    What, you’re saying a huge chunk of the anime is like gaps meant for a sort of ‘implied reader’?
    Well that’s pretty cool to see such a thing so abundant in an anime. I guess it means Ikuhara loses quite some authority over his work (even though peeps seem to need him to realize the work for them anyway – we’re too used to it maybe). Interesting… Instead of just reading about it all now i should probably find out what the fuss is about and Just. Watch. The Anime.

  6. @Eric P. The cats, the tea cups, the fingers…they don’t *mean* any one specific thing, anymore than the invisible train or baseball game during the student council meetings do.

    Ikuhara said that they are meant as visual elements and there is no “meaning” per se. You’re left free to interpret them as you will.

    I know things like this are hard for some anime fans, who need things spelled out clearly and who dislike open-ended symbolism, but that’s precisely what this series is. There is no meaning, no beginning and no ending, except as we see wrapped up through myths and illusions of the characters.

    Although, of all the symbols, the butterfly-to-pupa devolution seems obvious in meaning, even if Ikuhara didn’t mean it to.

  7. @Lady_Rufus – As a creator, the moment you release your creation to the world, you lose “control” over it, as any parent knows. ^_^

    You can’t stop people from reinterpreting it, reweaving the strands, even rewriting whole freaking chunks for themselves.

    What Be-Papas did is just leave space for that to happen, and got on with creating what they wanted to create. Like Simoun or Mawaru Penguindrum, holes in the story are not a problem to be fixed, they are part of the narrative itself.

  8. Lady_Rufus says:

    Hmmm, holes were an intentional device here? Well if reinterpratation was gonna happen anyway…
    “As a creator, the moment you release your creation to the world, you lose “control” over it, as any parent knows.”
    Lulz, reminds me of something i read somwheres. The sci-fi author Isaac Asimov once sat in on a lecture discussing one of his works. He approached the lecturer afterwards basically saying he got it all wrong, that’s not what he had meant. And the lecturer replies, “Just because you wrote it, what makes you think you have the slightest idea what it’s about?”

  9. @Lady_Rufus – I had a teacher who once said about his wild misiunterpretation of Tom Bombadil that “Tolkien wrought better than he knew.” I replied, “He KNEW exactly what he wrought” and supplied a letter written by Tolkien himself on the topic. The teacher refused to admit that sometime reinterpretation is just wrong. ^_^

    I see it all the time with Utena, though. When I did a lecture about it at MIT, a fan got really angry at me, when I said that Ikuhara said most of the symbols just “looked good” and had no pre-supposed internal meaning. She said I was WRONG, even after I said, I was the one who did the interview with him directly and got the information first-hand.

    It’s hard for most people to imagine that a symbol has no meaning, except that which we attach to it.

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