Mike wonders aloud which anime would be a good fit for the prestigious Criterion Collection.
Reviewby Paul Fargo, Jun 16th 2004
Revolutionary Girl Utena
DVD 10: Finale
After nine long-awaited volumes, Central Park Media's release of Revolutionary Girl Utena reaches its conclusion with the tenth volume, Finale. Though its popularity has diminished quite a bit, the overall quality of this wonderful series remains, and shines especially brightly with its conclusion. Deep, powerful, and captivating, Finale illustrates quite vividly the reason that Utena is widely regarded as one of the best anime titles of the past ten years.
The three episodes presented on this disc all deal with the resolution of the Apocalypse Arc along with the series as a whole. Letters begin arriving from an entity known as End of the World, which identify Utena as the chosen one who will bring about world revolution. Taking the first episode to reevaluate herself and her relationship with Anthy, Utena then sets out in the second episode to confront both her fate and the prince from her past. The final duel, which occupies the last two episodes, is incredibly heavy on symbolism and very emotionally intense, creating an ending that leaves the viewer captivated by its sheer stylishness and complexity. Decidedly conclusive without being too conventional, one simply couldn't ask for a more fitting curtain call to such a powerful series.
A major factor in what makes Utena such a compelling title is its unique visual flavour. The gorgeous backgrounds, odd camera angles, and frequent use of symbolism give the show a highly stylised feel and allow it to stand out from others of its genre. They also serve to punctuate the distinct psychological elements in a way not unlike such similar thought-provoking fare as Evangelion. The character designs are quite striking as well; though very thin and angular in appearance, they remain pleasing to the eye and retain a very shoujo-esque feel to them. The actual animation of these beautiful designs and symbolic cues is rather impressive for a TV series, remaining very smooth for the most part without losing too much detail in the process. The only glaring fault in Utena's visual flair would have to be the somewhat faded feel of what would have been an otherwise vibrant colour palette. While it's nothing too intrusive, it gives the show an air of being much older than it really is.
Working with the artwork and animation, the music also serves to provide much of the series' atmosphere. The mixture of slow piano-centric pieces, bolder string and organ arrangements, and foreboding choral selections works very well, never sounding inappropriate or over the top, and helping to effectively set the ideal mood for the scene at hand. The choral selections may sound a bit quirky and off-putting at first, but they're quite catchy and soon become a welcome addition to Utena's musical score (as well as fun to listen to on their own, independent of the show). The opening theme is an wonderful piece of work very befitting of the series, and the ending runs in a similar vein to the aforementioned choral songs, albeit with a seemingly faster pace to it.
For all its wonderful visuals and musical arrangements however, the voice acting for Utena is an unfortunate Jekyll and Hyde affair. The Japanese cast is top-notch, providing convincing, emotional performances all around. Most impressive, appropriately enough, is Tomoko Kawakami, providing an incredible performance as female lead Utena Tenjou. Unfortunately, the English dub doesn't manage so well. Virtually every performance is either sleep-inducing or outright horrible. Some members of the cast deliver lines like they're narrating a children's book, and the male lead, Akio, bears an uncanny resemblance to HAL, the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey (both in sound and delivery). As with the Japanese cast, the best performance comes from the actress portraying Utena, Rachael Lillis. However, with the dub it's more a case of an average performance rising above an awful cast rather than one outstanding performance amidst an already-superb collection of players.
The actual packaging and extras on the disc aren't particularly impressive, for the most part. The cover features Utena sandwiched between characters Touga and Kyoichi (who curiously have very little to do with these episodes), with credits and DVD chapters on the reverse. The menu is very straightforward, although the cheap graphics flying around all over the place tend to damage its aesthetic appeal. The extras provided are pretty standard, with the typical image galleries, character bios, trailers, and a music video for the little mouse character, Chu Chu. There's an interview with Sharon Becker, the dub voice actress for Anthy, but it's extremely short and doesn't really provide any noteworthy information. By far the most outstanding extra on the disc is a full-length commentary by series director Kunihiko Ikuhara and manga artist Chiho Saito. This commentary is incredibly insightful, covering many aspects of Utena's production and the symbolism involved in the series. It's almost worth buying the DVD solely for this one feature.
A visionary masterpiece and modern classic, Revolutionary Girl Utena gets the conclusion it deserves in Finale. Director Ikuhara doesn't lose a step with this final installment, providing a deep, complex, and absolutely riveting ending that more than adequately wraps up this wonderful title. Not just this volume, but the entire ten- volume span of this series should have a reserved space on any self-respecting anime fan's shelf, as this is simply one of those shows a person simply has to see.
Overall (dub) : D-
Overall (sub) : A+
Story : A+
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A
+ Just about everything, save for the...
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