This week, a unique erotic historical fiction film that has completely slipped through the cracks.
Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Sep 10th 2003
Revolutionary Girl Utena
DVD 6: Beginning of the End
The ex-fiancée of the Rose Bride has come back, bringing all of his abusive habits with him. Utena is forced to avenge the injustices wrought upon Anthy by dueling with the prodigal jerk, but the her sword disappears in the middle of the fight! Can Utena take this guy down without the only weapon she has, or will her inner strength be enough?
Central Park Media's release of Kunihiko Ikuhara's animated masterpiece Revolutionary Girl Utena continues with volume 6. This particular entry in the series contains one of the least important episodes (not so ‘unimportant’ as ‘a complete waste of time and space’), and two of the most important ones. If you're already hooked on Utena, then do yourself a favor: skip the first episode and get right to the good stuff.
The disc starts off with a recap episode. In the long tradition of fans complaining about things, recap episodes are probably somewhere near the top of the list of ‘things most often complained about’. In the history of Utena fans complaining about things, Nanami episodes are probably near the top of that (however short) list, right next to ‘disc episode counts’ and ‘horrible dub’.
The first episode on this disc is a recap of the Nanami episodes. It's told from the viewpoint of Tsuwabuki, Nanami's little boy-slave who follows her around jotting down notes and managing her daily schedule. In this episode, he retells all the stupid things Nanami's ever done (the cowbell incident, the spice, and so on) and even some of the stupid things some of the other characters have done (as hilarious as it was to see Touga boxing a Kangaroo, did we really need to see it again?). There are a few moments of new animation, mostly of Tsuwabuki coming to Nanami's aid. This is one of the few completely skippable Utena episodes, unless you just can't get enough Tsuwabuki. Even the earlier Nanami episodes occasionally contained a little character development for Nanami and her brother, especially considering how important Nanami becomes later in the series. Unless you missed those early episodes, don't bother watching this one.
The next two episodes are very important to the ‘Apocalypse’ arc, which makes up the end of the show. These are effectively the first two episodes of that arc, and things really get started with a bang. Utena and Anthy move in with Akio, and a whole toybox full of new mysteries gets spilled all over the floor. The viewer is left scrambling to pick up the pieces and fit everything together; naturally it's impossible to decipher what's really happening so early in this arc, but they drop a lot of juicy clues. Pay close attention to these episodes; they tie in greatly to what happens later on.
Plus, you get to see Saionji return, and he's a right bastard. Saionji is as close to a real “villain” as this show has (not including Akio, but even he is painted with shades of grey). Saionji is abusive, confrontational and angry. The ever-closer Touga and Akio use him like a puppet in these episodes, but he's still a big jerk, and it's fun to see him back in action. Utena also deals with a few problems, such as her sword disappearing; it's all part of a rich metaphorical tapestry, one that slowly gets more complicated as the show trudges towards its finale. Again, it cannot be stressed how important these episodes are.
As for the DVD release, it seems like CPM finally got their stuff together and dealt with the artifacting problem, so this is the best-looking Utena DVD yet. Lines are still soft, and the show is basically unrestored, but at least the video isn't artifacted. The subtitles are well-timed and very accurate. The extras on the disc are appreciated; you get a nice interview with one of the voice actors, scripts, a sing-along with Romanized lyrics, and an interview with the man himself, Kunihiko Ikuhara. Rarely do you get an anime DVD that's loaded with extras like this, so it's a special treat for fans of the show.
Unfortunately, the dub is a complete embarrassment. The Japanese voice acting is note-perfect for the characters and is extremely well-done; it's a multi-textured experience, just like the show. The dub is a poorly-acted, shallow train wreck. The sole exception in the cast is Crispin Freeman as Touga, who brings his considerable acting chops to the fold and manages to raise the dub up a notch or two from the bottom of the barrel. I don't know who they hired to direct this thing, but there are very few proper or believable line deliveries; this thing sounds like it's being acted out by a 9th grade drama class. I don't know if the voice actors had any respect for the material, since very few of the line readings aren't totally over the top. Everyone enunciates every word, and the result is completely unnatural and unbelievable. Tsuwabuki in particular has a woefully inadequate voice; he sounds like a 40-year old who's talking at a few octaves higher than usual. Considering he's supposed to be in elementary school, it's pretty terrible. Listen to the voice actors for Utena and Anthy try and say the one line they have to say in unison and screw it up, and you'll see what I mean. The dub is a waste. Watch the subtitled version.
However, if you ignore the dub, this is yet another fine release from CPM. Revolutionary Girl Utena is no longer the hype machine it once was, but it's a treat to see these episodes handled with care in a nicely-packaged DVD release. This show is worth your money, and despite the dub, CPM is doing right by it. Don't miss Utena.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : A
+ More of one of the best series ever.
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